How I Spent $7,634 to Travel the World in Four Months

FINALLY GOT AROUND to calculating my trip costs this weekend. I may have discovered a secret fetish for spreadsheets.

A quick glance at the chart below tells the whole story: the later the month, the more expensive the country I travelled. As such, even though the total amount spent per month doesn’t change drastically. (With the exception of when I had to hop an emergency plane back to Canada for a week in November and when we, er, missed two flights in October, setting us back $300 apiece—both anomalies are reflected here.)

But the numbers make sense: airfare was most expensive in December because I flew from Iceland to Phoenix to surprise V for Christmas, and because overland travel in Europe is roughly 15 times as expensive as in Southeast Asia. To compensate, I couchsurfed everywhere in Europe, and accommodation costs equalized my budget.

Before I left Korea, I found it useful to research the practical costs of round-the-world travel; I think BootsnAll does the most exhaustively thorough analysis of this (this article is absolutely brilliant), and I recommend them if you want help figuring numbers out. GoMad Nomad also offers a useful series called “What It Costs In…” that I found helpful, and have subsequently contributed to.

I left Korea hoping to spend less than $10,000. Coming in at just over $7,634 — that includes airfare, hotel costs and ATM fees, not to mention food, clothes, gifts, and transit — I think I did all right. In the style of the aforelinked BootsnAll piece, my breakdown is as follows:

Total days: 123

Total countries: 19

Total cost: $7,634 (of which airfare: $2,269)

Daily average, excluding flights: $43 ($34 in Southeast Asia; $49 in Europe)

So in the interest of passing around some anecdotal information that may help some eager planner out there online, here are some tips and explanations. 

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Book Early, Book Personally

V and I started off well before we took flight, thanks to the dubious villains at Air Asia who charge extremely low costs for extremely inflexible plane tickets. (This actually bit us in the ass twice, but even an expensive Air Asia flight is a cheap flight.) Every ticket was bought at least a month in advance. The eight-week rule (sometimes known as six-to-eight weeks) holds true in my experience, though sometimes you just have to wait to make sure your plans work out and it winds up worth the extra hundred dollars.

Trains and buses in Europe should always, always be booked in advance, though this doesn’t matter as much if it’s a week or month before, so long as it’s online and through the right system. The Man in Seat 61 is indisputably the go-to resource on this one. (Side note: if travelling through Czech Republic, give Student Agency a shot. Their buses are speedy, clean, extremely cheap, with free WiFi and divine complimentary fruit tea.)

I later compared my itinerary, flight-for-flight, as inputted into BootsnAll’s round-the-world planner, which charged just over $6,089 for the whole trip in airfare alone. I spent $2,269. There’s an argument to be made for convenience, but it ain’t worth $4,000.

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Pack Smart

Those who follow my blog (insert requisite self-deprecating comment a la “all five of you” or “hi Mom!”) will recall that I had to make an emergency trip back to Toronto midway through Europe. This trip allowed me a few cheats. For instance, while I packed well for two equatorial autumn months, by November I’d have had to throw out and mail home virtually every article of clothing I packed, and buy a winter jacket, sweaters, long socks, etc. I bypassed spending those hundreds by just grabbing my old clothes from home. My winter clothes were two t-shirts, two long-sleeve undershirts, two collar shirts, two wool sweaters, one pair jeans, one pair long johns and one jacket. The combinations worked fine for six weeks, and Iceland in December wasn’t even as cold as I expected it to be. (Truly: nowhere as cold as Toronto now.)

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Couchsurf If You’re Comfortable

The only way I could afford Europe on $50 a day (admittedly misleading: most days I spent $60-$70; some days I spent $10) was by saving on accommodation. I surfed on the couches of kind international friends from university and South Korea, and where I didn’t have friends I made new ones. If you’re uncomfortable with this, consider that if I’d added $25 for each night I slept in Europe (average hostel cost, between central & western Europe), I’d have spent a bit more than $1,100 extra. If that sum sounds worthwhile for privacy and a certain degree of presumed cleanliness, that’s fine.

Don’t Waste Money on Touristy Nonsense

Yes, I’m sure climbing the Eiffel Tower is an unforgettable experience. But so what? You take a few aerial shots, you stand sandwiched between a thousand sweaty tourists; $30 later you’re back down. For me, the personality in seeing such landmarks lies in the subtle details that surround them.

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I bought a few Unanchor travel guides–they’re cheap, written by locals and often cost-conscious (“Paris for Free“; “London for Free“), and filled with good tips for what to skip and what to see.

This being said, I’m more the type of traveller who will save by avoiding the Eiffel and sleeping on strangers’ floors, but who will gladly spend three euros on the right macaroon. So, really, the moral of the story here is to spend your money on whatever you want, but don’t feel bad if you ignore the rest in the process.

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2 comments

  1. Great post! And so true. We used the same great internet resources and they were such a help guiding us along on the economics of taking an extended RTW trip. At this point we’ve finished 14 months of a 23 month trip and all goes very well. We’re glad we had the resources and planning tools and advice to help set it all up. And like you, we made hard decisions – like not paying to do many of the touristy things and staying in a lot of AirBnBs – to keep the budget side working out nicely with the funds available.

  2. I used BudgetYourTrip.com as well as other travel bloggers’ posts to get an idea of what to budget. Awesome resource.

    We actually didn’t find Europe QUITE as bad as we thought, though it was still very expensive!

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