Perhaps the question I’m asked most often as a digital nomad is, “How much does it cost to travel the world full time?” It’s a question that, after 11 and a half years of traveling around the world, I am eminently qualified to answer, but up to this point have avoided. I began my travel-blogging journey in early 2007 when I purchased a six-month around the world flight through the Star Alliance program. At this point, I still had a house I was trying to sell and was saddled with huge mortgages on several properties. Obviously, my expenses would not be the norm for most, so offering advice at that point wasn’t possible.
Eventually, I sold my house and moved into a small apartment in Florida. For the next 2.5 years, I traveled (mostly in the U.S.), returning to my home base between trips. In November of 2009, just as my blog was beginning to earn money, I decided to head overseas again for an extended period. But the modest income generated by my freelance writing couldn’t begin to pay for long term travel and a home base. Since I was rarely home anyway, I decided to give up my apartment and became a true digital nomad, returning to the U.S. occasionally to visit family and friends.
Those were lean years. I stayed in family-owned guest houses or hostel dorms with four to eight bunk-beds to a room and shared toilets. I chose hostels that provided free breakfasts and, when the management wasn’t looking, stuffed my pockets with a roll, butter patties, and perhaps a piece of fruit for lunch. For dinner I bought groceries and cooked in the common area kitchens, or grabbed a slice of quiche at a bakery. I rode buses, ferries, and trains rather than fly. But again, I was painfully aware that most people are not interested in staying at the cheapest hostels and sleeping in dorms with 15 other people.
My financial situation improved in 2014, when I turned 62 and opted to take my Social Security retirement. Even so, budget travel had been so firmly ingrained in me that it was a hard habit to break. It was 2016 before I finally allowed myself to enjoy a bit of luxury. These days I stay in private rooms with ensuite private bathrooms at hostels (I still love the camaraderie and companionship that hostels afford), locally owned guest houses, Air B&B’s, serviced residences, or hotels. I fly more often and treat myself to fine dining every now and then. Throughout the years, I had tracked my expenses down to the penny. I even recorded fees to use pay toilets! Finally, I feel competent to answer that oft-asked question, “How much does it cost to travel long-term around the world?”
One caveat however. I have not included the expenses I incur to operate this blog, the cost of electronic equipment and software, medical and dental expenses, health insurance, massages and spa treatments, clothing, haircuts, personal donations and gifts, and the purchase of luggage, as all of these could significantly vary according to need or personal preference.
The table and pie charts below show a breakdown of my expenses in 2016, when I was finally traveling in greater comfort, and again in 2017, when I booked some more expensive trips that I hadn’t previously felt I could afford. But on the off-chance that any of my readers are interested in the kind of budget travel that I focused on for the first eight years, at the end I’ve also included my cost of travel for 2013, a year when I was still pinching pennies.
2017 Long-Term Travel Expenses
($36,401.54, or $99.73 per day/$3,033 per month)
|Dues, Subscriptions, Memberships||172.99|
|Groceries and Restaurant Meals||5,508.21|
|Miscellaneous (laundry, tips, pay toilets, copies, beach chair rental, photo fees, shampoo, drugs and sundries, office supplies)||476.51|
|Postage and mail forwarding service||323.00|
|Supplies (bottled water)||53.01|
|Tours and Entrance Fees||1,573.06|
|Transport (airfare, trains, buses, boats, taxis, public transportation, car rental, fuel, parking, tolls)||10,021.48|
|Utilities (Skype subscription and phone number, worldwide sim card and credit, Thai sim card and credit, wifi access, electric, water)||161.27|
|Visas, Permits, Travel documents (includes Thai retirement visa 2018-19)||1,260.11|
2016 Long-Term Travel Expenses
($30,728.22, or $84.19 per day/$2,561 per month)
|Bank Charges (later upgraded to Platinum w/no foreign transaction fees)||233.52|
|Dues, Subscriptions, Memberships||155.00|
|Groceries and Restaurant Meals||5,342.92|
|Miscellaneous (laundry, pay toilets, luggage storage, photo fees)||199.23|
|Postage and mail forwarding service||233.40|
|Supplies (bottled water)||50.92|
|Tours and Entrance Fees||971.16|
|Transport (airfare, trains, buses, boats, taxis, public transportation, car rental, fuel, parking, tolls)||5,999.66|
|Utilities (Skype subscription and phone number, worldwide sim card and pre-loaded credit, Thai sim card and pre-loaded credit, wifi access, electric, water)||367.46|
|Visas, Permits, Travel documents||296.40|
2013 Long-Term Travel Expenses
Now, for those of you who are interested in budget travel, as promised I compared my costs in 2013 with 2016. In 2016, most line items remained fairly constant with what I spent in 2013, however I spent significantly less in 2013 for accommodations, transportation, and food.
After deducting the savings in 2013, I lived for $46.45 per day or $1,413 per month.
|Accommodations Expenses (hostels, guest houses, friends, and relatives)||$9,076.57||$16,863.87||$7,787.30|
|Transportation (airfare, trains, buses, boats, taxis, public transportation, but liberal use of frequent flier miles, one-way tickets combined with discount airlines and ground transport combos)||2,427.22||5,999.66||3,573.44|
|Groceries and restaurant meals (liberal use of hostels with free breakfasts, stuffing my pockets at breakfast for lunch, and street food or bakeries for dinner)||2,930.17||5,342.92||2,412.75|
So how much does it cost to travel the world full time?
I guess the answer is, it depends. Being a nomad is not for everyone. The first question you have to ask yourself is whether you can handle not having a permanent home base. I will admit that it’s hard in the beginning, but like everything else in life, you get used to it. Within six months it was my new norm, and I really couldn’t fathom going back to my old life. Even after my recent decision to rent an apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand, as my new home base, I still get itchy feet and have to go back on the road several months per year.
Beyond that, it’s a matter of the comfort level you desire when traveling. Obviously $36,000 per year is not going to pay for luxurious resorts or hotels, but it can allow a comfortable travel lifestyle. And if you are budget minded, you can follow in my footsteps and do it for less than $50 per day.
63 thoughts on “How Much Does it Cost to Travel the World Full Time”
It would be wonderful to know which and how many countries you visited in the budgets above. Where did you go in 2017, how many days were you on the road?
Thank you for sharing and for the inspiration!
Hi Robin. Sorry for my slow reply. I’ve been in trael mode lately. In 2017 I was on the road full time and I visited 27 countries.
Did you obtain your Thai visa in U.S. to avoid 800,000 baht in a Thai account?
Sounds like you opted out of Medicare.
I previously lived in Thailand and loved it. Came back to U.S. at 58 for work and will stop working at year end. Looking forward to leaving the States again
Hi Nancy. No, to be approved for a Thai Non-Immigrant O visa with a Retirement extension (commonly called a Retirement Visa), you must have either 800,000 baht in a Thai bank, or deposit 65,000 baht per month from abroad. The Retirement Visa an be renewed each year, as long as all the necessary requirement continue to be met. The only way to avoid either of those is to get an OA Visa in your own country, before you come to Thailand. For that one, you will need to prove that you have a minimum amount of funds in a bank account in your country (I don’t know how much as I’ve never used this option). The OA is good for one year with an additional one year renewal, but then you have to go back to your country and start over again. As for Medicare. Part A is free, and Part B is not expensive, so I decided not to opt out on the off chance that I ever need to come back to the U.S., either for medical treatment or to live.
Hi Nancy. The Thai Visa Americans get in the U.S. that does not require funds be deposited in a Thai bank is a Non-Immigrant OA Visa. It is good for a year, with the ability to renew for a second year. Although this visa does not require visitors to have a bank account or money in Thailand, the Thai government does require you to show proof that you have a U.S. bank account with funds that are adequate to support yourself for a year. You also need proof of health insurance that will cover you in Thailand, a medical certificate stating that you are free of certain diseases, and a clean police report. After the second year renewal, you must go back to the U.S. and start the process all over again.
Since I live in Thailand I have a Non-Immigrant O Visa, which is good for 90 days. During the initial 90-days, holders of this Visa can begin a process with Immigration with the goal of being granted a one-year Retirement Extension, which is attached to the Non-Immigrant O Visa. This Retirement Extension is renewable every year, for as long as I meet the criteria. That means that I am older than 50, and that I either have a Thai bank account with a balance of at least 800,000 baht (about $23,000, depending upon current currency conversion), or be able to show 12 months of deposits of at least 65,000 baht per month (about $1,800 USD per month). Currently, no insurance, medical certificate, or police report is required.
As for Medicare, I did not opt out. Part A is free and Part B is quite inexpensive. There are severe financial penalties and narrow windows for opting back in, should I ever return to the U.S., so I decided to pay the nominal amount for Part B each month. I do not, however, have a Part C plan. Frankly, health care here is excellent and very affordable, so I self-insure. Medicare currently cannot be used by expats who retire overseas, though there is a proposal being discussed in Congress that would approve a test program to allow this to happen in a few select markets. Undoubtedly, the Philippines would be included in that test group, as there are huge numbers of Americans who live there and also a large VA Hospital in Manila. However, I suspect that Thailand would also be in that test group. Allowing us to do this would be a win-win-win. Expats would have access to insurance that they have paid into their whole lives, which would also satisfy any requirement by the Thai government that we have insurance. The The Thai government would get a boost to its medical tourism. And the U.S.government would save scads of money because medical care here is so much less expensive.
This is an excellent article. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. I adored the way you presented yourself.
Hi Barbara, I am a 20 year expat living and working in Singapore. I am wondering how you have managed health and dental insurance? Thanks,
Hi Suzanne. I don’t have insurance. The health care in Thailand is excellent and extremely affordable, so I self insure.
Hi Barbara, I would live to meet you! I am doing early retirement in 2022 having spent almost 30 years as a high school world history teacher. I am going to write a book on how students are inspired to do well in school and hopefully be invited to visit classrooms in my travels. I have little in savings comparatively, and I’ve used your budget categories to determine expenses. I am convinced I can travel on $40-$60 a day depending where I am in the world. Any tips for me? Thank you!
Hi Heidi. Well, there is so much to say on the subject of long term travel, but one of the most helpful would have to be to pack, then remove half of what you originally packed. So much of the stuff I started with was just about useless, and after a while, you learn how little you really need to travel full time. Best of luck to you!
Good post. Thanks for sharing with us. I just loved your way of presentation.
Hi Premal. Thank you so much for the kind compliment. I’m glad you enjoyed my story.