How Much Does it Cost to Travel Full Time Around the World

How Much it Really Costs to Travel Around the World Full Time

Perhaps the question I’m asked most often as a digital nomad is, “How much does it cost to travel 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.

Barbara standing in a field of Lavender in the French region of Provence in July 2016

Barbara standing in a field of Lavender in the French region of Provence in July 2016

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.

Barbara Weibel enjoying the traditional Israeli dish known as Shakshuka in Jerusalem, March 2017

Barbara Weibel enjoying the traditional Israeli dish known as Shakshuka in Jerusalem, March 2017

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)
2017 cost of living pie chart answers the question, "How much does it cost to travel the world long term?" in a comfortable manner as I traveled around the world

2017 cost of living pie chart answers the question, “How much does it cost to travel the world long term?” in a comfortable manner as I traveled around the world

CategoryCost
Accommodations$16,789.99
Dues, Subscriptions, Memberships (credit card annual fee, VPN)172.99
Entertainment (movies)61.91
Groceries and Restaurant Meals5,508.21
Miscellaneous (laundry, tips, bathroom use, copies, beach chair rental, photo fees, shampoo, drugs and sundries, office supplies)476.51
Postage and mail forwarding service323.00
Supplies (bottled water)53.01
Tours and Entrance Fees1,573.06
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
TOTAL$36,401.54

2016 Long-Term Travel Expenses

($30,728.22, or $84.19 per day/$2,561 per month)
2016 cost of living pie chart answers the question, "How much does it cost to travel full time?" in a modest manner as I traveled around the world

2016 cost of living pie chart answers the question, “How much does it cost to travel full time?” in a modest manner as I traveled around the world

CategoryCost
Accommodations$ 16,863.87
Bank Charges (later upgraded to Platinum w/no foreign transaction fees)233.52
Dues, Subscriptions, Memberships (credit card annual fee, VPN)155.00
Entertainment (movies)14.68
Groceries and Restaurant Meals5,342.92
Miscellaneous (laundry, toilet access, luggage storage, photo fees)199.23
Postage and mail forwarding service233.40
Supplies (bottled water)50.92
Tours and Entrance Fees971.16
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
credit, Thai sim card and credit, wifi access, electric, water)
367.46
Visas, Permits, Travel documents296.40
TOTAL$30,728.22

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.

2013 Long-Term Travel Expenses

Assuming all other expenses were about the same as 2016 (they were), in 2013 I lived for $46.45 per day or $1,413 per month.
Category20132016Savings
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)
2,427.225,999.663,573.44
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)
2,930.175,342.922,412.75
Total$14,433.96$28,206.45$13,772.49

So how much does it cost to travel full time around the world?

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.

27 Comments on “How Much it Really Costs to Travel Around the World Full Time

  1. Nice post. I really liked your post. I am an avid traveler (been to 60 countries) and I hope your post will inspire more people to not only travel in their budge, but also to travel beyond their comfort zone. Thanks

  2. Hi Barbara
    I started my travel blog last year and as a middle aged traveller, often turn to yours for inspiration. I love your story telling style and amazing photos and am in awe of your long term nomadic lifestyle. Nonetheless I wish you every happiness in this new phase of your life and look forward to reading about your ongoing adventures.
    Last year I did some travelling on a shoestring, just as you did in the early days, so I find your budget comparisons particularly interesting.
    I have now put my house up for rent and next week I begin my nomadic life when I head off to Greece for about two and half months.
    However I am finding it incredibly difficult to find the right kind of insurance that will cover me, my gadgets and some necessary but expensive personal items without country/duration restrictions and more so, without a permanent address. How did you get around these issues?
    I would appreciate any advise you can give me.
    Happy Writing and Travelling

  3. It was a great article young lady! I really liked your “entertainment expense”. I’m afraid I might not be able to hit that number. Of course I’ve never gotten the courage to become a true digital nomad.

    Hopefully we will start our travel life next summer with a place in Europe somewhere. Having our first grandchild has been a motivation to just do it.

    Keep putting one foot in front of the other and hope to meet you face to face one of these days.
    Mike

    • Thanks so much Mike – you’ve always been one of my biggest boosters and you can’t imagine how much I appreciate it. I also hope that we’ll meet in person one of these days. Fingers crossed we can make that happen.

  4. Thanks for sharing. I found it very interesting indeed. Do you use a software application (like Quicken) to keep track of detailed expenses? Your travel blog is excellent.

    • Thank you Stephen – very kind words about my blog and I really appreciate your comment. I use an app on my phone called “Receipts Pro.” It lets me set up categories, payees, and notes for each item, just the same as Quicken. It even allows me to input all expenses in foreign currencies and converts to USD (or the currency of your choice), based on current daily exchange rates. I can create reports to track costs in whatever manner I wish and I can export it as an Excel spreadsheet that goes to my accountant. You can try out the lite version before buying the pro, which, if I remember correctly, cost me less than $10.

  5. . Have a 24yr old niece who is very much interested in ‘seeing the world” on a shoestring Your article will be most helpful in her planning. Thank you for sharing.

    • You’re very welcome, Mark. So happy that it will help your niece.

  6. Hello, Barbara
    I too am a fan for a few years now, and appreciated getting that detailed information. Good to hear that you do have a base now and even better to learn that you will be continuing with your travels. I would miss that excellent writing and informative research which is found in every piece you publish.
    kind regards
    Kay

    • Hi Kay: Thanks so much for being a loyal reader for all those years – it means the world to me. And no worries; I’m not about to stop traveling anytime soon. My itchy feet always get the better of me if I’m in one place for too long.

  7. I’m in the process of planning a year-long trip in 2019, possibly an around-the-world journey, so your generosity in sharing your personal information is very much appreciated. I’ve been reading your blog for nearly ten years and loving it! I feel like I know you personally. Now, as I make my own plans, I’d like to easily find your entries from places I’m contemplating. Is there an index or a way t0 search your site?

    One question: I’ve noticed in the past year or two that you are sometimes hosted by cruise lines and other travel vendors. Are those gratuities included in your numbers? Are you remunerated by them beyond a free stay? I don’t entirely understand how people make money on their blogs.

    • Hi Libbie: Sorry for my delayed reply; I’ve been wandering around remote areas of Ethiopia for the last two weeks and haven’t had any Internet access. I know you’re a long term follower and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that!

      Now, as for your questions. First, the best way to search my blog for destinations is to use the top black menu bar. Click on “destinations” and then select the region. That will take you to a page with all the countries in that region, and you can click on any country and see everything I’ve written about it. Keep in mind that articles are displayed six to a page, so in the event that I have written more than six articles about a particular destination, you’ll have to use the arrows at the bottom of each page to read older articles. If you need to narrow it down more than that, for instance if you’re looking for a city, use the search box on my right-hand sidebar.

      Secondly, you are correct that I do occasionally accept press trips (never more than three per year). Companies provide free accommodations and meals, and very occasionally a free flight. Though other bloggers accept fees to take trips, I do not. I consider myself a journalist rather than an “influencer” (a Kardashian I’m not). I have no problem accepting a free trip, as that has long been the standard in the industry – tourism bureaus, destination marketing organizations, and tour operators have long provided “fam” trips to travel writers in return for the publication of an article. However, they have no control over what we write, nor do they have the right to preview articles or ask for changes.

      However, the whole concept of “influencers” is anathema to me. If I accept a fee, I cannot possibly be unbiased. For me, that’s a conflict of interest and a violation of journalistic ethics. Finally, I only accept trips to places I really want to visit. I never take a trip just because it’s free. The trips I do accept range from two-days to two-weeks in length, but more often last for a week. They are complimentary, so my budget does not include any costs for these trips, however I doubt that it would increase my budget much more if I didn’t accept them. Most press trips tend to be pretty luxurious and beyond my means. So if I was on my own, I’d be spending much less, but you bring up a good point that I probably live virtually for free two to three weeks every year.

  8. Very interesting Barbara. I was just in Chiang. I like it there very much. Good choice for a home base.

    • Yep. I spent 12 years trying to find something better and landed back in one of the first overseas destinations I ever visited. But at least I know it’s the very best choice!

  9. Very informative, helpful and insightful article, Barbara! Fantastic read! And, I LOVE your honesty!

    • Thank you Cris. Glad you enjoyed it and also appreciated your note about honesty – that’s a very important value to me.

  10. Haha, I can relate to you on tracking expenses down to the penny – money is money, including those 3 baht toilet fees!

    From my own experience, many people aren\’t aware of the benefits of slow travel and the options you have to lower your travel expenses when you have more time in a particular place. When I told people that I am travelling for a year, the ones who didn’t know me asked if I was a trust fund baby or if I was insanely rich (oh how I wish they were right!). When I asked what their basis is for their thinking, they said it’s because they spent $300-400 a day per person on their travels, leading them to think one needs ~$146,000 for a year of travelling!

    • Hi Nancy: I always cringe when I hear stuff like that. Why, oh why, do people believe it has to cost thousands of dollars to travel? If they’d try out local guest houses or even Air B&B’s where they can stay with a local family, they’d have a much more enriching experiencing for a much more affordable price.

  11. Thanks for posting this – a question I wanted to ask iut was too polite to!
    Irene

    • Hi Irene: Please, please, ask me anything! Anytime! I’m an open book.

  12. Hey Barbara,
    Awesome!
    I’m always fascinated to see other people’s cost of full-time travel. As you may know, I’ve been publishing my annual expenses and income reports each year for the last 6 or so years….and I’ve found a sweet-spot a bit lower than yours closer to $25k/year, ALL-inclusive (including business, personal, insurance, etc).
    And this has been FAR from a pauper’s style of travel, as I’ve stayed in incredibly nice places….many of them for free. But perhaps that has been my biggest travel budget saviour – getting free accommodation. That, and traveling slowly.

    It would be interesting to see what countries you visited each year to correlate them with the expenses you report here, since (as you know) the cost of living and traveling varies dramatically depending on where you are in the world and how quickly you move.

    • Hi Nora: I know you’e been publishing a similar post for a while now and I suspect the cost of accommodations are the biggest difference between our budgets. I really never look for free accommodations. Either I’m sleeping on someone’s sofa and unable to work late into the night because I’d be bothering them, or I’m obligated to write a review about the resort or hotel. Frankly, I have so much work that I can barely keep up with it all, so I’ve made a conscious decision to pay for my accommodations and not burden myself with more work. Like you, I tend to travel fairly slowly, though over the past couple of years I’ve certainly racked up the countries, but you bring up a good point that I didn’t think to include in my article. I always spend part of my year in more expensive destinations (I.e.: Western Europe), but then balance out their cost by spending the other half in destinations that are extremely economical (i.e.: Eastern Europe, Nepal, SE Asia, etc.). Thanks so much for your comment!

  13. I realy liked your article. I am an avid traveler (been to 92 countries) and I hope your article will inspire more people to not only travel, but to travel beyond their comfort zone.

    • Why? Travel is a personal choice. Why should someone have to choose yours?

      • Some readers are curious especially those contemplating to embark on long term travel. Sense a snark on your tone. ( I hope I am wrong. ) I did some solo travel ( budget and package tours, etc …) and experienced in some ways. Your cost will depend on your comfort level, just saying! Fan of Barbara for awhile now …

    • I couldn’t agree more. Inspiring people to travel more (especially Americans) is one of the main reasons I keep this blog going. I really believe that the more we get to know one another (and let go of our fear of others), the less likely we’ll want to kill one another.

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