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.