One of the first questions (or doubts) that spring to mind when dreaming of full time travel is
“How could I possibly afford that??”
The answer lies in the simple fact that long-term travel can be cheaper than living at home!
For most people, us included, the financial aspect of any decision is a prime factor in choosing what we do, how we do it, and in fact, whether we do something at all.
So the “Hey, lets just go travel the world for a year” brilliant ideas you have after a few too many bad days at work and far more good wine than is prudent, inevitably leads to a reality check.
“What will it cost us?”
The potential for an unforgettable adventure pulled harder on our our hearts than the worries did on our minds, and so we pressed forward with figuring out how we’d budget for a year long, round the world trip.
We’re sharing some notes on how we planned, and what we’ve spent so far, 2 months in to our travels.
We had money saved, and as expats renting our home, we were not committed to a mortgage. So for us, it was more about deciding to take some of our savings and do something with it, rather than let it continue marinating in a bank on 0 point nothing percent interest. With that out of the way, it then became more about the cost of staying put vs the cost of travelling.
Cost to do nothing
No matter if you are travelling or living a comfortable life wherever you are, there is a cost to ‘living’. Looking quickly at what it was costing us, a family of three, living in SW London, we looked at what expenses we could pare back on for the 9 months before we set off.
Our biggest expense was the rent we were paying on a big three bedroom terraced home, situated within guaranteed catchment of one of London’s top state primary schools. The hefty price tag that came with that was something we could shed quickly when our lease was up — which happened to be right about the time we started planning our trip in earnest.
We moved to a nearby two bedroom flat, and nearly cut our rent by half. Did we like the flat? Not really. But it had plenty of space, was in an ideal location, and did we mention the rent was just over half?
We never owned a car in London, and used public transport everywhere we went. By stroke of luck, S won a season ticket on the Thames Clippers ferry that picked up 50m from our front door, and dropped her off 100m from her office. So for a year, she had minimal public transport costs. M rode his bicycle 18km to work and back every day, which doubled as exercise and transportation!
With A in an excellent state school, we had no school fees, and we cut back on eating out and takeaway meals to about once per week. We rethought our after school child care which Mark took on more of, while he was working flexibly.
With those changes above, our monthly expenses dropped to the following:
Rent – £1,750
Water/Gas/Electricity – £400
Transport – £200
Phones/Internet/Cable TV – £100 (we previously had full Sky package at double this amount. An antiquated quirk of living in England meant no cable TV services were available at our new flat. After the initial shock of living without 250 channels at all hours, we quickly realised that this was a bonus. We bought the super cheap NowTV version of Sky, which is all we really needed in first place)
Groceries – £400
Eating Out – £300 (including buying lunch at the office each day)
Holidays – £200
Child care – £100
Other – £200
TOTAL – £3,650
Our London living expenses were about £120 per day. We weren’t watching this closely, but we were double checking the “extras” and deciding whether they really were necessary.
Travel Budget & Costs
We set a total trip budget based on where we were travelling, how long we expected to be there, and what we were planning to do. S built a detailed model that totalled our estimated spend, using average AirBnB /Hotel nightly rates, average food costs per location, and transportation and activities etc. Against the amount of time in each location.
It gave a good estimate, but really was just for our own peace of mind that we could afford it. The model also showed us that we were planning to go to way too many places, blowing both our financial budget, and the time we had available. So it helped us refine our loose itinerary and choose just where we wanted to go most.
Ultimately, we decided on a daily budget of £100 per day, simply because its an easy number to follow, and brings us in under total trip budget while giving us some cushion for unexpected expenses. We haven’t broken that down any further than just a set amount per day.
It includes EVERYTHING – all transportation, including flights, and accommodation, as well as food, souvenirs, supplies, Netflix subscriptions, phone costs, gifts and anything else. We’ve found that the mere existence of this budget helps to curtail some of the extra expenses, and makes you think “do I really need that massage, or am I just bored?”
But can we live up to it, and spend less to travel the world than stay at home?
First, there are a fair amount of preparation costs for a trip like this, before you start sipping cold cheap beers on a deserted beach in Asia. And these costs did put a dent in both the budget and our heads as to wether we can really do this.
The Summary is below, and we will provide more detail on this in upcoming post. Suffice it to say, shop around and see what you can do yourself!
We were adamant that anything related to us getting away from it all had to come out of our Gap Year budget, and not just out of general savings. Obviously this included things like travel insurance and vaccinations, but also the cost of storing our remaining household treasures.
So what did we spend before we ever left London?
Travel Vaccinations & anti-malaria drugs- £1,120 for three people
We needed a bundle – Hep A, B, Typhoid, Tetanus, Rabies, Yellow Fever. Luckily Mark was about to do some travel for work and received some through his company. This was partly countered though by Shalena loosing track of how many Rabies jabs she had despite her detailed spreadsheet, and getting an extra 3rd rabies shot!
Our biggest piece of advice is not to miss out on this expensive part of the budgeting, and plan ahead. You’ll need at least three months of GP visits to get through them all.
Goods storage – £1,508 + £82 for insurance.
It’s up to you whether you sell or donate your worldly possessions, or store everything with generous friends or family or a storage unit. We did bits of each and estimated we would need a 50 foot storage unit for the furniture and treasures we wanted to keep. Ww absolutely jammed packed that unit from top to bottom to get our moneys worth out of it!
Storage Insurance is mandatory you don’t need to use the policy that the storage units offer. Shopping online for specific storage coverage saved us a few hundred quid.
Travel Insurance – £862 Alpha Travel Insurance
We searched far and wide for a policy that would cover our family for year long travel, in the places we were going, and for the activities we are doing. Pre-existing conditions cost extra, and we had to specify how high we were planning to trek, which changed the price range. The quotes we got ranged from £600 to over £2000. Most were in the £1400 range.
Travel insurance is a difficult one to judge based on reviews, as most reviewers only state whether the purchasing process was easy or not, but hadn’t had to claim yet, which is where the proof is with insurance! This one took a little bit of faith to click “buy”, but hopefully its one of those things we won’t actually have to use.
Luggage / Backpacks – £400
Two of us got well sorted with packs well before departure. One of us did not, much to the annoyance of the other half.!
S put a LOT of research into her pack, and fully annoyed the patient workers at our local outdoor shop, going in at regular intervals to try on different packs, ask questions, try them on again, ask more questions, etc. Based on hundreds of online reviews, and then scouring the internet for a decent deal, her persistence paid off, and she got just the pack she wanted for about £130 less than the retail price.
For A’s pack, we needed a children’s pack that was going to fit him and adjust when he grows. We went to REI in Houston during a trip to the states, and were helped by one of their fantastically knowledgable staff to find just the pack, a Deuter 35 L kids pack. The tricky part with a kids pack is in the length of the back. We’d tried other adult sized day packs, but no matter how small, they were too long for his torso, and the hip belts never reached all the way around his little hips. At $125 USD, it seemed like a lot, but it was one expense I’m glad we sprung for.
In defence of the spouse who didn’t purchase his pack before we left, his negligence turned out to be a master stroke. We started out with WAY more ‘stuff to take’ than we needed, and everything we took would not have fit into any back pack. Plus, they were a lot cheaper in Nepal than London. M ended up with a Salwea 70L for £65 in Kathmandu. It is supposed to be “legit Chinese brand” and not one of the hundreds of knock offs sold on the streets of the Thamel tourist district. Whether it survives the full 12 months of travel will be for another ‘discussion’ .
Clothing for Trekking (our first stop) – £300
Most clothing we needed for our gap year we already had. In fact, far too much of that was donated to charity shops before we left. But specific clothing for trekking meant we bought packapable down puffer coats, waterproof jackets, good quality hiking boots and trekking trousers.
First flights – £1,060
We looked at RTW ticket options, and although they have some flexibility, most didn’t offer nearly enough for our ever-changing plans. In the end we are buying one-way tickets to each destination as needed, which takes a little more time, but has worked out well so far, and is part of the adventure of choosing where to go next!
Education packs – £75
This took a LOT of research, and could be the topic of an entire website on its own. We ended up with Schofield and Sims because it follows the UK National Curriculum, and we like the structure that it gives for the lessons. Each book was about £3 or less, and the Teachers Guides (highly recommend) were about £6. We shipped some ahead to M’s mother in Australia, our first planned “regrouping” stop about 5 months into the trip.
And this is before we ever get to post a single humblebragging, staged, over-saturated Instagram photo of us riding a camel along the desert shores of some far flung land. #blessed. Doubtful such a photo will ever come into existence, but you can see our typical, and sometimes lightly edited happy snaps as we explore on Instagram @LongitudinalShift
So with all of that behind us, we boarded on that first plane and havent looked back
If we apportion the pre trip costs over the whole year ahead of travel it works out to about £14.82 per day. We are now 2 months into our journey and the daily expenses during this time have totalled……. £5,105.
We use an Android app I found called AndroMoney, to keep track of our spending, which to put simply is bloody great! Without need for explanation you can see here our breakdown of costs .
This is the daily entry. For one of our days on Koh Mook (a favourite little island).
You can see that everything goes on here, and I mean everything!
Through Turkey, Qatar, Nepal, Malaysia and Thailand, including some of the more expensive southern islands, we’ve spent just under £85 per day.
Adding the ‘fixed’ pre-travel costs (£14.82 per day) we come in at a current expenditure of £98 per day overall.
We are doing it! (So far so good!)
The biggest costs of Travelling are same as staying at home – Accommodation and Food. At the moment, we’re eating nearly every meal in restaurants, which is putting the pressure on the budget, and the waistlines!
The other main contributor is transport. With the luxury of time on our side we can, and often do, opt for land journey over air. We tell ourselves That its an opportunity to experience local life and scenery much more on a bus than a plane, so lets do that.
Of course that meant taking a gruelling 9 hour bus ride through the mountainous potholed ‘roads’ of Nepal, which otherwise would have taken 25 minutes to fly! But at a cost of USD $600 for flights vs $30 bus round trip the, the money was better spent covering 12 days of trekking.
For accommodation, we look for value places to stay, using the full range of booking apps and sites available. Our current place in Ko Lanta is a cute resort, right on the beach with a pool, beach bar and fantastic atmosphere, for the sum of £21.16 per night. Its great.
Our modus operandi at present is to book a night in one place before we get there, and after we sleep a night, we determine if the hotel / location is worth staying longer. If we like it, we try to stay on, or if we don’t, we move on.
There are risks with this strategy, as we found in Kathmandu when a place we loved was all booked up, but that’s the trade off, and it saves us staying longer in places we don’t like.
We’ve stayed in dodgy places too, like the hotel at the bus station in Alor Setar, Malaysia. After hours of delays and missing the last ferry to Langkawi, were desperate to get off the bus. It was only one night after all. Trip advisor wrote, and I quote ‘ There are many hotels around the bus station….’, but no mention of quality. It was stale smoke ridden, unclean and just terrible, and we couldn’t wait to get out of there!
Refining as we go
Now we are challenging ourselves on getting that figure down further, having been inspired by other families on similar adventures travelling cheaper than that, even in places like Australia, which as an Aussie I know is not cheap at all these days – Kudos to them!
Its funny that in writing this I’m reminded of advice I’ve given to companies I’ve worked with when they go through their typical Cost Cutting cycles. The blind focus on costs is so often pursued with a one dimensional view that value is ignored completely. Too often the reaction is, “sack everyone and stop spending”, which eventually causes more pain than benefit.
Cost cutting is a silly exercise when divorced entirely from focusing on the value you get from what you are spending (or in looking at it the other way, the value you are losing from the cost you are slashing. Cost and value cannot be unlinked. But value takes more work, and this is no less true in our gap year journey.
We are travelling on a budget, but we’re not always travelling like budget travellers. Nor are we intent on finding “deals” on high end experiences. We seek value in the expenditures we make, but we have to work harder for it. Sure we could be doing it cheaper, but we’d sacrifice some of the value along the way, and that’s not what we’re here fore.
Although this post focuses simply on the cost aspects of long-term travel, the value of what we get from our spending is taken into account each time. Mostly we’ve come out way on top in our minds.
Everyone will have their own take on what is valuable to them; the true guide is only whether value exceeds your cost, however you may measure it.
Now of course there is one thing missing from this equation, and that is the fact we were both earning an income in London to cover our living costs — something we obviously aren’t doing at the moment while travelling, but we are working on that……..!)