The Ultimate Budgeting Guide for RTW Travelers

What We Spent

From June to late December 2010, we saw the world. We rode bikes, trains, hot air balloons…you name it. We ate in fancy restaurants and in the gutters of India. We rode in style on luxury buses complete with tie-wearing attendants. We crammed in overloaded minibuses and raced across the Jordanian desert with semi-suicidal drivers.

Unfortunately, all of this required money, and to make sure we had enough, we kept track of every rupee, euro, and dinar in our little black book. Each night, we entered the day’s expense in our slick Excel spreadsheet. Our trip budget was $35,000 for a maximum of 10 months on the road, and we saved nearly $70,000 just in case. We are still unemployed and semi-traveling, so I’m glad we saved as much as we did.

Our Methodology:

  • Expenses were recorded in local currency and converted to USD using a weighted average of exchange rates.
  • Each expense was filed under one of ten categories: Clothing, Entertainment, Food, Laundry, Lodging, Personal, Sightseeing, Souvenirs, Supplies, and Transportation.
  • With the single-currency Euro zone, it is difficult to determine total expenses by individual country given the organization of our spreadsheet. Instead, I have calculated total cost by currency used. With this method, all Euro-loving countries are lumped together. We visited 23 nations, so this tweak kept the tables a manageable size as well.
  • All figures are for the two of us. If you plan to travel solo, divide each figure by two and add 25% to lodging. Double rooms are often only slightly more expensive than singles, so the 25% adjustment should correct much of the difference. We stayed in hostels almost exclusively in Europe, so the lodging cost will be fairly accurate for that region already.
  • We also spent about $2,200 in Thailand on “post-trip” items such as tailored suits, Christmas gifts, pillow cases, etc. These items all were non-trip related and were purchased in Asia because they were cheaper than back home; therefore, all expenses tagged “post-trip” are excluded from the totals below. In a way, they can be considered a positive budget item because a $200 Thai suit purchase offsets a $600 suit in Chicago.

Pre-Trip Expenses:

Categorized Expenses by Week:

We are still traveling a bit, so this calculation was difficult.  If we limit the scope of the trip to early June 2010 to late December 2010, we come up with a total trip cost of $29,819. That’s 200 days abroad at about $150 per day ($75 per day/person). All things considered, that’s not bad.

Of that total, nearly 38% went to transportation, 22% was spent on food, and 27% covered lodging.

Daily Living and Transportation Expenses by Country:

This chart surprised me. Hungary was our most expensive country at $132 per day including transportation, and Latvia was our cheapest country at $38 per day (not surprising). India was a close second at $42 per day, but you get what you pay for. India is one of my favorite countries, but it is not for everyone.

Over the course of 75 days, we spent $131 per day in the Euro Zone including transportation costs. We skipped much of Western Europe save for Spain and Portugal, but we did visit Sweden which is one of the most expensive destinations in Europe.

This goes to show that you can visit Europe without breaking the bank…with a little effort. The secret: CouchSurfing!

NOTE: Flights are not included in this chart as to not skew the daily averages.  If airfare were included, the Total Per Diem would be closer to $150.  This chart should be used to estimate your expenses for intracity and intercity travel within a given country or region.  See the section below for airfares.

Transportation Expenses by Country:

We had to purchase visas for India, Turkey, and Thailand. Every other nation did not charge for visas or visa-free travel was possible for Americans. As expected, air travel was our largest expense at a little over $6,000 for the two of us. We flew 12 times over the course of seven months with an average cost of $500 per segment ($250 per person). Costs per flight:

  • Chicago to Riga, Latvia (via Copenhagen)–> $700
  • Stockholm to Barcelona –> $513
  • Porto, Portugal to Frankfurt –> $131
  • Sarajevo to Zagreb to Sarajevo (round trip) –> $234  (solo trip for Clark to fix the computer)
  • Sarajevo to Istanbul –> $522  (Cheaper before a $150 change fee due to the MacBook problem)
  • Antalya, Turkey to Cyprus –> $165
  • Larnaca, Cyprus to Cairo –> $329
  • Cairo to Amman –> $479  (ouch!)
  • Amman to Delhi –> $631
  • Jodhpur, India to Singapore (via Delhi) –> $837
  • Bangkok to Chicago (via Beijing) –> $1,547 + $300 for class upgrade

We chose not to buy a Eurorail pass, and our decision was a good one. We only spent $564 on train travel in the EU (excluding Hungary and Czech Rep.). Many Eastern European nations are not included in unlimited passes, so keep that in mind when making your decision.  Want my advice?  Buy as you go.  A rail pass locks you into traveling by rail.  Buses, hitching, and ride sharing are great alternatives to the train, and they are almost always cheaper.

Jordan isn’t so cheap.  It is very difficult to avoid long, expensive cab rides while traveling in Jordan. We racked up a painful $237 in cab fare during our nine days in the country. Keep this in mind if you plan on doing extensive travel in the Middle East.

Splurges/Mishaps:

As you can tell, we kept a close eye on our budget, but we were not slaves to the numbers. We splurged on a few items, and I am glad we did. You can’t pinch pennies every single day, or you will drive yourself crazy and miss out on once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Also, budget for mishaps because there will be a few. Here are a few of our big ticket items:

The Raw Data

Want to see how much socks cost in Konya, Turkey? Curious how many times we had gelato? Ever wondered how much face wash costs in Spain?

Great news! If you want a ready-made budget spreadsheet for your RTW trip or want to see every one of our 1,600 transactions, I have made our worksheet available to everyone!

Click here to download the actual Excel spreadsheet we used on our trip.

WARNING: This was created using Microsoft Office for Macintosh, so the PivotTables may not work properly in non-shitty Excel (a.k.a. Excel for Windows).  User be warned.

How We Saved

For years now, we have been car-free.  We have saved thousands on car payments, insurance, gasoline, maintenance, and parking.  That alone almost paid for this trip.  We also did many small things like saved coupons, ate out less often, and cut out trips to Starbucks. Kim even swore off pedicures for over a year!

Before leaving, we heavily researched average costs per day using travel blogs and other websites, and we made realistic assumptions about our acceptable level of comfort.  Sure, we could save money by sleeping on the street, but who are we kidding?  Make your money last by focusing on lower-cost regions of the world–  Eastern Europe, India, and Asia are among the most budget-friendly.  Cut lodging costs and have more fun by using CouchSurfing.  Eat in local markets, packing sack lunches, and use hostel kitchens to save even more




19 Responses to “The Ultimate Budgeting Guide for RTW Travelers”

  1. From Akila:

    The only thing I would consider is that India isn’t actually all that much cheaper than Southeast Asia. We were just in both countries and we spent fairly similar amounts – about $50-70 for both (but we were staying in A/C private rooms throughout). In fact, the tourist sites tended to be more expensive in India because they upcharge foreigners heavily.

    Posted on March 22, 2010 at 12:56 pm #
  2. From Trina:

    Kim and Clark you can and will do this! You are already on a “realistic” budget. Well worth it for the experience!

    Posted on April 2, 2010 at 11:33 pm #
  3. From Laura:

    Seriously, you guys are so cool. Well done. This is so well thought out and obviously it may not come out exactly as planned for each place, but it can’t be that far off. Really great.

    Posted on April 11, 2010 at 10:30 pm #
  4. From Gillian:

    Check out our budget link. We track everything daily. We always have a private room with bath, have a drink or two every day, but travel by mostly local transport and love to eat at the food stalls in SE Asia.

    Posted on April 13, 2010 at 9:55 am #
  5. From Clark:

    We are all about street food, but we don’t necessarily need a private room and bath. I’ve seen your google docs before. They are a very helpful guide. Thanks for keeping so much detail.

    Posted on April 13, 2010 at 7:53 pm #
  6. From amy:

    I am just still in complete awe of you guys and your dedication and success!!
    Wow!

    Posted on May 6, 2010 at 1:36 pm #
  7. From Nick:

    very very good budget. I havent traveled in Europe much so I cant comment there but you should have no problems in India/Asia. I budgeted the same daily amount and was under just about every day. Of course places like Malaysia/Singapore/China are on the higher end and India/Burma/Cambodia on the lower but it all balances out in the end!

    Posted on November 8, 2010 at 7:39 pm #
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    Hey there! We didn’t actually get chatting to you at the High Sacrifice in Petra but you took our photo and gave us your card..great photo, thank you! Didn’t realise you were such an adventurous twosome!! Your travel tales are fantastic..very envious!! Hope you are travelling well and having a great time! Happy Christmas to you both and safe travelling! Lucky you..you have (thousands!) of miles to go yet!

    Posted on December 17, 2010 at 1:30 am #
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