People often wonder how much it costs to travel around the world. The answer is whatever you want!
There are people who enjoy camping, while others will only stay at 5-star resorts. I fall somewhere in between. I enjoy my creature comforts, but I’m not over the top (unless you want to bankroll my next trip and then I’ll go all out).
On our 30/40 World Tour, we didn’t camp or stay in dorm-style hostels. We always stayed in private rooms and almost always had private bathrooms, except when it wasn’t an option on group tours like our “sailing” safari in Fiji and bus tour through Australia. We stayed in a range of hotels from the $13 internet special to a 4.5 star resort with more staff than guests. We even stayed for free with family, brand new friends, and while volunteering.
For the most part, we didn’t rough it and our final price tag shows it. Our 10 week around-the-world tour of 8 countries ran us $25K. To top it off, we were still maintaining mortgages, car payments, and utilities at home. Although we did cancel phone, cable, and internet service during our time away. While taking on all these expenses, I was on a 3-month Leave of Absence from work and had no income. So the trip was not an inexpensive proposition.
The biggest chunk of money was spent on flights — $4K/person. It may sound like a lot of money for flights, but when I priced out a couple of different RTW (Round the World) airline tickets, they were $6K/person. Plus, those RTW tickets did not allow some of the exotic locales we visited due to number of hops or milage constraints. I was quite pleased with our individually booked flights because we almost always flew direct, and were able to use a week-long layover (included in the price of our ticket) to visit New Caledonia. Our flights ranged from $137 to $946 per person.
I was curious to see how we allotted our money across various categories while traveling. As mentioned above, our biggest expense by far was transportation including flights, car rentals, trains, airport shuttles, ferries, and subway rides. I separated out the transportation (sailing and bus tour) where accommodations and meals were also included.
Our next biggest expenditure categories were accommodations and food. Some of our accommodations in Fiji and Mauritius included meals, and are categorized in the Lodging with meals category. Food and shelter seem like reasonable expenses. We had to meet our basic needs!
After transportation, lodging, and food, our next largest category was cash. Oh what a black hole of undocumented expenditures! Cash was withdrawn from ATMs in country and probably spent on food, taxis, and other cash-only vendors. We never converted cash to a new currency, so I always tried to withdraw a small amount and spend it all before leaving the country. It may sound a bit gauche, but in New Caledonia I used my leftover cash and coins to pay our hotel bill and charged the remainder. The clerk was super nice about it, even though I was being a hobo.
We only spent 2% on entertainment, which included all the theater performances and a museum. Gas was for our rental cars in New Zealand. Goods consisted of toiletries that we purchased as we ran out (since we could only carry 3 oz. of each), a few gadgets (universal travel adapter and auxiliary cable for the rental car), sunglasses (after I left my mine in a hotel room), and a cute hat. Our other expenditures were for internet, laundry, and spa services.
Expenses by Country
So where in the world did we spend $25K? As you can see in the chart below, we spent most of it on flights. But the country where we spent the most money was New Zealand. That’s not surprising since we spent the most time there — 3 weeks. We were only in the US for half a day and in the UAE for less than 2 days, so those bars look pretty small in comparison.
We also had almost no expenses in UAE and Germany since we stayed with Sir Expat and my cousins. They were super generous and treated us to everything! So those countries skew low. Spain is also lower than normal since our lodging and meals were covered for a week during VaughanTown.
To try to normalize the data a bit, the chart below shows the cost per night in each country. Again, this is skewed by staying with relatives, so don’t think UAE and Germany are inexpensive places to visit. They certainly are not …unless you know people!
Remember that we also stayed in a range of lodging styles, so the chart below isn’t meant to compare similar living expenses in each country. It’s merely a representation of what we spent while experiencing life on islands without electricity to splurge hotels like Sofitel when we needed to recover. Our food also ran the gamut from quick sandwiches to extravagant sit down meals throughout the trip.
When splurging, one of Mr. HalfFull’s favorite phrases is, “How can we afford NOT to do it?” Often when you’re far from home, it’s wise to take advantage of the chance to experience things that may seem pricey because the opportunity is fleeting.
Another factor is the strength of the US Dollar versus local currency. All amounts in this post are in US Dollars. While we were traveling, the US Dollar was stronger than the New Zealand Dollar. But our American currency was weaker than the Australian Dollar and Euro, which made things seem more expensive for us.
Credit Card Fees
Before we left home, I called my credit card companies to uncover their foreign transaction fees. Visa and MasterCard always charge 1%, but your card issuer (Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi, USAA, etc.) can charge an additional percentage. So my USAA card was only 1% because USAA does not charge an additional fee, but one of my other credit cards ended up being 3%. While my credit card foreign transaction fees ranged from 1% to 3%, I discovered that my bank debit card did not charge a fee.
It makes me a bit nervous to use a debit card, especially while traveling, since it taps into my actual bank account and doesn’t give me time to review or dispute charges. But no transaction fee sealed the deal. We used my debit card throughout the trip for ATM withdrawals and purchases. But we still used credit cards on sites like hotels.com that process in US Dollars so foreign transaction fees were not an issue.
Before our trip, I had always used an old-fashioned paper checkbook register. This matched nicely with my old-fashioned paper planner. Although I’m far from being on the bleeding edge, I have always embraced technology. But I was still attached to these paper relics.
My work environment necessitated a paper planner. I also occasionally write paper checks to businesses that don’t accept credit cards. Since I no longer have duplicate checks, it made sense to record those checks in the checkbook register at the time of the check writing. It also forced me to practice simple math, which we rarely do anymore. Hopefully, this will save me from embarrassment the next time a 6-year-old tries to stump me with a rapid-fire addition or subtraction problem!
But the paper method drove me crazy on the 30/40 World Tour. It just wasn’t practical.
As I mentioned earlier, I was very worried about using a debit card linked to my bank account. What if there wasn’t enough money to cover an automatic mortgage payment? Questions like that made me nervous and drove me to spend a lot of time tracking receipts in my paper register. The problem was that currencies fluctuate. All my receipts were in local currency, but my bank account was in US Dollars. So I had to estimate the USD amount to track in my register.
But I never knew when the transaction would clear, meaning that the USD amount could change from day-to-day. Granted, we didn’t visit any places with highly volatile currencies, but I’m a perfectionist who balances her checkbook to the penny. Pretty close just doesn’t cut it for me.
Trying to keep track of all that on paper with a running balance was a mess. So I moved to an electronic register — a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet allowed me to track currency fluctuations easily and was much easier to maintain since I could move pending rows and know the true balance at any time.
I still use the spreadsheet today, so I no longer practice simple math. Keep your 6-year-olds away from me! =)
We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves on our trip and experienced a range of living styles from staying on an island where toilets only flushed at high tide to a boutique hotel with flower petals on our bed. You can always spend less, but life is about choices. We were constantly reminded that you get what you pay for.
- What country was most expensive in your travels?
- What do you splurge on while traveling?
- Do you subscribe to Mr. HalfFull’s philosophy on splurging?
- Do you use any antiquated tracking systems in our world of technology?