We’ve been traveling overseas for over a year now, and we have no intention of stopping anytime soon. It’s been a great time. People often ask us, what have we learned about the world? And, more frequently, how can we afford this lifestyle?
What have we learned?
You are supposed to learn about the different cultures in the world on a trip like this. Travel is supposed to be a formative period of growth. We definitely have learned and grown.
I could talk about how we live better lives with less stuff, how more possessions only slow us down. I could talk in detail about all of our amazing experiences and how that’s morphed our perspective of the world. Or we could look at what long term travel teaches you about what you really need to be happy in life. Perhaps instead I could talk about how travel increases one’s flexibility, how it teaches you to go with the flow and not stress about the little things. Or maybe we could detail Americans ridiculous perceived danger of the rest of the world compared to the realities. And on and on and on.
All of these things are great lessons, but I don’t think I’ll get into them here and now. At the very least I’d need to go into the details of each of the above, which would require a dedicated post for each subject. Maybe later.
Better yet you get out there and experience travel for yourself. These are lessons that can’t be truly learned secondhand by reading here, you actually need to get out there in the real world to get the rewards.
So what I am going to talk about here instead is the costs of taking a trip like this. In each country we visited I’ve logged our expenses. That’s New Zealand, Singapore, Nepal and currently Thailand. The point of tracking all of this is twofold – it outlines the costs involved to travel in each country, and it illustrates that travel like this is very cheap – cheaper than most people realise.
Grand total for about a year of travel
As of today we’ve been at it for 378 days and have spent a total of $9,277 each. That number includes airfare, insurance, things we still pay for back home, everything. That puts us at under $25 per person, per day, which is way less than we spend per day at home. $25 would just about cover my share of rent and utilities back in Colorado, and nothing else. Travel is almost always cheaper than staying at home.
So, that’s it – travel is cheap. The cost is not a legitimate excuse for delaying. If you have any interest in travel you should just go, like now.
How do we pay for that?
We get a lot of jealous comments from friends and people we meet about what we’re doing. It’s as if the choice we made to travel instead of working for the past year is somehow unimaginable or even impossible. How is it that we were able to save up enough for a whole year of expenses? Maybe we won the lottery.
Actually, there is no extreme luck involved with what we are doing. We’re not millionaires, our parents are not funding our trip, and we don’t have any special talents or skills really. We’re just travelers, we made a choice. Anyone else can make this choice too.
Everyone can save up enough to do a long trip like this if they want. Anyone can save up enough to travel for a year, $9,277 is not that much. It’s the price of a used car. If you dream of traveling, prioritize. Stop making excuses, make a few sacrifices, save a bit and go.
Getting past the excuses is the hard part
A number of years ago a friend did me one of the greatest favors of my life by asking a simple question. I was considering taking a trip out of the country, but not mentally ready to commit. It was a classic case of excuse making. I wanted to save up just a little more of a financial cushion, I wanted to work a little longer on a project at work, my house was a construction zone as I was in the middle of renovating the basement. The idea of traveling sounded fun, I thought maybe I’d do it someday in the future. You know, someday when I am prepared.
But with one question she forced me to stop making excuses. Her question was a challenge, a dare, and it was exactly the push I needed. Her question – “So, when are you going?”
That’s it. I just needed to pick a date. The next day I bought ticket for a flight half a year in the future. That gave me six months to finish all of the things I wanted to finish, or not. But either way I was going. The excuses didn’t really matter anymore.
For six months I saved up a bit more of a financial cushion which was probably a good thing. I never did finish that project at work, which didn’t really matter anyway as the restaurant I was working at changed concept when I left. And the basement remodel? I just barely managed to finish in the early morning a few hours before getting on the airplane after pulling a number of all-nighters working on it.
What did that trip cost?
That five and a half month trip was fantastic. I lived out of a backpack and explored a significant portion of Southeast Asia and ate everything imaginable. It was a very carefree and formative period of my life. It changed a lot of the things I seek in life, it taught me to value happiness above material wealth. That trip cost about $33 per day, or $5,500 in total.
There are thousands of fellow travelers lurking on the internet that corroborate how easy it is to travel with this sort of low cost. Of course there are also people who choose to move fast, drink a ton or splurge for luxury and manage to spend quite a bit more. Even at those higher costs I still think travel is cheap for what one gets.
What’s going on here?
The longer we travel the cheaper the trip becomes per day. All of the most expensive bits of travel are all loaded up towards the front of the trip – chiefly airfare and things like visa fees. But after a long enough period the expensive bits stop mattering so much, as they are just tucked away in the overall cost.
Think about the math for a second. On this trip we’ve been away for 378 days. To raise my average by $1 per day I would need to spend an extra $378 on something, let’s say a new fancy backpack. To raise my average by $2 per day I would need to spend an additional $756, for example on a plane ticket. On a long term trip costs that seem big are actually pretty insignificant.
On the other hand, if our trip was only two weeks $378 would be much more impactful. An extra $378 would increase the daily average by a whole $27 per day!
It’s the recurring costs that matter the most in the long term. If I had spent an additional $5 a day, let’s call that a beer each day, that would add $1,890 to my total. If we also add a daily $4 coffee we increase to $3,402. To really round things out, let’s also add a daily pack of cigarettes, which brings us up $5,292. Hey, that’s half a year of travel right there.
In travel, as in life, the big occasional expenses don’t matter all that much unless they are really humongous, but the little everyday things really add up.
Long term travel is like putting the rest of life on pause
The great thing about travel is that you can always go home when you are ready. Though you will probably grow and change as a person while away, everything at home will basically be the same, as if you never left. A job still waits. Maybe not the same job you had before, but a similar one, perhaps a better one. There will be more projects, more things that fill your day. Even those excuses will still be there for you when you get back, if you still want them.
So, when are you going?