This is the part where we do what we are not supposed to do: we talk about money. Not just general facts, but numbers. Below, we have outlined exactly how much we spent while traveling, and how we built up the savings to support us for an almost 5 month around the world trip.
Our decision to travel long term did not come easily, nor did the work it took to get us there. We made a lot of sacrifices and worked our asses off to do this. However, we were also awarded opportunities and gifts towards this trip that greatly helped us to travel more comfortably and bump up the timeline for when we could leave.
Today, a year after we’ve returned, we are still working our asses off to compensate for this time. This trip was years of planning and saving before we left, and continues to be years of planning and saving after to make up for it. We would not trade it for anything, for us it was worth it, but this kind of trip is not a quick fix or irrational. At least it wasn’t for us.
Ultimately, all we did was set a goal and found techniques to achieve it. We wanted our lives to look different, so we became different. There were many long days, late nights, tearful conversations, and heated arguments, but those led us to volcano sunrises, deserted beaches, and sipping wine in the Tuscan countryside.
A caveat before we get started. I am fully aware that we had opportunities and access that others do not. This is not meant to be a blueprint for how to save money to travel or how to spend it when you are on the road for everyone, this is just exactly how we saved and planned for our time abroad.
How We Saved the Money for our 5 month Trip Around the World
We spent 4 and a half months, 19 and a half weeks, 136 days, or 3,264 hrs traveling in Asia, Oceania, and Europe. This is exactly how we saved for 5 months of travel.
1. We Got Married
Part of the incentive for this trip and what finally gave us the inspiration to actually go for it was our wedding. We realized during honeymoon planning that instead of a quick trip we wanted to spend time as newlyweds traveling. During the year and a half leading up to our wedding, we budgeted and saved hard for the wedding. Ultimately, we got back about what we spent due to generous gifts from our guests. We also had some financial help from our families for the wedding. A huge chunk of our savings for this trip–more than half–came from wedding gifts the year before.
2. We Kept a Very Strict Budget
Yes, we all know we should budget. But do you actually do it? We have been keeping an excel spreadsheet for over 5 years–seriously– that tracks exactly what we earn and how much we spend in specific categories. We’ve deviated from time to time, but mostly, we’re pretty consistent with it, especially when we started saving for our wedding and travels. At the end of every single day that we were traveling, we wrote down our expenses. I’m talking every little expense. If we spent $0.10 we wrote it down.
People approach this differently, it’s important to find a system that works best for you, your lifestyle, and your needs. There are apps and websites galore to help guide you in budgeting. However, this will never and should never be the easy part. This is where the real sacrifices are made, the tears are shed, and the magic happens.
3. Limited Overall Expenses
How did we keep to our budget? I know this seems obvious, but whenever I talk to people and they say that they are having difficulty saving money it has almost always come back to seemingly small expenses. Many of us just don’t realize how much money we are spending on little things.
As uncomfortable as it is, this is why we write every single thing down. After years of tracking our expenses, I am still amazed at how much things add up to every month.
The important thing with cutting costs is to not get too caught up in the enormity of it all. Using your tracker, look at easy and accessible ways to cut down first. Don’t immediately jump to moving to a different city for cheaper living or selling your car, those can feel insurmountable at first. Instead, focus on those small items that are amounting to a lot.
We did this constantly in the years before we left.
Eating lunch out is a small daily expense but a huge one monthly, especially in Manhattan, where we were living before our trip. To get a break from work without breaking our budget, I would make my own lunch and sit outside in the park. Or, I’d eat at my desk and then go for a half hour walk outside.
Same went for drinks and dinners out. We really value our social lives and did not want to give up time with friends, so we changed how we did it. Instead of going for happy hour, we invited them over or stopped by their place. We’ve never gotten a negative response when we’ve suggested this and have found instead that most of our friends are relieved to not have to spend money to hang out.
Likewise, we’re big on date night. This was one of the hardest ones for us. While we do treat ourselves to a night out from time to time, the biggest impact has come from shifting what we call a date. Now, we’re more likely to go for a hike or spend the morning at a nice coffee shop than we are to go to a fancy dinner.
It’s just about being creative, looking at the resources you already have, and then utilizing them to work for you. Then, prioritize what is important to you and continue to spend money on only those things. For us, the knowledge that every dollar spent was one less for our trip made it easier to focus. It’s harder to buy a latte at home when you know you can buy a much better one in France in a month if you skip it.
I could write a whole post just on this, as I think it’s simpler than people make it out to be–notice I said “simple” not “easy”–but I’ll leave it at that for now.
4. We worked, a lot
Both before we left and since we have been home we worked and work, a lot. Prior to leaving for our trip, Joe and I both had full-time jobs. Mine left me working well over 40 hours many weeks, so Joe was left to pick up extra work. Which he did, coaching basketball on weekends whenever he could.
Nowadays we’ve shifted, with Joe’s day job being time-demanding and mine more flexible. I pick up extra work constantly and Joe puts in additional hours when he can. In this way, we maintain a lifestyle that we want, fund our travel appetite, and put money into our savings.
5. We moved into a family home
Joe and I are very fortunate to have access to multiple family houses, one of which we used to save even more money before we left and after we came home. Joe’s family has a beach house in NJ. As it was summer, we moved out of our apartment 4 months before leaving for our trip and commuted into New York every day to save even more money.
Looking back, this encouraged us to quit our jobs quicker than we would have liked as the commute was grueling, roughly 2-3 hours each way. I ended up leaving my job at the end of July and Joe left his at the end of August leaving us until October with nothing to do.
The planning for the trip took up a bit of our time, but mostly this gap felt stressful. Initially, we thought having more time with people before we left would be beneficial. In reality, not working and having us leaving hanging over everything created tension. The free time ultimately put a lot of pressure on us and our relationships which was not all that helpful or enjoyable.
6. Gifts from family
While it was made clear that this wasn’t their first choice for how we would spend our time and money, our families were mostly supportive of our travels. In addition, some family members gave us generous parting gifts towards our travels or, if meeting us en route, paid for pieces of it while they were there.
7. Travel Hacking with Credit Cards
Joe and I got pretty serious into collecting travel points before we left, a practice that we have continued since we’ve been home. Since we are more mid-range travelers than luxury, we did not even end up using all of the points we had collected while we were away.
We were able to use points for different hotels in countries all over the world and have consistently used them to fly for free.
In my opinion, using points is one of the easiest ways to save money to travel. It’s simply a shift in perspective and habits. We use our cards for everything, strategically opening up new ones and utilizing promotions and opportunities to stack points quickly. Contrary to what people think, if done right–meaning you pay your card balance on time every month–this does not hurt your credit score. It’s something we’ve now been doing for years and we both have great credit.
There are too many great resources out there that are far more knowledgeable than us to go into this in great detail here. Check out The Points Guy or buy yourself a copy of Nomadic Matt’s Travel Hacking Guide for more info on this, both resources we use regularly.
How much did we save to travel for almost 5 months around the world?
This is not what we had in our bank account when we left, but what we ultimately estimated to be the number we saved for our trip.
|Amount We Saved
|Time it Took to Save
How Much Does it Cost for a Couple to Travel Around the World
Before we break down costs, let’s consider our travel style. On average, Joe and I travel on a mid-range budget with extremes on both sides. We splurge on extravagant hotels and meals from time to time and are also ok with spending nights in a guesthouse and eating street food.
Mostly, though, we opt for the middle ground: average hotels, a wide range in food costs so we get to experience everything, and purchasing the occasional tour or excursion, like a street food tour or volcano trek, if we feel it’s really worth it.
We never compromise on certain costs, putting things like safety and our general comfort level first. When we’re in certain locations, there are always ways to mitigate costs and people who know how to do just that, like these tips for the always expensive European travel.
Now, for the numbers. This is exactly how we much we spent during 5 months of travel. Remember that this is for both of us. It is cheaper per person to travel as a couple rather than solo, but the overall number is also a lot higher because there were two of us.
We calculated our numbers in the way that was easiest for us. This is what we spent in each country, that if often included travel plans for a different country. For example, our Indonesian expenses are high in spite of how cheap the country was because we booked New Zealand things while we were there. In Thailand, over $1,600 of that money is for our plane ticket to Germany and train to Italy.
This may leave it difficult to determine how much it actually costs to travel in each of these places, but it is an accurate description of the cost of bouncing from place to place while traveling over a longer period of time.
Cost of Traveling for 5 months Per Country:
|Number of Days
Cost of Especially Expensive Items that Skewed the Average:
This average is greatly skewed by some big-time splurges we made including eating at what is now considered to be the best restaurant in the world, Osteria Francescana, shopping for handmade leather goods in Florence, booking a trip home for Christmas, and having a proper romantic honeymoon in Vietnam.
|Country Average w/o cost
|Phu Quoc Honeymoon
|Osteria Francescana Dinner
The lowest expenses we had:
The average is skewed on the other end by eating lots of cheap street food in Southeast Asia, having access to free activities like the beach, and time with family in New Zealand, Fiji, and Italy where we did not pay for accommodation.
We rented apartments in Europe mostly and ate in sometimes and usually ate 2 meals instead of 3 for most of the time we were traveling.
Things like meeting up with friends to go waterfall hopping in Chiang Mai and booking an apartment rental in Rome through a friend of a friend helped to split up and cut down costs.
Also, it helps that because we were traveling as a couple, we were naturally splitting every cost.
Most Expensive Country We Traveled in: Italy
Cheapest Country We Traveled in: Indonesia
Things to Consider:
- We did not pay for most of our time with family: Fiji, Auckland, Flight home for Christmas, and some of Rome
- We did impulse book a trip home for Christmas. While we did not pay for our flight, our expenses being home and trying to visit friends and family over the holidays was quite expensive.
- We did receive money from family as gifts to travel including our plane ticket to New Zealand and cash.
- We used points and credits for some of our flights and hotels making them entirely free.
- I did not pay off my debt before we left. We budgeted to continue paying my student loans while we traveled.
- We did not spend all of our savings while we were away. Part of what we saved for before we left was a cushioning for our return.
- Certain places are cheaper than others within countries or regions and cost us less due to our circumstances. Our time on the North Island of New Zealand was much cheaper than our road trip through the South Island because we stayed with my brother and his family. In Italy, the cost varied greatly between regions in cities, with the small town we stayed in near Lake Como coming in far under
thantime in the trendy Roman neighborhood of Trastevere.
We’d love to hear how you saved for a trip abroad, or your thoughts on our process. Comment or shoot us an email, a shout on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.