RTW Travel – How Much Does It Cost?



How much to travel the world? This post on our costs is way overdue…

To travel around the world was my childhood dream. The restlessness behind such a dream is one of the few personality traits that I share with my husband. We left Ireland in 1995 planning to spend “just a couple of years” living and working in the US before continuing onwards ever onwards. Fifteen years later, as I approached my 40th birthday and we considered high schools for our older son, our settled, normal life rankled.

How Much To Travel The World: Our Research

Our dream to travel for a year took shape slowly. We agreed to research costs. We postponed any decision-making until we had facts, in dollars and cents, to evaluate. The data posted by sixintheworld and 360degreeslongitude was invaluable. (The recent collation of real-life examples of RTW trip costs by is excellent). There is general consensus in these sources that $25,000 per person is a good baseline approximate cost for a year’s travel.

How Much To Travel The World: Itinerary Choices

To refine our budget further, we needed an itinerary. I read Tim Leffel’s excellent World’s Cheapest Destinations for ideas on where to go to make our money last longer. I pulled per-country budgeting guidelines from the Lonely Planet website and plugged the numbers into a spreadsheet. (Look under Practical Information/Costs for the country you’re interested in visiting. Here’s the entry for Thailand, for example). I used a per-country simple formula of:

(LP’s higher daily budget amount) * (number of days we planned to be in the country) * 4

and then summed that up across all the countries we planned to visit.

How Much To Travel The World: Our Budget

A copy of our initial budget lay on the table. We both stared at the rolled-up total, which came in at just under $80,000. We went back and forth on whether we should or should not go. The conversation ebbed and flowed over a number of days until we faced the decision which we’d probably really made the minute we had agreed to do the research. We had to go. Not to do so would leave a dream unfulfilled.

The decision to make this trip required that we plunder our savings and home equity. Or what was left of them since we’d already seen our savings decimated twice: once with the dot-com crash and again with the market implosion of 2008-2009. Deciding to spend what we had left before it too disappeared was perversely, an easy decision.

Taking this trip is a huge gamble. We’re betting that once we return to Seattle we will be able to get work and continue working for another 30 years to rebuild retirement savings. That we’ll likely need to work past normal retirement age is a price we’re OK with paying for an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

How Much To Travel The World: Our Actual Costs

* Flights have been our single biggest cost. We chose not to buy a RTW ticket, preferring instead to travel overland as much as possible and buy point-to-point tickets as necessary (i.e. to jump oceans). Total cost per person: $3,200.
* We’ve scheduled (and may add) a limited number of Big Ticket Experiences, roughly one per continent: the Inca Trail Hike and the Gibbon Experience so far. Next week the boys will be doing a one-week scuba certification course. I’ll add the total spent when the trip is over.
* Our Daily Budget is $150 to cover food, transportation and accommodation for all four of us. This is easier to keep to in some countries (Thailand, Ecuador) than others (Chile). As I add per-country pages to this website, I’ll include the actual average daily cost – see the Ecuador page for example.

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Photo Credit: LiteForex


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About wandermom

". . .life is short and the world is wide" - Simon Raven I'm not sure I've ever consciously planned a trip based on this sentiment, but it definitely influences my subconscious! I've been traveling as frequently and widely as possible since I finished school. And I love it. I love the research, the planning, the fervent packing and the curiosity of exploring somewhere I've never been before. My husband & I are both Irish - as in born-in-Ireland. But we live in Seattle. We have two boys: wild, boisterous, regular boys. So, since becoming a Mom, I've been a WanderMom. Given our slightly-unusual family situation, routine "visits-to-Grandma" are international trips requiring passports, 10hr-flights and (oh joy!) airport transfers. I have rants, raves and opinions about how, where & why to travel with kids (start them as young as you can, I say!). I hope to learn even more by researching topics which other wandermoms may be interested in reading about on this blog. Passports, pacifiers, diapers and gameboys at the ready - off we go! Contact Info: Email Michelle: michelle (at) murphnduff (dot) org

13 thoughts on “RTW Travel – How Much Does It Cost?

  1. GBK Gwyneth

    Wow! I really appreciate you sharing what choices you’ve made and how you’ve budgeted for this trip. While I don’t aspire to be a RTW’er, I feel much more enlightened knowing how others have managed to do it. And it inspires me to think about what kind of traveling I can do within my own limits — or maybe even help me realize I can push my limits….

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  3. wandermom Post author

    @GBK Gwyneth: Thanks for your kind comment + for all your links to my posts about our trip. I’m not saying that sticking to a budget is easy when traveling (we all know that’s not true!) but the most important thing for me has been recognizing how much the destination itself is a factor. Like I said, our budget was easy to keep in SE Asia – even with lots of activities + “special adventures”.

  4. Theodora

    I need to do a budget for ours, although we’re more ambling through continents one at a time… We’ve done what we’ve done so far on very much less than $25,000 per head, but have spent a lot of time in Asia, plus had family to visit in more expensive destinations. Thanks for the update…

  5. Mara

    Figuring out these numbers is hard work, and I’m not especially good at it. Our trip to England last summer was the first time in over eight years of traveling with kids that we actually stuck to the budget we made in advance.

    I think this post is a good wake-up call for people who might be a little on the cavalier side about costs for big trips like this (whistles and casts eyes upward).

  6. Jeanne @soultravelers3

    Wow! These kind of costs always amaze me because we have been traveling the world as a family non-stop for the last 5 years ( 39 countries on 5 continents often in expensive places like Europe,Bora Bora and Sydney or Singapore) and travel/live large on just 23 dollars a day per person…total costs.

    It really all depends on HOW you travel, so for us ( and many others like Theodora who travel slower) $25,000 per head per person is not necessary for a year of world travel. We do THREE on that and often in expensive locations ( and if we did not like luxury so much, we could do it on a LOT less).

    BUT we do travel slow and live like natives mostly ( eat like them, cook most of our own food, walk/bike/or use mass transit etc) , take time to immerse and learn languages/cultures ( we’re raising a fluent as a native trilingual/triliterate) that helps our budget as well as our enjoyment. A year sounds like a long time, but the world is big with so much to see and a year, even 5 years, zips by.

    Not very many people can afford 80K or 100K a year for such a trip, and I admire every family that does it and the sacrifices you’ve made to do it, but traveling the world on little has never been easier. Still, extended travel is not for everybody and 10 months to a year seems like the most common middle class RTW scenario. We travel the world on much less than we lived at home & actually ADD to our retirement & savings AS we roam.

    Flights definitely are the biggest costs, but if one stays longer and just does less of them, that helps. We saw 32 countries on just one flight for 2 years of exploring Europe ( our first two years).

    It surely helps to spend the longest stays in the cheapest places …which are often some of the best and rural areas also help with just short stays in cities ( which tend to be better for families any way).

    Once in a lifetime experiences are always worth it..good for you!

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  8. wandermom Post author

    @Jeanne + Theodora: Asia is cheaper than South America and significantly cheaper than Europe. We’ve been pleasantly surprised at how easy it’s been to stick to budget, have treats (the odd night in a decent hotel) and do our “special experiences”.

    @Theodora: If we hadn’t had family in Australia we wouldn’t have gone there. Period.

    @Mara: This is one budget we need to stick to otherwise we’ll be heading home early and since our house is rented out, that would be a problem :)

    @Jeanne: Slower is definitely cheaper but it’s also an entirely different experience than backpacking staying no longer than 3-4 days in one place. I’m glad we’ve had the opportunity to do both – the expat/immersion experience by moving to the U.S. and this backpacker-rtw trip.

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  12. Alyson

    That’s really useful, I’m wondering at the moment if our estimated budget will be enough. We’re going with $15,000/year for a family of 4. The kids are little, so we share beds and they don’t eat so much! We only need a short hop flight from here in Queensland into Asia, we’ll just take it from there. My husband came up with that budget, I’m just trying to figure out if I can trust his maths!

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