How Much Does it Cost to Travel?

You know there’s not going to be any one concrete answer to this, right?

This is a question I get asked a lot in the comments and in emails, and it always makes me wince a little, because when I answer I usually have to say it depends.

Kind of vague, but true. What does it depend on? Well, a lot of factors and also on unforeseen circumstances. Even so, with some careful consideration and a little research you should be able to figure out a pretty good budget to aim for.

Here are the factors you need to consider:

Splurge on ice cream

What Is Your Travel Style?

The biggest influence on how big your budget needs to be is your travel style.

So what kind of traveler are you? I’m willing to bet most of the people reading this consider themselves backpackers, but there are many shades of budget. Will you be scrambling to find the cheapest flights, self catering and hostelling it up, or will you aim to rent apartments, eat out frequently and splurge once in awhile?

It’s important to be honest with yourself here. It might seem ideal to pinch every penny you can by squeezing yourself into the cheapest dorm rooms and eating nothing but canned beans, but chances are the actual reality might be miserable. If you’re the kind of person that values a private room, take that into consideration. There’s no shame in knowing yourself.

Cheap eats in China

Where Are you Going?

This may seem obvious but different parts of the world cost more or less. Six months in Europe is going to cost a whole lot more than six months in South East Asia.

Based on my experiences:

Expensive: Western Europe, Oceania, Japan

Mid-Level: South America, Eastern Europe

Inexpensive: South East Asia, China

Once you know where you want to go roughly, then you can start researching an average daily budget in those places. Blogs are a good place to start, but you can also get a rough idea by pricing out accommodations. The general rule of thumb for a daily budget is a nights accommodation x 2 or 3 (depending on how shoestring you plan to travel).

You can also start to price out flights, which are usually one of the biggest expenses for a trip.

How Long Are You Going For?

How long do you plan to to be abroad and where?

I wouldn’t recommend you plan your trip out to the day, but if you have a general ballpark for how long you plan to be in each region, you can figure out how much money you’ll need for that leg. It’s not necessarily true that a longer trip will cost more than a shorter one either, depending on where you go and for how long.

Some of us like a little more spontaneity in our travel plans. We don’t know how long we’re going ot be gone for or where we’re going to end up. That’s cool too, but then you need to pad your travel budget a little more to make sure you have room to choose as you go.

Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef

What Kind of stuff are you Going To Do?

Consider the big ticket items on your wish list- things like tours, rental cars, adventure sports activities or safaris. These things often cost quite a bit of money so you’ll need to factor that into your budget.

It’s definitely good to do a little web research while budgeting. Nothing is worse than getting all the way to Australia and realizing you can’t skydive because it costs way way too much money (not that I’d know or anything…).

Will you Have Any Income Streams?

Part of the reason it is hard for me personally to pin down the budget question is because I work on the road. I have money coming in as well as going out, and I’m not very good at accounting so it all kind of gets muddled up. I could tell you how much is in my bank account (I won’t) but I couldn’t tell you how much I’ve spent  on travel in the past year. I know, I’m a mess.

If you will be working while on the road, be it teaching English or freelance writing, then you have an extra cushion that most people don’t have.

Note that this is for people who actually KNOW they will have money coming in. If you think maybe you can start a travel blog and make some extra money as you go, it’s probably not wise to depend on that hypothetical money.

Life on the edge

How Big a Gambler Are You?

Another way to phrase this would be, how big a comfort cushion do you need?

Things go wrong on the road: people get injured, loved ones get sick, plans change. For that reason you will probably want to invest in some sort of single-trip travel insurance. You might also want to sock a little money away for emergencies not covered by insurance (read your policy, they are usually oddly specific on what is and isn’t covered).

Finally, consider adding in a re-entry cushion for after your trip. If you don’t have a job waiting for you at home, you will probably need some money to cover living expenses while you re-establish yourself post trip.


Okay all that said, the general wisdom is $20,000 to travel around the world for 1 year. That was my base line and my goal. Did I stick to that budget? Well, kind of sort of… My plans for a one year trip veered wildly off the rails at the very beginning which is why I’m writing this from a high rise in Buenos Aires and not an office building back home.

Plans do change, but you can set yourself up for success by planning ahead. So you take all of these threads and tie them together and you should have a pretty good picture of what kind of budget you need to aim for. Basically, creating a budget goes hand in hand with trip planning: it’s hard to do one without the other.


21 Responses to How Much Does it Cost to Travel?

  1. Tim L. February 8, 2012 at 10:26 AM #

    Excellent advice Steph. Since I’ve got a book out on the cheapest places to travel, I get this question a lot and “It depends…” is how I start every answer. Where you go and how long you’ll be there make a massive difference in your budget. Spending two months each in six cheap countries can be 1/3 the price of hitting 24 countries in a year and spending half of that time in western Europe. Being a country-counting box-checker is costly.

  2. Sarah February 8, 2012 at 11:17 AM #

    Ohhh I love these sorts of posts!

    I always click on them expecting to read something ridiculous like “My trip cost me $14,966.04 to be exact” even though I know deep down that is incredibly unrealistic (and I mean, if I can’t keep track of my own money, why should I expect others to?) 🙂

    Thanks for reaffirming that a “kind of sort of” budget can still work! 🙂

  3. Nicole ( February 8, 2012 at 12:31 PM #

    Great post. I think for many people having a general scope of cost/what the cost means/gets you/the reach is the first step in starting to save and set a goal.

    Love your perspective.

  4. Priya February 8, 2012 at 1:51 PM #

    Great post. This definitely put me in reality. Money is my biggest reason for not traveling.

  5. Rebecca February 8, 2012 at 3:01 PM #

    I swear by the phrase “it all depends”. I knew I would have a better time by having a private room in most places and because of that, my travels were cut in half. I didn’t mind. It depressed me when a pair of German girls who were certified divers couldn’t dive in Australia because they didn’t budget it in. WTF?!

    I went on my first “real” vacation in a few years last year for 2 weeks in Peru and I traveled very differently there then I did for 2 years working and traveling in Australia and New Zealand. Like I said “it all depends”.

  6. Leslie (Downtown Traveler) February 8, 2012 at 10:14 PM #

    What a helpful guide! You can truly travel at any budget… there are so many inexpensive places to visit. Often the ticket there is the biggest expense!

  7. Christine February 9, 2012 at 12:58 AM #

    Really good sum-up–I’m pretty frugal most of the time, but then I realize that I’m halfway across the world, for goodness’ sake–might as well enjoy it!

  8. Drew Meyers February 9, 2012 at 1:12 AM #

    Yes, unfortunately for would be travelers, it “just depends”…the process to budget out trips like this is subpar at best. I’ve spoken to some who have $X, and then just travel until it runs out…then fly home on a credit card.

  9. SW February 9, 2012 at 1:01 PM #

    Great post! There are tons of factors ton consider when traveling and no two trips cost the same.

  10. Hannah February 9, 2012 at 2:34 PM #

    Ah, great post! “It depends…” You are so right! I get asked this question a lot too, so decided to be completely open about my travel expenditure on my blog – every penny earned, saved and spent. Hopefully it will show people how achievable their travel plans really can be 🙂

  11. Daniela February 9, 2012 at 2:39 PM #

    I would love to read an article about budgeting for Buenos Aires!

  12. Sheryll February 13, 2012 at 3:04 PM #

    Awesome post Steph!

  13. Jill February 16, 2012 at 7:13 PM #

    Good advice. I think the most important factor is identifying what kind of traveler you are- budget or splurger? I certainly am the budgeter. I don’t mind staying in a night or two on my trip if it means that i’ll be able to afford a snorkeling trip on the Great Barrier Reef.

    I also think your point about not being “married” to a plan is spot on. Travel plans change, and to resist those changes could be somewhat costly and a cause a headache at the end of the day.

  14. Vacay Girl February 26, 2012 at 12:51 PM #

    Ha. This is funny. If you’ve done any kind of traveling that’s what the general answer will be, “it depends”. I always say that as well. I can go to the same place as last year and spend less than what I did then. You just never know what kind of deals will pop up. Flights change, room rates change or perhaps you find a place to stay that’s just cheaper. It all depends. :0)

  15. Karl Keefer August 20, 2012 at 6:06 PM #

    Great article. This is one of the most common questions relating to travel that really doesn’t have a simple answer. It was questions like this that led me to build the tool on my website. It’s really hard to quantify because of all the variables, but I tried to factor those variables in, at least on the budget traveler end of the spectrum.

  16. Randy Roldan September 20, 2012 at 6:59 AM #

    ir has always been my dream to move to U.S. , but since i have No family support, it’ll be beyond hard…. i wonder how much it cost to travel just from Puerto Rico to massachusetts or NYC

  17. MISSADVENTURES November 26, 2012 at 2:06 PM #

    Fantastic post and we definitely agree! It’s all about spending wisely while on the road – you’d be surprised at what you can do with limited money.

  18. Bobbi Lee Hitchon November 26, 2012 at 2:53 PM #

    Perfect answer to what is probably the most common question in travel. It really does depend. I was just comparing budgets of trips recently and found that I spent about $NZ1000 less on six lazy weeks in SE Asia than I did on a jam-packed two week road trip in New Zealand. Just proves that people can travel on any budget depending on what they fancy.

  19. Natalie T. November 29, 2012 at 10:50 AM #

    Great post! It really does depend. When I travelled solo in Europe, I ended up spending over $10,000 in three months. This included other costs like clothes, souvenirs and of course, experiences/tours. I’m sure my money would have gone twice as long and far in Asia but it’s the trip I wanted to have and I don’t regret any penny!

  20. Grant Lucas November 6, 2013 at 3:46 AM #

    Sums it all up! I used to travel in Asia a lot. Its much cheaper and you can still get to see the beautiful places and each country famous tourist destinations. However traveling in a much more expensive country can also be included in one of your lists. Sometimes you need to set aside the expenses to get that amazing feeling. If you worry on budget too much there are other options to still get the vacation you’ve always wanted. I have tried house sitting, couch Surfing and even extend a little hand for work to pay in return for few nights of accommodation and food. Its really fun!

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