Before setting out around the world, we thought we were saving money to support ourselves in Seattle. But that area was so expensive. Our rent inched toward $2,000 per month, excluding utilities. Number crunching revealed our money would last longer if we gave up our apartment and lived on the road. So we left. And since day 1, we’ve kept careful track of our spending (and a bunch of other things).
Our initial budget was $3,000 per month of travel, roughly broken into a third each for housing, getting around, and everything else. Three years on, our spending is below that guesstimate. It helps that we were thrifty before we set out and didn’t let ourselves fall victim to lifestyle creep on the road. We don’t feel like we are cheating ourselves though. Being a homebody feels downright adventurous when we’re in a new home every month.
Over time our spending has gone down, mostly because we’ve gotten better at getting the best value for our money and not because we do less. For a while we booked apartments targeting $1000 as an average. Some cost less, others more. Now, we almost never go over that and usually find great places for $800 or less. Our three-year average is $930 per month (excluding that idiotic cruise↗), and about 40% of our total spending even including expensive boat time. This year was our lowest-spending on housing to date, but we still ended up in this beautiful apartment in Zagreb for Christmas and had a stunning view of Ararat in Yerevan. But we’ve had disappointments too. Nothing like last year’s mosquito-filled cottage in Uruguay, but Tbilisi was a let down and there’s always the chance we’ll end up next to heavy construction. Other nomads may get away with spending less by calling around locally. But we prefer Airbnb’s rental protections and support (which has helped us find alternatives to misrepresented apartments in the past), so we are happy with our choices.
A grand a month for getting around proved a massive overestimation. Even factoring in five separate intercontinental flights, our average monthly move costs just $280 for two people. Europe’s competing means of transit ensure that it costs almost nothing to bounce around between countries, which is why it’s become one of our favorite places to stay. Our biggest mistake was getting stuck in Uruguay↗, by no means a transit hub on a continent with already-expensive airfare. At a whopping $1,455, repositioning from Montevideo to Prague felt like a gut punch and was by far our priciest move. We mostly use public transit for getting around within a city or for weekend jaunts. This averages to $65 per month. And we walk a lot. We’ve only rented one car; the stress of driving in Romania combined with staff that tried to rip us off when we returned the thing put us off that idea though. Our spending on all transit types has declined over the trip as we prefer more walkable areas and focus on exploring a region like the Balkans rather than jet-setting around the globe.
We prioritize eating well, and our average spending for food stays remarkably consistent at around $550 per month. Pricey, but that includes drinks as well as any restaurant meals. Of course we mainly cook at home, and we’re pretty good at it, so we’re okay with that price tag. The exception is Southeast Asia, where it is cheaper to go out and there are endless new things to try. Food has been the most predictable item in our budget, always with in a couple hundred dollars each year, working out to approximately 21% of our total spending.
Of course, food on our plates and a roof over our heads are the basics, but not our only expenses. We have health insurance that takes up about 7% of our total spending. The spike in year 3 is related to needing to visit doctors after a broken bone and paying out of pocket towards our high deductible. (Pro tip: Don’t go to Armenia for the healthcare. But do go there because it is fabulous↗.)
Other recurring monthly expenses include our albatross of a storage unit and invaluable mail-forwarding service↗ in Seattle. Those get rolled into the “Other” category along with miscellaneous items like data plans, haircuts, new shoes, toiletries, housewares (why do so many Airbnbs lack pans?), and really anything that doesn’t fit elsewhere. On the above bar graph, it even includes all our museum and theatre admissions and activity-related expenses. It amounts to about 15% of our total spending. Though this category decreases over time, the first year we factored in buying brand new phones for the trip and year two saw both our computers throwing fits.
We figured that housing would be our largest outlay, but are a bit surprised that eating is our next largest expense rather than transit. It speaks more to how cheap travel can be in other parts of the world rather than how much food costs. We’ve managed to keep our miscellaneous costs low, but it is high time to replace our hiking shoes and rain jackets again after years of wear, so some of these costs have just been pushed down the road by our own frugality (cheapness).
Percentage-wise the largest savings has been in our internet/phone budget. In Seattle, we paid nearly $180 each month for phone and internet. Now our average is $27 per month. Since we book Airbnbs with internet, much of that cost vanishes into our housing budget and we only need to purchase SIMs and data plans which are far cheaper just about anywhere that isn’t the United States (or Canada).
We’ve been relatively lucky with exchange rates, which have been in our favor more often than not. Of course, it feels like every time we need Euros they rise against the dollar, and the Argentinian Peso is now at 38:1 rather than the 14:1 when we were there. But the swings generally balance out and don’t make a big impact on our bottom line. Since we use ATMs to get local currency and have a card that reimburses fees, we don’t worry about being ripped off by shady exchanges or carrying much money day-to-day.
In all, three years of continuous slow travel has cost less than $93,000. This number is all-inclusive for two people – housing, transit, insurance, food, drink, going out, computer repairs, storage for the items we left behind, healthcare, even two phones we bought for the trip. It’s a big number, but less than a basic existence in Seattle would have been. We also don’t have any unexpected costs associated with owning a house or car or pets.
We both agree full-time travel has been more than worth it. And compared to some other travelers we’ve seen online or met in person, we move a little slower and see a little less, but save a lot of money by doing so. It helps that much of what we enjoy is cheap or free. Watching hot air balloons lift off in central Vilnius↗ or walking along the Strait of Magellan costs nothing. But of course, in reality, it is priceless.
Photographs Taken: 37,515Countries Visited: 32
Trans-Oceanic Flights: 5
SIM cards used: 30 each
Journal Pages Written: 545 across 5 notebooks
Airbnbs Lacking Potable Water: 7.5
Dog Bites: 1
Broken Bones: 1
Shakespeare Plays: 2
Sushi Meals: 7
Broken Computers: 2
Attempted Purse-snatchings: 1
Books Read: 182
Game Consoles Carried: 2
Cats Befriended: 4
Dogs who Befriended Us: 1Seaside Stays: 10
Airbnbs with Only a Fireplace for Heat: 1
Airbnbs with Cows in the Yard: 1
Airbnbs with Water Issues: 6 (Are we cursed?)
Movies in Theaters: 4
Stays with Pools – 3 including the cruise
Unforgettable trips: this one