My Cost of Full-Time Travel in 2011

by Nora on January 23, 2012

Every year I summarize my cost of full-time travel. It’s a great exercise in travel budgeting and expense tracking. And believe it or not, with the creative travel strategies I use to get free accommodation, travel slowly, and fly for pennies on the dollar, my cost of full-time travel is less than staying in one place.


Click here to see my cost of full-time travel in 2010.



What I Did in 2011

My full-time travels in 2011 had a lot of variety. The first five months was spent recovering from 2010(!) in New Zealand, then I had five months of hectic travels through North America, Europe, and Asia (including the Ultimate Train Challenge which spanned 10 countries on 29 trains in 30 days), and I finished off the year catching my breath once again on the Caribbean island of Grenada.


All in all I traversed 13 countries and 73,000kms in 2011. (Click here for a more detailed summary and video of my 2011 full-time travel adventures).



Price Tag for 2011

I was surprised to discover that my total expenses in 2011 were almost exactly what my full-time travel expenses were for 2010 (within $400)! This was far from intentional, and even a little surprising given some big-ticket purchases I had to make in 2011.


Drum Roll, Please…

My total cost of full-time travel in 2011 was $17,615.

All in. 


If you were to follow in my footsteps, you might have spent more, or you might have spent less. Travel is so very different for everybody (hence the popularity of my week-in-the-life series), and we tend to spend money on the things that are important to us and make adjustments in other areas that aren’t.


I could have spent less. But the end-goal for me is not to spend as little as possible; rather to simply spend within my means. (Which I do).


Because I specialize in finding free accommodation and flying for (almost) free, I am able to keep my overall expenses low enough that I don’t need to earn a lot of money in order to financially sustain my full-time travels.


Something must be working, because it has been five years and counting….




Following is a breakdown of my 2011 expenses, month by month. I’ve converted expenses from native currencies to US Dollars for ease of comprehension and comparison.




New Zealand

$524 USD


New Zealand


I started off the new year in New Zealand. January saw me traveling around the North Island, from Rotorua to Keri Keri. But I was exhausted from an incredibly busy 2010, and a desire to slow down the pace of my travel brought me back to my favourite haunt of Mana Retreat.


(I don’t have a specific breakdown of expenses for January, as I didn’t start recording my expenses in full detail until February. The month’s expenditures was largely a function of bus travel, food and drink, and gifts for hosts that I stayed with).





New Zealand

$725 USD

New Zealand at Mana Retreat


I volunteered in trade for accommodation and food at Mana Retreat for the month of February. Most of my expenses were discretionary and entertainment-related, with the exception of some banking fees, and $100 to extend my New Zealand visa.


February Breakdown

Food & Drink $177

Transportation $99

Phone $33

Personal Effects $74

Entertainment $133

Visa $109

Bank Fees $100




New Zealand

$467 USD

March in New Zealand

March was a relatively quiet month, spent largely at Mana Retreat, enjoying the views, the hikes, and the people. I also took a course in Reiki that makes up almost half the month’s expenses.


March Breakdown

Transportation $54

Personal Effects $55

Food & Drink $128

Bank Fees $35

Extras (Reiki course) $195





New Zealand

$604 USD

April in New Zealand


In April I continued to recover from travel fatigue at Mana Retreat, as well as making a few weekend trips to Auckland to “splash out” from my rural routine as well as to strut my vocal cords at a few performances.


$130 of the transportation cost was my plane ticket from New Zealand to Canada (where I would be heading for the summer – North American summer, that is).


Yes. I paid $130 to fly half-way around the world – and in business class no less. (Click here to see how I did it).


April Breakdown

Transportation $238

Personal Effects $40

Entertainment $98

Food $223

Bank Fees $5




New Zealand

$1294 USD

May in New Zealand


By my fifth month of living relatively rurally one place in New Zealand, I realized it was soon time to get moving again. My itchy feet resulted in me “splashing out” whenever I went into town! (I always spend more money in urban vs rural settings). My food & drink allocation is testament to said splashing out.


I also took a gospel singing workshop (that accounts for $130 of my entertainment expenses) at Mana Retreat that I count as one of the year’s highlights.


May Breakdown

Transportation $100

Food & Drink $453

Business Equipment $142

Entertainment $410

Personal Effects $173

Phone $16





Canada, USA

$1,641 USD

Enjoying business class

I’m on the move! With the onset of summer in Canada, I made the shift from southern hemisphere to northern (on my permanent mission to avoid winter). Most of June was spent in Toronto visiting family and friends. At the end of the month I took a quick trip to Florida (accounting for most of the transportation expenses) to visit a friend as part of the No Baggage Challenge.


You’ll see my food & drink allocation shot up, partly because I was no longer getting free meals (as I did at Mana Retreat), and also because I’ve consistently found that visits “home” end up involving lots of social calls, which in turn means lots of restaurants and cafes.


June Breakdown

Transportation $432

Food & Drink $747

Passport Renewal $117

Business $12

Entertainment $176

Personal Effects $157






$2,301 USD

sporting a new look in Quebec

I took a quick train trip to Quebec City on another No Baggage Challenge experiment, then spent most of the rest of the month in northern Ontario’s cottage country with family.


The high cost of transportation is made up of train tickets to/from Quebec (over $200), renting a car for the cottage ($300), and visa applications for China, Mongolia, Russia, and Vietnam in anticipation of the upcoming Ultimate Train Challenge in September.


I also got a nasty case of bronchitis (who gets bronchitis at the height of summer, you ask? Me. I do.) which cost me a few hundred dollars in doctor’s visits and pricey antibiotics.


July Breakdown

Transportation $1266

Food & Drink $502

Entertainment $244

Medical $289





Canada, Sweden, Portugal

$4,863 USD

August in Sweden


August was my most expensive month by far, for a few reasons:

  • I bought a new laptop and a pile of related business accessories
  • I traveled to Sweden for the last half of the month (which, between airfare and cost of living, wasn’t a cheap proposition)
  • I flew from Sweden to Portugal in preparation for the Ultimate Train Challenge start date of September 1st
  • My trusty wheeled backpack luggage finally gave up on me after almost four years of full-time travel abuse. I was in northern Sweden at the time with very few shopping options and no time to order anything online. Luckily I found an expensive but great replacement in my new Osprey wheeled backpack


August Breakdown

Transportation $1217

Personal Effects $297

Food & Drink $290

Business $2260

Accommodation $173

Luggage $288

Gifts for hosts $338


Note: Notice a new expense category? August was the only month I spent anything on accommodation! I splurged with a few nights in a hotel in Stockholm.




The Ultimate Train Challenge: Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Russia, China, Vietnam

$2,148 USD

September in Spain


Sorting out expenses this month involved converting and reconciling expenditures in nine different currencies! With the fast and furious Ultimate Train Challenge, September’s costs were largely transportation (train reservations with the Eurail pass) and food-related.


September also marks the annual renewal of my expat medical insurance, which provides global coverage in the event of a medical emergency. (Stay tuned for a detailed post about this in the near future).


All in all given the sheer amount of territory I covered, September was a pretty reasonable month. Of course, I had lots of help through Ultimate Train Challenge sponsors like HostelBookers, Eurail, Real Russia, China Odyssey Tours, and more. This is one of the benefits of long-term travel blogging; with a reputable blog and social media outreach, travel expenses can be offset with strategic partnerships.


September Breakdown

Food & Drink $455

Transportation $400

Phone $47

Entertainment $10

Medical Insurance $1128

Gifts for hosts $78

Personal Effects $30





Vietnam, Grenada

$1,901 USD

Vietnam in October


After a little recovery time in Vietnam (where I rode motorcycles, drank coffee, and ate as much as I could), I counter-intuitively backtracked across Europe and across the Atlantic ocean to the southern Caribbean island of Grenada.


And despite the cost of transportation to get there, it was a worthwhile trek across the world, as I discovered a paradise in Grenada in a house-sitting/dog-minding gig that kept my expenses nice and low for the rest of the year.

October Breakdown

Transportation $1193

Food & Drink $260

Personal Effects $51

Entertainment $42

Business $320

Gifts $35






$538 USD

November in Grenada


I spent much of November settling into the relaxing pace of Caribbean life in Grenada, and really enjoyed having my own space, with a kitchen to cook in, beach to walk on, use of a car, and time to just be.

November Breakdown

Transportation $41

Food & Drink $385

Personal Effects $67

Entertainment $11

Business $34






$609 USD

Waterfall in Grenada

Despite a slow start in Grenada, by December I had a nice routine and a great group of friends to ring in the holiday season. I had time to reflect on my year covering over 73,000kms and 13 countries, and to plan a few more adventures for 2012. (Hint: I’ll be in the Caribbean for a while, and trying out some travel adventures of the watery persuasion).


December Breakdown

Transportation $100

Food & Drink $328

Phone $18

Entertainment $118

Gifts $45




Summary: Financial Choices

How we choose to spend our money – full-time travel or not – varies dramatically from person to person, dependent largely on our respective dreams, priorities, and income.


I used to be a skydiver, spending every weekend and vacation on a drop zone, jumping up to 10 times per day. Skydiving is a very expensive sport. And yet, I managed to sustain this lifestyle for many years with my entry-level income and meagre savings. How? I made conscious choices about how I spent my money so that I could budget for the things I really wanted to do.


Full-time travel is no different. I don’t make a lot of money with my location independent career as a writer, but I also don’t need to – and frankly I don’t want to either. I make up for the small income with creative travel strategies and a slow travel style that keeps costs low.


I am financially sustaining my life-long dream of full-time travel; living around the the world. For this, I feel so grateful – almost incredulously so – every day.


On to the next adventure!




{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Sunny April 26, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Regarding your mention of steripen, there’s a difference between sterilization and filtration. Steripen uses UV light to sterilize water, killing harmful germs. But it doesn’t remove contaminants such as heavy metals (e.g. from industrial pollution and piping). On the other hand, filtration removes contaminants physically from the water. I’d think that filtration should work better on tap water which is usually sterilized using chemicals like chlorine & fluorine, but may still contain heavy metals or other nasty contaminants.


theprofessionalhobo April 27, 2012 at 10:52 am

@Sunny – I’m with you all the way. Thanks for the links!


Carlos May 31, 2012 at 9:33 am

Sleeping at friend’s houses 300+ days out of the year because you can’t afford your own accomodation is pathetic, in my opinion. I’m glad you think that is so awesome you even gave yourself a drumroll.


Carlos May 31, 2012 at 9:36 am

Living within your means? You can’t even afford to put a roof above your head without favors from others.


theprofessionalhobo May 31, 2012 at 10:39 am

@Carlos – Thank you for driving your point home not once, but twice! I’m not sure I got it the first time.
Who says I can’t afford to put a roof over my head? You obviously haven’t read my 2011 income post yet. (Don’t bother – I’m sure you’ll find it to be equally pathetic).
And if you read a little more carefully (which is usually a good idea before you leave a scathing comment – or two – on somebody’s site), you’ll see that I spend the majority of my time WORKING in trade for my accommodation – either by volunteering or house-sitting.
So drumroll for you my friend….you pay for your own accommodation with cash. Wow.


Sunny June 3, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I’m shocked at Carlos’s comments. There is a difference between being unable to afford something and choosing not to do it for a better alternative. I think the point Nora was making is that–even though she could afford to pay for her own accommodation– she chose not to do so, because it’s more fun (to her) to work in different capacities and countries. There is also some financial sense in saving money that could be saved so that it could grow by the compounding effect instead of be depleted. As long as Nora is not doing anything illegal or cheating to get her free accommodation, I don’t see what’s morally wrong with her getting accommodation by exchanging for it with her labour. She was not even begging for free things when she could afford them. She’s providing a service, contributing to the economy.


theprofessionalhobo June 4, 2012 at 9:14 am

@Sunny – Thanks for going to bat for me! It all boils down to the life choices we make, and the more unconventional the choice, the more backlash can be expected borne of a sheer lack of understanding of what it’s about. I’m glad you “get it”! 🙂


Peggy October 2, 2012 at 1:47 am

That last paragraph really resonated with me – life comes down to the choices you make. So true!

I try to explain to the people around me that I’m not “lucky” that I get to travel more than them – I just don’t have a plasma tv or a smart phone contract, and when I travel, I look for ways to cut costs like looking for accommodation on CouchShare or Airbnb instead of staying in 5 star hotels!

Luck has nothing to do with it!

Happy trails, Nora.


theprofessionalhobo October 2, 2012 at 12:39 pm

@Peggy – Just after I got my first-ever job (with an entry-level sort of income), I also got into skydiving…certainly not a cheap sport. But I made the necessary choices to both keep my skydiving expenses as low as possible as well as to make financial room for it in other areas of my life. I’ve never had cable tv, or many of the accoutrements of technology and life that many people had. It was simply a matter of priority and choice.
We all do it – all the time – but not always consciously.


joker October 22, 2012 at 4:10 pm

it’s amazing ! I would like to live my dream as You do !


theprofessionalhobo October 22, 2012 at 7:01 pm

@Joker – Thank you! I hope that this post made the idea of full-time travel seem a little more possible…


Flaco November 20, 2012 at 10:39 am

I’m SO GLAD I came across this blog!!! I ‘Stumbled Upon’ it actually! You are living my passion and ultimate dream of full-time travel! Good for you!


theprofessionalhobo November 20, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Thanks Flaco! Since you’re new to the site and dream of full-time travel, you may want to check out my new free series that teaches you how to do it!


David DeWitt November 23, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Nora! I came across your wonderful blog recently and just finished your How to Travel Full Time in a Financially Sustainable Way series and now am looking forward to more Newsletters from you – as it happens, I had a recent living conditions change and went through having to sell, store and give away much of my belongings, and move out of my house in Washington State so I have in a back door way been through the part of the process of getting rid of things and paring it all down to what I can never part with (except it is all in a storage locker back in WA) and I landed in Hawaii two months ago to begin sharing a house with a former retired co-worker who has lived here in Hawaii for the last 7 years. He said, David, what are you gonna do now? We are both artists so he said to me, I have studio space for both of us and too much room for one guy, so why not fly over and stay here? I have been here for two months and have established a base here. I intend to use your travel tips to move around all of the islands while maintaining my half of the house here in the village of Hawi (ha-vee) in the gorgeous North Kohala area! I was able to visit the hostel you stayed at in Kailua-Kona, and it is still just as you described it! I found the pottery you painted as part of your work-for-accommodation methods and took some pics of them! James, the current manager gave me a complete tour, and I was shocked at the fact that a private room was so large – a two bedroom apartment really, with a full kitchen – for $55.00 per night – A dorm room was just $25.00 per night (as of 11/23/12) and if you consider that hotels in Kona can cost you $200 and up, this is a huge bargain, just five minutes from Alii Drive the main street of Kona, all the shops and great beaches, and the Public Market! I noticed you signed one of the pots, too! It read: N Dunn ’96 – 16 years ago? This is something of a mystery to me, can you clear it up? Pineapple Park hostel is another great choice outside Kona and there is another wonderful hostel in Hilo that is a restored 1913 hotel with old world charm and modern amenities! Using your techniques its fully possible to travel around all of the Hawaiin islands at a fraction of the normal costs!


theprofessionalhobo November 24, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Hey David – WOW! I’m so glad you enjoyed the series (it means a lot to me), and Aloha to Hawaii! What a great opportunity for you.
Glad KOA Wood Hale (the hostel in Kona) is still awesome….and to clear up the confusion in my signature – the thing you thought was a ’96 was just a signature squiggly line below my initials! I properly signed one of the paintings (my favourite, of the woman in silhouette on the beach) – which reads Jan ’08.
I also stayed in the hostel in Hilo which you describe – which was great save for the street noise and car alarms (which, after having become accustomed to crickets and frogs, was a bit of a shock to the system).
Enjoy your base in Hawaii, and please let me know if you have any questions!


David DeWitt November 24, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Nora! I can see the squigglies now! Thanks for clearing this little mystery up! Someone has added two toned footprints leading toward the office since you were there! The woman in silhouette on the beach pot is still there, too. I took pics of all of the pots and also of the hostel, itself … nice view from the upper deck must be great for sunsets! I am going to go over to Hilo to place some of my abstract paintings in a gallery there and will stay at the Hilo Bay Hostel you enjoyed. Hilo is a two hour trip down the beautiful west coat of the Big Island along the Mamalahoa Highway from Hawi where I am living I can see the ocean from my bedroom window. Another hostel for your readers to be aware of near Kona is the Pineapple Park Hostel farther down the Kona Coast near the Captain Cook Memorial – even more well appointed than the Koa Wood Hale! You can rent a scooter in Kona to get there, too. Did you get over to the Kona Inn, in Kailua-Kona? This was the favorite ocean front hangout of actors Richard Boone and Lee Marvin who owned a couple of marlin charter boats in Kona named “Blue Hawaii” and “Goodby Charlie” – the bar they hung out in is still there and so is the covered outdoor dining area! I do have questions for you! Enjoy your YouTube videos (Nora Dunn) and subscribed yesterday!


theprofessionalhobo November 24, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Awesome, David – thanks for the recommendations of things to do and places to stay. I’m so happy you are enjoying Hawaii. Enjoy Hawi – it’s an absolutely beautiful part of the island.


David DeWitt November 29, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Nora! Thanks for putting up 9 new videos of your time on the Big Island on your Nora Dunn YouTube Channel! I enjoyed them a lot … was nice to see you standing along the same road to Waimea at the lookout in the hills that shows the full sweep of the coastline and the ocean before you drop down into the town of Waimea. Hawi, where I live, is just 21 miles north of Waimea. Noticed the Hawaiian memorials in one of the videos along the highway to Kona made of white stones which stretch for miles along both sides of Queen Kaahumanu Highway (19). I see you found the little beaches and out of the way spots, and saw the incredible lava fields! I have yet to go see them, myself.

People don’t expect to find snow in Hawaii, but it here on the big island! I am going to see the observatory soon, too, featured in one of your videos.

In other videos, I loved the train challenges! I went up one side of the US coast from LA to Seattle, across to New York, and down to Miami aboard the trains once, then flew to the Virgin islands as part of a month long trip – stayed with friends along the way, in a small hotel in NYC near the U.N. for a few days, and then overnight in Miami before the flight to the USVI … stayed with a nice couple looking for temporary house mates in Charlotte Amalie, took the bouncy boat over to St. John, and had a great time. Love trains, and have yet to get to Europe to experience them there. There are short line rides you can find in the Seattle area where I am originally from that are fun. I imagine these short lines are everywhere in the world!


theprofessionalhobo November 30, 2012 at 7:09 am

Hey David – Yes, it snows in Hawaii! I find it especially humourous when people take it upon themselves to go “snowboarding”….but hey – you work with what you got!
I don’t remember the exact statistic, but it was something like of the 14 microclimates that exist around the world, 12 of them are on the Big Island of Hawaii alone! Wow.

Trains? Did somebody say trains? I love trains. Too bad there aren’t any in the Caribbean! Ha ha! Talk about short lines…. 🙂

And I’m glad you enjoyed the videos. I look back on the Hawaiian Adventures playlist ( and I see how far I’ve come with shooting and editing! (It helps to have a decent camera and real editing software)! But I’m glad you could see past the quality and admire the scenery and adventures. I find it’s especially nice to watch videos when you’re familiar with the territory.


David DeWitt November 30, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Nora! Yes, you have learned a good deal about film and editing along the way but have always had good instincts for not only shooting and editing but being on camera, too. My daughter is in her first year of film school in Manhanttan, and is shooting short films for her Film Production class. She intends being a film editor but has gotten great feedback from an independent filmmaker I know in LA saying she might want to consider being a film director because she is a natural storyteller. There is an inexpensive video camera steadi-cam called the Hague Mini Motion Cam Stabilizer that gives you smooth camera movements even if you are running down stairs with it! If you have interesting lenses to go with your camera you can do very professional looking steadi-cam shots with this device. And it’s affordable. $103.92 USD, I think, from ebay (11/30/12) and it ships from England in about 3 weeks. I am not an affiliate or anything, just sharing this with you – you have become a very professional videographer since the early days, so I thought you might be interested. This devise would pack easily in a backpack with your camera – and it would be unobtrusive in most places you cared to film.

Oh, yes, there are so many different eco-systems here on the Big Island, and Hilo is the one place in the USA that gets the largest yearly rainfall.

Trains! I read the entire collected letters of Ernest Hemingway (it’s thicker than a loaf of bread) on the train trip around the USA I took … And if you can skip a hotel bill if you are traveling more overnight! Agree, Jamaica and other places would benefit from a short rail line or cross country line. It would provide jobs, too. Maybe you can find a few short lines somewhere in the world that are basically going in the same direction and make that one of your adventures? These short lines are usually The Orient Express type lines – ancient but classy!


theprofessionalhobo November 30, 2012 at 5:51 pm

My favourite venerable author with a passion for trains is Paul Theroux. I expound his ideas here:


thepointstraveler December 23, 2012 at 10:16 pm

I just Stumbled on your blog and have to say I think it is pretty cool that you are able to spend so much time seeing the world! I love to travel and take several free trips (through accumulating free miles & points) every year, but I can only imagine what it would be like to just roam free all year! Good for you! Maybe once the little ones have grown up I will get the chance to spend a year or two on the road!


theprofessionalhobo December 24, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Glad you found this site! Heck – if your travel bug is strong enough, you could even take to the road with the kids! I know lots of families who do – even for a sabbatical.
Either way, it looks like you’re already quite a successful travel hacker…..enjoy! Happy travels.


Jorge February 26, 2013 at 2:48 am

Hey Nora,

Just came across your wonderful site and other articles you have written. You have definitely inspired me to travel and live life differently. Will you be breaking down 2012 anytime soon?




theprofessionalhobo February 26, 2013 at 10:08 am
m February 26, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Really enjoyed reading your breakdown of a quite awesome adventure!


theprofessionalhobo February 26, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Glad you liked this post, m – Thanks!


Jimmy October 29, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Just left the rat race in pursue of a new way of living!pls take me with u!!?


theprofessionalhobo October 29, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Jimmy: Congratulations! And I’ll be with you in spirit… 😉
Where to?


Libby Walkup February 6, 2014 at 5:05 pm

This is so great and actually makes long term travel seem possible. Wondering. Because I’m really bad at keeping track of my expenses and will definitely have to get better no matter what I do or where I go, how do you track this?



theprofessionalhobo February 6, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Hi Libby,
I love using my smartphone to track expenses; as I spend a dollar, I log it into my phone!
If you have an iPhone, I absolutely adore using Trail Wallet:


Josie April 26, 2014 at 4:27 pm


I’m an aspiring chef and for the past 3 years I’ve been on my “Food Journey”. I’ve been in 4 different states and various cities just to gain inspiration for my craft. I’m now in my complacent phase here in Vermont and ready to just continue my trek across the globe. Your blog is quite insightful when it comes to budget travel and the best way of doing so because as we all know that in the culinary field we don’t make a lot. I was worried about funds and such until I stumbled across your blog this morning and it definitely gave me hope for the end of the year.


Nora Dunn April 28, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Hi Josie,
Glad you got some hope from realizing it’s possible to continue your travels! Happy traveling – and eating! 🙂


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