Financial Travel Tip #22: What is a Realistic Travel Budget?

by Nora on March 31, 2012


A reader who is planning an upcoming long-term travel adventure recently wrote me with the following question:


I re-read your article about being able to travel 1 year for $14,000. (Editor’s note: that is an old article; for a better cost of full-time travel with updated resources, try this one). 

My idea is to do long-term work exchange, maximum 2-3 different places, possibly not too far from each other and only the ones which offer accommodation and food. My goal is to spend no more than $6,000/year. Is this totally unrealistic?



This is a great question. You could probably keep your travel budget that low, providing you do a few things:


1) Don’t travel internationally (stay on your continent). The farther you go, the more you’ll pay to get there (and back). A return flight from North America to Asia or Australasia is $1,000 – $1,500 – that’s up to 25% of your annual budget right there.

(See also: International Train Travel: An Evangelist’s Rant)


2) Volunteer at places that provide both accommodation and meals. These tend to be out-of-the-way locations, often quite rural, so you don’t really have a chance to spend money on anything other than food and accommodation – which is covered. (In my experience if I’m in a city, I spend more money).

(See also: Financial Travel Tip #1: Applying Everything in Moderation While Traveling, and Living at Mana Retreat)


3) Travel slooooooooowly. A minimum of 2-3 months in each destination is good, and like you say, if they’re pretty close to together you’ll save further travel expenses.



If you are volunteering in exchange for food/accommodation, your only expenses will be toiletries and personal effects, extras like drinks or trips into town (depending on where you are), and – this one’s a biggie – the travel expenses you incur between volunteer gigs. This is where you’ll rack up accommodation, food, and transportation expenses that can easily get out of hand, especially if you are coming out of 2-3 months of rural life and are suddenly in a city trying to recoup, restock, and rejig.


My cost of full-time travel is certainly not the same as other people’s costs, and this reader was not the first person to ask me if it can be done for under $10,000. It’s a matter of personal priorities, travel goals, and lifestyle choices. (We’ll talk about this more on Monday).


Check out the down-and-dirty details of my exact cost of full-time travel over the last couple of years:


My Cost of Full-Time Travel in 2010

My Cost of Full-Time Travel in 2011

My Cost of Full-Time Travel in 2012



{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ayngelina March 31, 2012 at 9:46 am

I have a lot of people ask me the same about South America, which I did quite comfortably for 1000/month. But then they want to go to the most expensive countries – Brazil/Argentina/Chile where it’s very difficult unless you stay in one place. Those countries are very different from Peru/Bolivia/Ecuador/Colombia even though they are on the same continent.


2 Gigi March 31, 2012 at 12:54 pm

I’d add that in between volunteer gigs, consider couch surfing instead of hosteling or staying in hotels. That will help keep costs low. And, bonus, if you are couch surfing, chances are you’ll have access to a kitchen. Cooking your own meals some or all of the time is always helpful to the budget.


3 Susan March 31, 2012 at 1:24 pm

I meticulously calculated a living budget for myself in Northern Thailand using an advantageous exchange rate, blog posts by expats, email exchanges with travelers, and a good deal of research both online and off. I figured that I could get away with spending less by spending an entire year as an “expat” in one place.

What I failed to calculate was that my own habits would follow me wherever I go.

If I have, in a day’s traveling distance, a place with any sort of foodie reputation, I will seek it out. As such, my Chiang Mai-based, slow travel budget has disappeared SO fast.

I hosted a Couch Surfer who had traveled by hitchhiking, camping, and couch surfing, from Sweden, through America, to Australia and up to Thailand over two years for about $12,000 USD. It can be done, if you don’t succumb to creature comforts when they’re in reach!


4 Matthew Karsten March 31, 2012 at 3:02 pm

A good friend of mine met a guy traveling on less than $5000 a year. But he was really bumming it.

He was writing a PhD paper about the experience. Had crazy stories, like needing to stab the captain of a ship and escape when he overheard the crew planning to jump him when they were out at sea.

Also check out this guy, he travels very cheap. A true Jack Kerouac kind of vagabond:


5 theprofessionalhobo March 31, 2012 at 4:01 pm

@Ayngelina – Yes, the cost of living in each country can play a big factor in travel budgeting too; even if some of our costs are subsidized. Where sort of accommodation did you use most of the time?

@Gigi – I agree! Just remember to provide a gift to your couchsurfing host and help out around the house wherever you can.
What’s your favourite couchsurfing site?

@Susan – Aha! You’ve stumbled on the fine line that exists between living as a “traveler” and not! When I lived in Australia for 18 months, I found the longer I stayed there, the more money I spent – often because I had a chance to be an “expat” and create a little nest full of creature comforts! Things/experiences that, when you’re traveling a little more actively are either unnecessary or impossible.

@Matthew – Interesting guy! What an adventure he’s on.


6 Caro from Passport and a Toothbrush April 1, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Great tips! We’re keeping our budget low (hopefully!) by doing mainly workstays throughout our trip. We start the RTW in July and love that we won’t have to spend money on food or hostels! We also get to have a deeper, cultural connection staying with locals through these workstays! You can check out our 411 on the whole program :
Great post!


7 theprofessionalhobo April 2, 2012 at 9:27 am

@Caro – I see you used WorkAway to find your first volunteer position; have you found it to be a good platform for finding positions and communicating with hosts?

How long is your trip, and how many workstays do you think you’ll arrange?

Once you’re on the road, please drop me a line if you’re interested in participating on my week-in-the-life series; it would be great to vicariously live life through your eyes volunteering at a B&B in France, for example!


8 NYC Hotel April 3, 2012 at 4:30 am

Excellent tips! We’re maintaining our funds low (hopefully!) by doing mainly workstays throughout our journey.


9 theprofessionalhobo April 3, 2012 at 9:51 am

@NYC Hotel – What sorts of workstays are you doing, and where?


10 HermitHobo February 26, 2013 at 4:39 pm

What are your thoughts on travelling the world in a camper van as a way of keeping accommodation (and maybe transport) costs down? Obviously transport between continents would need to be by container and would cost – but Europe, Asia, Africa, Middle East can be done in one go then over to the Americas. In your experience are there serious drawbacks which make this mode of travelling unrealistic?


11 theprofessionalhobo February 26, 2013 at 10:53 pm

Hi HermitHobo – I know people who travel in campervans or similar vehicles, but generally they don’t ship it overseas unless it’s a really special or customized vehicle; instead they get a similar vehicle abroad.
It may indeed keep your accommodation costs lower, but you are relatively limited to warm places/seasons (unless you like the cold or have a good heater), and fuel costs can be exorbitant. I don’t believe it saves much – if any – transport costs.
I had a campervan in Australia for 6 weeks, and I didn’t particularly have a good time, and it was by far the most expensive 6 weeks of my full-time travels in 7 years – AND the van was free!
Also, you might find you can’t just park it anywhere overnight, so you may have to pay for campgrounds which aren’t nearly as cheap as you might think.

All in all I’m really not a fan of it. But I know people who do it and like it. I think it really depends on where you want to travel and what sorts of things you want to see and do on the road.

Here’s a piece about planning a campervan trip in Oz – but with lots of general advice too:


12 Vice Tee March 25, 2013 at 7:37 pm

“Don’t travel internationally (stay on your continent)”



13 theprofessionalhobo March 26, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Hey Vice – Ha ha! Point taken! But if you’ve only got $6,000/year to live on, you gotta make sacrifices somewhere…..besides which, some countries are worthy of a lifetime of exploration.


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