Financially Sustainable Travel: My Cost of Full-Time Travel in 2013

by Nora on September 25, 2014

For the past few years, I’ve been publishing my cost of full-time travel; an uncensored breakdown of all my expenses for the year, representing a full year of travel and living abroad as the good little professional hobo that I am.

(Editor’s Note: Please excuse the ridiculous tardiness of this post, being 3/4 of the way through 2014 and all; there were some complications due to a very ugly insurance claim in the aftermath of a near-fatal accident I experienced in 2013….more on that in a future post).

 

Here are my previous years’ expenses:

My Cost of Full-Time Travel for 2012

My Cost of Full-Time Travel for 2011

Ditto for 2010

2013 was a different year for me – on a number of levels – not the least of which is that I had a place to call home, in Grenada. I paid rent, and had electricity bills and such.

Things went totally awry with a serious accident in early February that dictated a more sedentary year than I had imagined, and also a more expensive one. I supported my (ex)partner, whose injuries dictated an ongoing recovery period during which he was unable to work for the entire year. Add to the mix an unsavoury experience or two (such as a big theft), and 2013 was not only a year to forget, but also a financial write-off.

In this cost of full-time travel breakdown you’ll see I’m far from a shining example of what budget travel should be, nor what full-time travel can be.

Then again, 2013 was a function of life simply happening while I was busy making plans. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the ideal budget for full-time travel. It’s intensely personal and related to circumstance – as you’ll see from my breakdown below.

What I Did in 2013

Here’s a quick summary of what 2013 held for me (See also: 12 Countries and 29,000 Miles: This was 2013):

Price Tag for 2013: $44,433

Ouch. It hurts just to write that number – such a far cry it is from the $17,000 I spent in 2010 and 2011, and even the $28,000 I spent in 2012.

But I had over $20,000 of surprises in 2013, including supporting a partner, thousands in medical trips and bills, and stupid things happening like having thousands of dollars stolen and having to book numerous last-minute flights to get an emergency new passport. I simply couldn’t stem the flow of money in this strange sequence of events. (And when I could, I didn’t. We’ll get to that later in the year).

 

Monthly Cost of Full-Time Travel Breakdown

All amounts have been converted to US Dollars for ease of comparison.

 

JANUARY

Grenada

$703

I took it easy in January, enjoying the ideal weather that Grenada offers that time of year. Expenses were shared with my partner, so life was easy. (And cheap).

Phone: $70

Personal: $37

Business: $10

Groceries: $303

Housing: $283

 

 

FEBRUARY

Grenada, USA

$3,038

Life got turned upside down in February with a head-on collision that accounted for my transportation expenses from Grenada to Florida and ensuing medical bills.

Transportation: $1,234

Food & Drink: $273

Phone: $140

Business: $126

Groceries: $235

Medical: $780

Gifts: $131

Housing: $119

 

MARCH

Grenada

$1,179

There wasn’t much to do in March except stay home and heal. Housing expenses were skewed down as rent had been pre-paid a few months earlier by my partner; I simply covered utilities.

Transportation: $68

Food & Drink: $189

Business: $76

Groceries: $716

Medical: $33

Housing: $97

 

APRIL

Grenada

$1,869

April was pretty much a repeat performance of March (plus rent).

Transportation: $38

Food & Drink: $395

Phone: $30

Business: $10

Groceries: $536

Housing: $860

 

MAY

Grenada

$2,712

May was another healing month, highlighted by a visit from my best friend from high school. The transportation expense was a flight I booked to go back to Canada at the very end of the month.

Transportation: $682

Food & Drink: $443

Phone: $10

Personal: $99

Business: $95

Groceries: $528

Housing: $855

 

JUNE

Canada

$3,532

I stretched my legs with a month-long trip to Canada to visit my family in Toronto, enjoy some time in beautiful Muskoka, and attend TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange).

I also used the opportunity to replace my ailing computer (hence the $1,600+ in business expenses), and the higher transportation expense included my flight back to Grenada.

Transportation: $628

Food & Drink: $423

Phone: $11

Personal: $271

Business: $1643

Groceries: $326

Gifts: $230

 

JULY

Grenada

$2,158

While spending the sticky summer in Grenada (you guessed it….healing some more), I took a chance to beef up my business with some web development work as well as hiring a designer for my first e-book.

Transportation: $28

Food & Drink: $559

Phone: $5

Business: $530

Groceries: $531

Medical: $129

Housing: $376

 

AUGUST

Grenada

$7,732

August was a big month; I bought a car! This was a game-changer in Grenada, allowing us to get around more (hence the almost-doubled food & drink expenses). By this point in the year, both my partner and I were more than a little stir crazy.

Transportation: $5,260

Food & Drink: $1,075

Phone: $20

Business: $93

Groceries: $830

Housing: $454

 

SEPTEMBER

Europe

$4,261

I was rescued from my boredom with a sponsored trip to Europe in September and October. The biggest anomalies here are increased personal expenses (I went on a wee shopping spree to replenish and replace a few things I couldn’t get in Grenada), and the insurance expense – which is my annual premium for expat insurance.

Transportation: $260

Food & Drink: $767

Phone: $52

Personal: $492

Business: $36

Groceries: $555

Medical: $44

Housing: $771

Insurance: $1,284

 

OCTOBER

Europe

$8,140

Ouch. Yes, October was a big month. Between finishing up my sponsored trip, flying my partner to Europe to join me (a combination of business and pleasure), and getting both of us back to Grenada, plus generally living it up in Europe, you’ll see some pretty big transportation and food & drink expenses. Transportation also includes the booking of return flights from Grenada to Panama for November. Housing expenses are also quite high; representing both rent in Grenada, and hotels in Europe.

Transportation: $2,672

Food & Drink: $2,423

Phone: $26

Personal: $612

Business: $446

Housing: $1,961

 

NOVEMBER

Grenada, Panama (and Canada)

$4,707

I got another slap in the face (and wallet) when my passport and thousands of dollars (proceeds from selling the car I bought in August) was stolen in Grenada, just four days before I was supposed to fly to Panama for a house-sitting gig. Thus, I spent an extra $2,000 in transportation expenses cancelling my flights from Grenada to Panama, and rerouting through Canada so I could get a new passport (and various running around, which accounts for the business expenses).

The insurance amount is my annual property insurance premium.

Transportation: $2,049

Food & Drink: $918

Phone: $37

Personal: $85

Business: $364

Groceries: $600

Gifts: $28

Housing: $401

Insurance: $225

 

DECEMBER

Panama

$3,664

Panama was lovely, but December wasn’t perfect either. The cost of living wasn’t nearly as cheap as I had thought (explaining the hefty food & drink and grocery bills), and at the last minute I flew my partner back to Grenada ahead of schedule (which accounts for most of the transportation expenses), signifying the end of our relationship.

The insurance expense marks my annual premiums for life and critical illness insurance policies.

Transportation: $957

Food & Drink: $878

Personal: $40

Business: $30

Groceries: $731

Gifts: $39

Housing: 370

Insurance: $619

 

 

PLUS

I tracked all the above expenses using the iPhone app Trail Wallet, which was my saving grace for tracking expenses on the go. However some expenses that I bear electronically are harder for me to track consistently through the app. These include Paypal fees, ATM withdrawal fees, annual dues for credit cards, and other banking fees.

My total banking-related fees (including Paypal charges) for the year were $738.

This isn’t cheap, but it’s the cost of doing business, and given that my location independent business doesn’t cost a huge amount to run, I take this (tax write-off) in stride. (See Also: Overhead Costs for Location Independent Businesses).

 

WTF, Nora? What’s financially sustainable about $44,000 in expenses?!

Very little. Very little is financially sustainable about how 2013 panned out for me. There are a few reasons for this, which bear mentioning:

  • I’ve long maintained that living in one place is more expensive than traveling full-time. And although my cost of rent and utilities in Grenada were quite reasonable, it was still an expense that accounted for over $5,000.
  • My medical bills and associated expenses in the aftermath of the accident run over $3,000.
  • The theft of my passport and the cash proceeds from selling my car, plus the 4,000km detour required to get a new passport, all in all, cost me well over $10,000.
  • I financially supported my (now ex) partner in the aftermath of the accident and throughout the year while he recovered.
  • After living in isolation (and great pain) for months after the accident, our trip to Europe was a splash-out, during which I didn’t pay much attention to the money I was spending and paid a lot more attention to having a (long overdue) nice time.
  • These factors add up to well over $20,000 in expenses that I wouldn’t say are typical for my lifestyle.

So if you discount the $20k cost of “life happening while I was busy making plans”, my cost of full-time travel for 2013 was still in line with previous years.

But life did happen, skewing my numbers. And life does happen, all the time – in ways we can’t predict or plan for.

I’m not beating myself up about financial blunders of the year, nor will I lose sleep over it. The fact is, my business continued to thrive overall despite many major setbacks, and my cost of living in 2013 was still largely financially sustainable. (Stay tuned shortly for a post detailing my income for 2013).

Like I said in 2012, financial sustainability doesn’t need to be synonymous with “cheap”. If you have the earnings to justify the spending, go for it. A big fat pile of money isn’t going to do you much good if you don’t know how it will help you live the life of your dreams.

I didn’t exactly live the life of my dreams in 2013, but you know what? It could have been a lot worse. And I kept my head above water.

The only unanswered question I have for 2013 is: if I hadn’t spent over $20,000 on crappy circumstance, I wonder how I would have spent (or saved) it. Maybe we’ll find out in 2014…

 

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Hannah@GettingStamped September 25, 2014 at 4:21 pm

What a year 2013 was, hope 2014 is better to you and on your budget. Life throws you a few curve balls…Travel safe the rest of 2014!

Reply

2 Nora Dunn September 26, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Thanks Hannah – 2014 has indeed shaped up to be much better (and cheaper)! 🙂

Reply

3 Emma September 25, 2014 at 4:24 pm

I love reading these updates and I don’t think 44k is too bad. It’s probably still a heck of a lot less than most of us spend at home. Also, I hope you maxed out all your bad luck for a long time because it sounds like you had a hell of a shitty year!
This post has inspired me to start tracking expenses as I have been in the frivolous holiday mode for about six months now and considering we want to travel for a very long time, that will need to change.

Reply

4 Nora Dunn September 26, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Emma,
Thanks for the well wishes!
I started tracking my expenses a few years into my travels, partly out of curiosity, and partly to understand where my money was going for budgeting purposes. Now I’m kind of addicted to the process! It’s very illuminating.

Reply

5 Lela September 25, 2014 at 11:06 pm

Thanks for sharing your story, it’s a shame you had such hardships but it’s refreshing to know you came through it all with flying colors! Here’s hoping 2014 flows a bit easier for you and yours!

Reply

6 Nora Dunn September 26, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Thanks you, Lela!

Reply

7 Trav September 26, 2014 at 1:15 am

Nora, thanks sooo much for sharing all this information. Your transparency, and more importantly, just your desire to document and write about all your costs, is a HUGE help for any traveler, whether they be first time travelers looking for honest answers about the cost of things or “experienced” travelers who, as we know, are always still trying to figure things out.

Congrats on an incredible year, and even though there was $20k “wasted”, sometimes, that’s the cost of having this lifestyle…and I know no amount of money would make me go back to a cubicle!

Thanks again, loved the post!

Reply

8 Nora Dunn September 26, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Hey Trav,
Indeed – the “wasted” 20k might have happened regardless of whether I was traveling. Thefts, accidents – these things all happen. That’s life!
Glad you enjoy these posts. 🙂

Reply

9 Turner September 26, 2014 at 1:40 am

Ugh. I’m going to go back through your daily blogs for October and November and see how those read. How about income? Doing ok? I’ve accumulated more debt by staying in California.

Reply

10 Nora Dunn September 26, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Hey Turner –
I’m publishing my 2013 income next week! In short, I made just shy of what I spent that year. Most other years my income has exceeded my expenses.
Indeed – every time I go Stateside (or back to Canada), I spend heaps of money that I have trouble accounting for. Maybe it’s something in the air….

Reply

11 Gigi September 26, 2014 at 3:48 am

Thank you for sharing this! I think it’s actually a great example (as you pointed out) of how life happens when we’re busy making other plans. Even if you’re a savvy, location independent, long-time traveler.

It’s probably good for people who are thinking about taking the location independent plunge to know that, hey, stuff still happens.

Sorry that the year was so tough – hope 2014 has been treating you way better!

Reply

12 Nora Dunn September 26, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Hi Gigi,
Yes – stuff still happens, which means it’s good to have backup plans – emergency funds, insurance, and savings. I’m not sure how I would have coped with 2013 if I didn’t have these things in place.

Reply

13 Amanda Kendle September 26, 2014 at 10:18 am

That really was a sucky year for you, you poor thing! But at least it is long over now, and by the sounds of things I’m imagining your 2014 report will be much more positive and financially sustainable too. Love that you do these reports, so interesting!

Reply

14 Nora Dunn September 26, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Thanks, Amanda! Yep – 2013 sucked….and 2014 has been much MUCH better!
Take care…miss ya! (Was just talking to an Aussie yesterday, who made me want to return down under for a visit….I’ll keep you posted)!

Reply

15 Tiffany September 26, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Hey Nora, I love these! Thank you so much for sharing. What a year. You know, sitting here reading ‘life threatening accident’ and knowing you’re now ok, it’s almost too easy to forget how impactful those events are on us. Not just financially, but emotionally. I also work in the restaurant business and it’s hard enough if I cut my finger and have to wear a Band-Aid and glove for a few days. I think if nothing else, the fact that it seems like you could weather an additional $20,000 unexpected expenses a year while still maintaining your choice lifestyle only speaks louder to how financially sustainable your career/lifestyle is (and also how important savings are for travelers!). Thanks again for the breakdown. 🙂

Reply

16 Nora Dunn September 26, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Thanks Tiff,
And indeed, in this post I haven’t discussed the emotional cost of my accident, which took a huge toll. Ultimately my relationship ended due to the stressors and aftermath of the accident – so you could say my whole life changed because of one day.
But….with a dose of perspective and sitting in a better place, having dealt with a lot of that emotional crap, I can honestly say I’m grateful it wasn’t worse (two inches to the left and I might not have been here to tell the story), and in its own way, it was a blessing.
Everything happens for a reason! It’s our job to roll with the punches. 🙂

Reply

17 Bronwyn September 26, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Thanks for sharing Nora! You’re a tough cookie to have survived such an onslaught of “life.” I’m going to download Trail Wallet and hopefully be as responsible. Because anyone who monitors all their expenses is responsible in my books! And as another commenter said, 44K is A LOT less than most people spend in a year (and possibly just on trifles).

Reply

18 Nora Dunn September 26, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Thanks, Bronwyn,
And you’re right – I spent more than $44k just on basic living expenses in Canada, so all things considered I can’t complain!

Reply

19 Kristi September 26, 2014 at 9:33 pm

Nora,

Thanks for sharing this!

Your honesty, transparency and lust for life even with all of the ups and downs in 2013 is why you’re so amazing.

Wishing you a fabulous 2014!

Travel well,
Kristi
Encircled

Reply

20 Nora Dunn September 27, 2014 at 10:38 am

Thank you, Kristi! And the same to you!
(Written while wearing my awesome Chrysalis cardi)… 😉

Reply

21 Charlie September 27, 2014 at 7:25 pm

Interesting costs breakdown, especially for comparing places. Thanks for sharing 🙂

Reply

22 Nora Dunn September 28, 2014 at 12:42 pm

You’re welcome, Charlie! 🙂

Reply

23 Sarah September 27, 2014 at 10:49 pm

“I’m not beating myself up about financial blunders of the year, nor will I lose sleep over it” and “that’s life!” – Two perfect sentences right there. Thanks for sharing and wishing you a better year ahead 🙂

Reply

24 Nora Dunn September 28, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Hi Sarah – Thanks!
2014 has indeed panned out to be an incredible year, and there’s still a few more months to go! 🙂

Reply

25 Nikki Vargas September 29, 2014 at 6:28 pm

Wow, really helpful post! I have bookmarked this and intent to read and re-read this. I am actually writing about tracing a path from a 9-5 job to world traveler on my blog, http://thepinthemapproject.com/, and budgeting and financing is a reoccurring theme. Thank you for sharing this!

Reply

26 Nora Dunn September 30, 2014 at 6:30 am

Glad you enjoyed this post, Nikki! Hope it continues to help! 🙂

Reply

27 Elena October 4, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Generally, when the bottom falls out as it did in 2013 it means big changes are coming up–or to quote a favorite movie of mine, Nora, you’re going to need a bigger boat. Hope the next years are a whole lot more than “sustainable”.

Reply

28 Nora Dunn October 5, 2014 at 10:00 am

Hi Elena,
Indeed – 2013, although tough, was a catalyst for many life changes that are currently taking place. Everything happens for a reason…..(and I’m building that bigger boat now)!

Reply

29 Matt October 4, 2014 at 7:08 pm

Wow, what a year! Happy to hear things turned out alright and I love your attitude about not worrying about the unintended expenses for the year. Life happens, right?! Be well.

Reply

30 Nora Dunn October 5, 2014 at 10:02 am

Thank you, Matt! Before I started my site The Professional Hobo, I had a small blog….which was called Life Happens.
And most certainly….it does!

Reply

31 Nancie (@Ladyexpat) October 15, 2014 at 7:13 am

Not a year you probably want to repeat anytime soon. Unless of course, it’s go back to Europe 🙂 Hopefully, 2014 has been much better for you on many fronts.

Reply

32 Nora Dunn October 15, 2014 at 11:56 am

Hi Nancie,
Europe was certainly the highlight of 2013 for me! And yes, 2014 has been a vast improvement. 🙂 Thanks!

Reply

33 Dean February 26, 2015 at 9:57 am

What a cavalier life-style you live, I guess when you are accustom to never worrying about cash-flow, you can get reckless in a foreign country re: a fool and her money are soon parted. But how many hours do you put in a month in all your money making endevors on average? Work-a-holic? I live on a $12,000 a year budget and have traveled to and lived in some of 21 counties in the last 6 years,
I guess I need to write a blog, book or something eh? But I would rather work at nothing all-day! Your writings have some good tips, but for 98% of your readers it is just a dream……..

Reply

34 Nora Dunn February 26, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Thank you for your comment, Dean.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: