10 Countries for 20k: What I Spent in 2017

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Welcome to my annual expense report! Here’s what I spent in 2017, all in – business, personal, medical, insurance, and (of course) travel expenses.

Since 2010, I’ve published my full-time travel expenses annually; an uncensored breakdown of all my expenses for the year, demonstrating that the travel lifestyle is much more achievable than most people think.

This post was originally published in 2018. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 

Click here to see all of my Annual Income and Expense Summaries!

What I Spent in 2017: Summary

2017 was neither the most expensive, nor the cheapest year of my travel career; rather, it was a good bit below my “sweet spot” which seems to be around $24,000. It was a year that took my breath away (if not my money) on a number of levels, with a few twists and turns I didn’t anticipate. Read on for a summary of what I spent in 2017, and how, and where.

Here’s a basic summary of where I was in 2017: (See Also: 10 Countries and 29,254 miles: This Was 2017)

  • 2 weeks in Florida
  • 4 months in Ecuador
  • 1 week in Florida
  • 1 day in Toronto(!)
  • 2 months in Japan
  • 1 month in Bali
  • 2 weeks in Hong Kong and Macau
  • 1 month in Indonesia (Bali and Jakarta)
  • 1 month in India
  • 1.5 months in Thailand

What I Spent in 2017: $20,668

2017 full-time travel expense breakdown


Monthly Breakdown

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

JANUARY (Florida, Ecuador)

$1,704

The year started off predictably, with a couple of weeks in Florida staying with my friend, before traveling to Ecuador and settling into a plant medicine retreat centre just outside of Cuenca, where I spent the next four months. I volunteered at the retreat centre, but not in full trade for my accommodation and food (as I’ve so often done over the years), since I also needed time to do my online work. Thus, for the next four months, you’ll see accommodation and food&drink expenses that reflect not only my rent and food at the retreat centre, but also my short trips around Cuenca and Ecuador during the breaks between retreats.

  • Transportation $771
  • Accommodation $310
  • Food&Drink $187
  • Groceries $138
  • Phone&Internet $10
  • Personal $67
  • Business $95
  • Tours/Activities $105
  • Gifts $21

FEBRUARY (Ecuador)

$1,002

Even with rent to pay, life in Ecuador was good, simple, and cheap.

  • Transportation $35
  • Accommodation $650
  • Food&Drink $17
  • Groceries $13
  • Phone&Internet $5
  • Personal $35
  • Business $212
  • Tours/Activities $35

MARCH (Ecuador)

$1,462

March was a wee bit higher due to a five-day trip to Baños, but still very reasonable, all things considered.

  • Transportation $63
  • Accommodation $632
  • Food&Drink $164
  • Groceries $76
  • Personal $145
  • Business $252
  • Tours/Activities $130

APRIL (Ecuador)

$949

April was the cheapest month of what I spent in 2017; a testament to the money-saving qualities of slow travel.

  • Transportation $30
  • Accommodation $590
  • Food&Drink $125
  • Groceries $49
  • Phone&Internet $6
  • Personal $5
  • Business $94
  • Tours/Activities $50

MAY (Ecuador, Florida)

$1,817

My business expenses shot up a wee bit in May due to an emergency computer repair job that actually inspired my departure from Ecuador at the end of the month (slightly ahead of schedule), since I couldn’t get the part I needed in Cuenca. Transportation expenses are mainly flights from Ecuador to Florida, but also a few panicked taxi rides around Cuenca and Florida to get my computer fixed.

  • Transportation $687
  • Accommodation $302
  • Food&Drink $122
  • Groceries $217
  • Personal $39
  • Business $369
  • Tours/Activities $55
  • Gifts $26

JUNE (Florida, Toronto, Japan)

$3,227

Despite having free accommodation all through June, it was my most expensive month of the year (by far), due to my flights from Florida to Japan (via Toronto, which believe it or not was the cheapest option), as well as a major investment in my business by switching to managed hosting and getting an SSL certificate.

  • Transportation $1,026
  • Food&Drink $259
  • Groceries $307
  • Personal $10
  • Business $1,474
  • Tours/Activities $70
  • Gifts $81

JULY (Japan)

$1,213

Japan may be expensive on the whole, but if you have free accommodation (like I did, through house-sitting), it’s not so bad. The most money I spent was on my business, paying for some help in redesigning my website. The rest boiled down to some crazy sightseeing Japanese-style and food (and for what I spent, I ate very, very well….being Japan and all).

  • Transportation $53
  • Food&Drink $245
  • Groceries $252
  • Personal $208
  • Business $424
  • Gifts $31

AUGUST (Japan, Bali)

$2,881

August was the second most costly of what I spent in 2017; my largest expenditures being my annual expat insurance premium, followed by a month’s rent in a little Balinese villa. And yes, I transported myself from Japan to Bali (flights, taxis, buses, and trains included) for $122. The (business class!) flights were actually the least of my transportation expenses for the month, thanks to a little frequent flyer mile hack I discovered that cost me the same number of miles as for a domestic flight, but earned me a seat up front on a Dreamliner for eight blissful hours. (See also: Frequent Flyer Mile Accumulation, Management, & Redemption).

  • Transportation $122
  • Accommodation $607
  • Food&Drink $307
  • Groceries $94
  • Phone&Internet $7
  • Personal $75
  • Business $310
  • Tours/Activities $19
  • Insurance $1,277
  • Medical $51
  • Gifts $12

SEPTEMBER (Hong Kong, Macau, Bali, Jakarta)

$2,452

September wasn’t cheap, but given my movements and activities, it wasn’t over-the-top. I flew from Bali to Hong Kong (where I shelled out an outrageous amount of money to sleep in a windowless shoebox for a week), then took a ferry to Macau (where I spent an equally outrageous amount of money to stay somewhere that made my Hong Kong shoebox look like a palace). Thankfully the rest of my expenses in Macau were covered due to a travel conference I was speaking at.

My return to Bali was bitter-sweet; less than two weeks after I checked into my glorious new place in Ubud, I (voluntarily) evacuated due to the volcano acting up. That meant some (literal) last-minute flights to Jakarta from Bali, to round out my transportation expenses for the month.

  • Transportation $498
  • Accommodation $906
  • Food&Drink $370
  • Groceries $42
  • Phone&Internet $8
  • Personal $139
  • Business $289
  • Tours/Activities $33
  • Medical $49
  • Gifts $118

OCTOBER (Jakarta, Sri Lanka, India)

$1,366

I stayed with friends of friends (of friends) in Jakarta until my mid-month departure for India; a trip that was inspired by a cheap error fare I discovered. Even though my first week or so in India was in the utter lap of luxury staying at the Fairmont in Jaipur and then taking the most luxurious train in the world to Mumbai, you won’t see that reflected here because they were sponsored trips. (Lucky me, huh?)

  • Transportation $529
  • Accommodation $241
  • Food&Drink $107
  • Phone&Internet $12
  • Personal $39
  • Business $357
  • Gifts $81

NOVEMBER (India, Thailand)

$1,639

Lap of luxury or not, things went south for me in India; a place that hosted the year’s pinnacle crisis point for me, somewhere around the time butter was being poured into my eyes. (And in case you’re curious, yes, I paid for that experience, as is reflected in my medical expenses for the month). Three weeks in, I flew the coop to Chiang Mai Thailand, where I reunited with my boyfriend and spent the rest of the year lapping up some much needed creature comforts.

  • Transportation $127
  • Accommodation $373
  • Food&Drink $271
  • Groceries $142
  • Phone&Internet $26
  • Personal $12
  • Business $276
  • Medical $412

DECEMBER (Thailand)

$956

It’s no wonder that Thailand (and Chiang Mai in particular) is a hub for digital nomads: December was within $10 of my cheapest month of the year (April). I relaxed, I ate well (really well), socialized, got massages, and generally enjoyed all the accoutrements of this well-appointed Thai city. Although it helps that I split my accommodation expenses with my boyfriend, the savings was still relatively insignificant, given the cheap cost of living to begin with.

  • Transportation $34
  • Accommodation $262
  • Food&Drink $176
  • Groceries $58
  • Phone&Internet $12
  • Personal $60
  • Business $194
  • Tours/Activities $66
  • Medical $94

Summary Notes

Funny, I visited twice as many countries in 2017 as I did in 2016, including some incredibly expensive places like Japan and Hong Kong, but what I spent in 2017 was over $2,500 less. I shelled out about $2,000 more in accommodation (as compared to 2016), and about $600 more in transportation expenses – again, not bad for visiting twice as many countries. But I spent much less on food and groceries, about $1,000 less on personal expenses, $3,000 less in tours and activities ($3k being the cost of the two plant medicine retreats I did towards the end of 2016), and of course, in 2016, I lost almost $1,000 in a (failed) attempt to get my residence in Peru.

Although my cost of accommodation was pretty low overall ($4,900 for the year), my only months of free accommodation were in June and July (mostly in Japan). I’m focusing a bit less on working in trade for free accommodation these days, and instead, looking for a place that I can call mine – which is something I’ll have to pay for.

Speaking of finding a place that I can call mine, this is my goal in 2018. I’ve had a few home bases along the way in my last dozen years of traveling (such as Australia, Grenada, and Peru), and it’s time for another one. I’m not sure where exactly home will be or what it will look like though, so until that magic moment when I find a new place to set in some roots, I will continue to wander and explore, following my nose.

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9 thoughts on “10 Countries for 20k: What I Spent in 2017”

  1. I’m sitting here at my kitchen table in the RV looking out at Mittry Lake (BLM land in southern Arizona, it’s free), reading about your 2017 travels & expenses.
    I’m reading about the kind of travel I haven’t started on yet & I really do appreciate your sharing all of this.

    I also see my bookkeeping is really non existent 🙂 but that’s a different story.

    I’d like to wish you good luck in finding a spot to call your own!
    When you wake up some morning and have that feeling that you’d like to go home, it’s good to have someplace go.

    Reply
    • Hey Rob,
      Amen to that!
      PS – for expense tracking, I suggest using an app. Get into the habit of recording everything as you spend it. I personally love Trail Wallet, which is geared for travel, but as far as I’m concerned is equally useful at “home” as well. 🙂

      Reply
  2. I love expense reports and wrap ups like this.

    I’m reading this post in bed watching ships transit the Panama Canal.

    Our travel expenses are higher than I targeted and we don’t have a year wrap up yet, but we share our expenses on our blog. Family of five and the oldest turns 17 in ten days.

    As always Nora, thanks for sharing,
    Colleen

    Reply
    • Hi Colleen,
      The Panama Canal sounds like a pretty great view from bed! (Perhaps that’s why your travel expenses exceeded your estimate – ha ha)!
      But I jest.
      Actually I’m very curious what your cost to travel as a family of five has been. What did the year come in at?

      Reply
      • LOL, this could be true.

        Though six of our seven nights at the Holiday Inn Panama Canal are on points. IHG Point Breaks to be exact. So our two rooms cost a total of 30,000 IHG points each.

        We added in a paid night to help complete IHG’s 2018 1st Quarter Accelerate promotion to earn another 42,500 IHG points.

        We’ve only been on the road since August so I don’t have an annual total. Yet. Our costs went up once we got to South America.

        Argentina was particularly hard to stay within budget although most of our hotel nights were free (points). Oh, Iguazu Falls was partly to blame but so worth it. Groceries and transportation were expensive for the five of us. Inflation over the last few years has put Argentine prices beyond what I would pay for equivalent things in Canada.

        We initially targeted $50,000 USD for the five of us, 4 1/2 adults. Add in our Canadian dollar…

        So right now we’re over our daily average but we’re settling in Nicaragua for a month and that should help knock it down a bit.

        We detail our spending and travel strategy on our blog

        Peru was our last update

        Reply
        • Hi Colleen,
          Fascinating update of your expenses! We have very different ways of traveling and saving money. You are considerably more knowledgeable about the use of hotel points – awesome! Though it appears from your Peruvian breakdown that you still spent quite a bit of money on accommodation. Granted – most of it was top-notch accommodation…some of the places you stayed in Cusco are among the very best Cusco has to offer!

          As for Argentina, yeah. Argentina and Chile are renowned for being ridiculously expensive places to travel in South America. I’ve been curious about both, but until a free accommodation gig presents itself, I won’t be booking a ticket. 😉

          I suspect that settling in somewhere for a month as you’re doing in Nicaragua will significantly lower your costs. (I rarely stay anywhere for less than a month these days).
          First off, traveling slowly (ie: reducing the amount of transportation you’re taking) has a huge impact on budgets.
          Secondly, assuming you’re renting a house/apartment as opposed to staying in a hotel, you’ll not only pay much less per night of accommodation, but you’ll also have a kitchen and ability to save a huge wad of cash on food in cooking (at least a few) meals at home.
          Lastly, hopefully you’ll get a better feeling of connection to the country and community.
          All in all, slow travel is very important to me for these reasons – the latter being the most important.

          Enjoy Nicaragua! I haven’t been there, but I hear amazing things.

          Reply
          • Yes, the Palacio del Inka was only supposed to be three paid nights. The rest were ‘free’ on points. But we got sick. I wouldn’t have done those extra nights on purpose because there was not enough in return. And crazy expensive. A one off.

            Though I know it is not intuitive because point hacks are a bit out there, but there is some sense to the few paid nights we plan.

            This post
            details how we averaged $48.90 CAD for our first 77 nights, mostly two rooms, by combining paid nights (to earn points during promotions) with point stays.

            We’re renting a two bedroom condo in Nica near the beach. Very much looking forward to it.

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