How To Travel The World For A Year With $18,000 (or less!)

How To Travel The World For A Year With $18,000 (or less!)

Today marks the one year anniversary of my round the world trip! It’s been an incredible year with countless experiences I will never forget. But, one question I get often is: How much does a round the world trip cost?

So, how much does it really cost to travel the world for a year? It cost me $17,773; and here’s how I did it, how I funded it, how I saved money, and where did it take me… in detail.

Round the world route
My Round the World route with countries visited.

Jumping out of the cubicle…

October 1st, 2011

I said goodbye to my life in New York City and started my RTW 9 months in advance and with less money saved than expected.  I left with $16,000 in the bank, with credit card debt, and with student loans on my name. Yup, I have those too…

My original plan was to leave in June 2012 with at least $24,000 and no credit card debt.

The $16K I left with was not just for traveling, they were also used responsibly to cover the monthly payments on any debt I had at the moment (and still have).  But, the show must go on!

San Ignacio, Belize

October to December

Countries:  Puerto Rico, Belize, Guatemala, USA, Mexico

Cost: $161.82

I spent three months in Belize traveling with the Belize Tourism Board. This was the main reason I left early, and the best decision I could have made!

I admit that these three months were comfortable money-wise since the collaboration with the BTB helped me tremendously, and travel in the US and PR is very cheap for me thanks to family and friends.

January 2012

Countries:  Israel, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia

Cost: $1,304

I flew from Belize to Israel to meet with a friend and we quickly hopped to Southeast Asia.  Even though I was jumping through different countries, I managed to do Southeast Asia very cheaply.

Wadi Rum, Jordan

February

Countries: Israel, Jordan, Egypt, United Arab Emirates

Cost: $1,596

I was back in the Middle East to travel to Jordan, which was partially done in collaboration with Visit Jordan.  Afterward, I crossed to Egypt, and Israel again (for a longer time).

I took advantage of extending an Etihad flight layover in UAE for free, so I could visit the country for a few days.  Of these countries, Israel was the most expensive and Egypt was the cheapest.

March and April

Countries: Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa

Cost:  $4,263

Africa, baby! I started my African adventure in Uganda and made my way overland to South Africa using only trains and buses.  It was a crazy experience and probably my favorite part so far in the whole RTW.

Did a safari in Uganda and another one in Botswana, hiked Kilimanjaro and became a beach bum in Zanzibar, visited an elephant orphanage in Nairobi, walked with Lions in Zambia, bungee jumped at Victoria Falls and did Shark cage diving in Cape Town.

Part of the reason Africa was relatively expensive was that I did two safaris and did Kilimanjaro with G Adventures (That one alone was $1,100). They are one of the best travel companies in the world, so it was totally worth it.

Livingstone, Zambia

May to Mid August

Countries: Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Austria, Italy, San Marino, Vatican City, France, Monaco, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Prague, Switzerland, Ukraine

Cost: $4,886

After South Africa, I flew to Turkey (airfare only $430), where I spent two weeks in Istanbul, Cappadocia, and Ephesus.  From Turkey, I started the crazy Eurail trip that took me to 24 countries in the next 3.5 months.

From Greece, I crossed Eastern Europe and the Balkans, to Western Europe and Scandinavia.  I finished my time in Europe living in Milan for a month (shared an apartment for $400 a month).

Collaborating with Eurail helped reduce the cost of the train tickets to just the reservation costs (which came around $200) and the collaboration with Visit Norway USA and Blogville Emilia Romagna were also a big help.

The rest of Europe was all paid by in full by me, which was extremely noticeable in my bank account since I saw it going down, down, down (yes, Europe is expensive)…  by necessity, I started Couchsurfing more often, staying with friends, and buying groceries to cook my meals.  It helped significantly!

Jaipur, India

Mid-August and September

Countries: India, Puerto Rico

Cost: $943

From Romania, I flew to India for only $340!  There’s no place cheaper than India.  With an average budget of $18, I traveled in India very smoothly.  While I can’t say I loved India that much, I loved how it eased the spending.

I spent a full month in India, costing me $603. Since I had it with India and was not in the mood to tolerate it for the original 3 months I intended to stay there, I cut my trip short to give myself a well-deserved (and relaxing!) vacation with family and friends back in Puerto Rico.

But, the trip is not over yet!

October and forward…

At the moment I’m in Puerto Rico, my home country, but in a few days I fly to NYC, Belize, and soon head back to Milan, where I plan to spend a couple of months before moving to the next destination (which looks like it’s going to be Southeast Asia again!).

I’m extending my RTW trip an indefinite time (maybe a couple of months, maybe another year… who knows…).  There are lots of places I still want to go, so I’ll keep you in the loop of what will happen.

Now the total cost of everything is a follows:

Airfare:  $4,072  (34 flights)

Other Transportation: $1,300 approx.

Tours:  $2,354  (mostly small day tours, the Kili hike, and two safaris)

Accommodation:  $3,200 approx.

Travel Insurance:  $417

And the rest…: $6,430  (I paid most things cash, so it’s a bit hard to allocate precisely the total amount of accommodation, food, and miscellaneous).

TOTAL:  $17,773

Total number of countries visited:  51

The total cost could have been lower if I was a bit more strict with some spending, but it could have also been much higher had I not collaborated with the tourism companies mentioned above.

This brings my average monthly spending to $1,481, which is less than what I used to spend living in NYC (hell, when I moved to NYC I used to spend more than that JUST in rent!).  Or we could tally it as $349 per country visited.

Belize

The funding…

You might have noticed that the trip cost more than my original savings.  Over a year ago I wrote a post on all the things I did to save an average of $1,000 per month.

Well, in addition to my savings, I funded the trip with small architectural gigs (very small), where I did either small designs that didn’t require my full presence on the project or just did CAD drawings to help in any project.

Also, I earned some money through advertising on the site, and through commissions or affiliate marketing.  Some of my recommendations on the site do earn me a small commission if someone acts upon them.

But of course, anything that I’m recommending here is either something I love or something I’m currently using. A good sample is my Travel Gear page, where I list everything I’m carrying on this RTW. This income ranges between $1000 and $1500 per month, which helps offset most of my spending on the road.

For a while, I worked on additional niche sites (remember the Travel Niche Challenge where I created the travelinsuranceforbackpackers.net site? [now defunct]).

These definitely helped me earn some money through Google Adsense and commissions, but in the end, the workload they required vs. the money vs. the time I wanted to spend on the actual road and not on the computer all the time, made me drop them as projects, for now.

I’m still planning on picking up one or two niche sites and turn them into resourceful sites.  But, that takes time.

Time permitting, I also earned a bit of income by travel hacking with FlightFox, a site that brings the best travel hackers to compete to find you the cheapest airfare possible (earning them a small commission if their flight is awarded). Note: I no longer travel hack for FlightFox, but I still recommend them as a service to find cheap flights.

Aswan, Egypt

On saving money while on the road…

Travel Hacking is a great help when you want to save money.  While Travel Hacking didn’t bring any money to my pocket, I can say that points/miles are also a form of currency.

Another form of travel hacking I’ve done, in addition to Flightfox, is using the Travel Hacking Cartel membership where they email me on a constant basis the current deals on gaining miles/points for doing silly stuff like filling up a survey (750 miles for that!), registering to “X” service, getting a new credit card (up to 100,000 miles for that!), or others. Update: The Travel Hacking Cartel is now closed.

They even alert you on flight deals and other offers. The deals vary all the time, but now and then one comes up that does help add more miles significantly, without spending any money.

Another method of travel hacking I used (a lot!) was the free layover technique.  Most airlines will allow you to extend a layover at their hub city from a couple of days to a month.

This allowed me to travel to the “hub country” in between destinations technically for free!  Excellent airline examples are Iceland Air, Turkish Airlines, Aerosvit, and Etihad, among many others.

I made sure to have good travel credit cards (Citibank AAdvantage Visa for US dollar transactions and Capital One Venture for any other currency transactions, since they don’t charge a fee on foreign transactions).

For each dollar I spend (on both cards) I earn 1 mile/point, which in turn becomes money to either get free flights or to pay the balance on any travel-related transaction I made.  These cards have been very handy in saving money.

Ohh, another card that helped me save money is the Charles Schwab Checking account. This debit card doesn’t charge for any international ATM withdrawal, and if any foreign ATM charges you a fee, Schwab will refund it to you by the end of the month.  How cool is that?!

Kashmir, India

I like to travel budget, so I did a lot of Couchsurfing while I was in Europe (see this post on how to couchsurf the world), staying with friends, and staying at cheap hostels.

When I planned on staying at one single place for a longer period, I rented/sublet a room since it tends to be cheaper than hostels. I’ve found Airbnb to be the best source when it comes to apartment/room rentals due to their extensive selection and prices.

Note: I have an exclusive link that gives you $40 off on your first reservation with Airbnb. Get your credit here.

Unless strictly necessary or logistically smart (money wise), I always traveled overland.  Buses and trains in most parts of the world are very cheap, especially if they are the type of transportation that the locals use.  I found myself many times being the only foreigner in a bus full of locals.

Food-wise, I ate a lot of street food (except in India) and bought a lot of groceries. Many hostels did include breakfast and even dinner on their rate, so it’s good to check that out if you’re booking beforehand.

And, as I mentioned above, collaborations between the blog and travel companies or tourism boards did make a positive impact on saving money.

Well, I think this is pretty much the whole financial backdrop of my year of travel. The trip might have cost almost $18K, so far, but the lifetime memories and experience are simply… PRICELESS.

Here’s a quick video with a few RTW highlights.  I hope you enjoy it and that it inspires you to want to GO around the world!

LET ME HELP YOU TRAVEL MORE BY GETTING ADDITIONAL TIPS AND INSPIRATION VIA THE MONTHLY NEWSLETTER.

Plus, receive a short e-book with 15 Beginner Tips and Tricks to Start Travel Hacking!​

40 thoughts on “How To Travel The World For A Year With $18,000 (or less!)”

  1. That’s awesome! It’s really great that you broke the budget down for us to see. I’m contemplating a RTW and was wondering how much I would need to have in the bank. Glad to know it’s feasible on not much more than I would spend on regular life. Thanks for the tips and tricks, I’ll make sure to keep those in mind. Keep it up, and good luck with the rest of your travels 🙂

    1. Thanks, Lauren! Yes, traveling can cost the same or even less than regular daily life in a single place. It all depends on how you approach it and how flexible can you be with what you want to do and your spending. Thanks for the good wishes and I do hope you go on that RTW soon enough! My recommendation… Just go for it!!! 😀

    1. Hey Sandeep
      Sorry for the late reply. These collaborations have come through the blog. In some cases I have been approached by them, and in others I have been proactive by contacting them by email, twitter, or Facebook. It certainly helped me save a lot of money, but of course, it is technically not “free travel” as I’m working hard to deliver value for them and make sure they are happy with my work.

  2. Hey Norbert, Congratulations and thanks for breaking down your costs. I’m always telling people how affordable budget travel can be which being unbelievably rewarding.
    cheers, Priyank

    1. Thanks, Priyank! Definitely, budget travel can be very affordable and the experiences you get from it are priceless. I tell people to plan something and just go and take the road to absorb all those experiences!

  3. Awesome post, Norbert! It was nice to see the break-down of your costs – and to know that it can be done relatively cheaply!

    Also, I LOVE the video! Your first year looks like it was incredible.

  4. Great ideas here, very well thought out and inspiring! Now all I need is 18 G’s… which would be money very well spent!

  5. You showed us the way to travel with your courage. As many people don’t even think about travelling in their dream with loans and debt. But you are the example for people, who want’s to live their life to fullest.

  6. I can’t believe it’s been a whole year already! This is by far the most informative article I’ve read anywhere in a long time. I’m bookmarking it to reread when I get to do my own RTW trip someday (soon, hopefully.) 🙂

  7. What an incredible year! Not that 18K is not a lot of money, but I expected a RTW to be much more expensive. Good thing you could collaborate with tourism boards and companies. The other methods sound interesting too. I got some ideas from this post and I’m not even planning to have a RTW anytime soon. Hope you keep having tons of fun, Norbert!

    1. Thanks, Ayelet! It’s true, $18K is not pocket change, but when compared to all of the experience you can have around the world, it is just a small amount of money. Those methods I use are good whether you’re planning to travel around the world, travel anywhere in your country, or just staying put.

      Hope you have tons of fun too! 🙂

  8. Elle of Solo Female Nomad

    Great post! It clearly showed that you do not need a fortune to travel! What I liked most is that you went ahead and traveled, even though you had financial concerns; and the risk paid off. Alot of people find it difficult to take that risk, to sacrifice income to travel. You showed that its possible.

    1. Thanks, Elle! It was a risk, true, but like you said, it paid off! It’s been a lot of work too to make sure everything goes alright, but hey, all that work has brought tons of fun!

  9. Holy sh… You did that cheap. I thought I was being frugal but I still spend around 1250 euros a month on average ( 2.8 years/42 countries). In my defense I did go out and party a lot.

  10. Loved the article!! I appreciated you telling us how we can travel for less money. You really put things in perspective for us. You broke it down where we could see your expenses and how you managed the overall budget. I’m a huge fan of yours!

    Best,

    Ruthie

    1. Thanks, Ruthie! It does help put things in perspective when you know how much (or how little) it can cost to travel if you know how to plan it and be flexible at the same time.

      Hope to see you around!!

  11. Wow! I just read your three year RTW budget, and headed over to year one. It is crazy for me to see that I am in a similar position budget-wise as you are, and I also have some loans to tame. But wow, if you can do it maybe I can! Thanks for the inspiration.
    Katie

    1. Thanks, Katie! Of course you can! All you need to do is sit down to plan properly and take into consideration how will you continue to pay your loans while on the road. It can be by earning an income through your blog, through freelance work, or whatever work you decide to tai eon the road. It’s all about working smart! 😉

  12. Extremely useful post. Loved reading everything about your travel and couldn’t stop smiling. I really hope I get start my RTW trip soon.
    I esp. love the video coz it starts with Mumbai 🙂

  13. Sweet!! This is very informative Norbert. I’m inspired by your journey. There are things you mentioned in the article and moments in the video where I felt very connected. Thank you for that.
    If you can share us tips regarding the items you carried along that would be great. You mentioned you cooked at some places, you travelled different climate zones, you might camped in some places, you travelled in buses, trains, planes; Lot of things coming into my picture – kitchenware? heavy clothes? Sleeping bag? how many clothes? etc.. In this regard, can you enlighten us how to turn all these odds into a single bag? Or create a new blog post –> Hack your travel bag for a budget travel around a year.

  14. The Best place to travel in Aug-Sep is India because it was rainy season in India and Cost of Living in India is not that much expansive i have tips to complete the world tour in Low budget

    1. Plan Early for your trip
    2. Search for Cheap Flights
    3. Don’t Plan your trip in Festival Seasons , the air tickets will be Expansive Ex. December
    4. Learn Local Language , Don,t Miss Street Food , Shop at Street Market to Save Money

    Get Cheap Tickets to India at http://www.indianeagle.com/flight-tickets-to-india/

  15. The money looks small for travelling the world if you are to include air tickets and the likes. However, i will try saving at least $20000 and see how long it takes me.

  16. What were your favorite places in Africa? Which do you consider your must-dos? I am in the process of planning my year long trip and would love to see Africa, but as you say, it is expensive.

  17. This is so encouraging! Just what I needed to hear. What a great thing to strive for, thank you for approaching such a rare opportunity in an approachable light. I try to travel often, every three months or so for about ten days, and it is always a jerky pace to get accustomed to. One day I hope to apply these steps for a long duration.

  18. Amazing blog, After reading this article got tons of information and motivated to plan my world trip.Loved those pictures and the video really amazing stuff.I have already bookmarked you to more such kind of traveling experience blogs.

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