“How much money did you save?” is probably the most common question I am asked when talking about my trips. I prefer to take long journeys, from 3, 6 to 12 months in length, so I’ve been pretty disciplined with saving and budgeting.
Travel is my favourite part of life - it is the most rewarding, sobering, defining things and I think everyone should experience it. One of my favourite travel quotes sums it up nicely: Travel is never a matter of money, but of courage.
So, I’d like to share my secret: How I travelled the world for 1 year on $20,000.
A few disclaimers before I start:
When I say world, the areas I visited were: Asia, Middle East, Europe, North America and New Zealand. I haven't included the flight to the first destination and home.
$20k = AUD. This will either be good news or bad news depending on your exchange rate.
This is based on a very disciplined travel style which is not for everyone! This is based on quantity and you will need to sacrifice and plan. I repeat. Sacrifice and plan.
Now, let’s get to it.
PART ONE: Map out length of trip & destinations
Think about where you want to go and what you want to do. See the Taj Mahal? Road trip Italy? Hike through Petra? Plot out an idea of locations and time needed.
If you need a little help with inspiration, head to my Start Here page.
ASIA: 70 days at $25 per day = $1750
MIDDLE EAST: 20 days at $60 per day = $1200
EUROPE: 100 days at $50 per day = $5000
EASTEN EUROPE: 90 days at $30 per day = $2700
USA: 40 days at $60 per day = $2400
CANADA: 20 days at $50 per day = $1000
NEW ZEALAND: 10 days at $50 per day = $500
TOTAL: $14,550 + $5000 for splurges, mishaps, flights, rail passes etc
PART TWO: Develop a budget
When it comes to planning and budgeting for my travel, I use a spreadsheet to detail all costs and information.
This is also extra helpful when booking accommodation (with dates and making sure you don’t have any gaps) with pre-planned transport like flights, ensuring you don’t overstay your visa, etc. As soon as I book something, I add it to the sheet.
If you would like a copy of my original spreadsheet plus a blank template, just head to this page and fill in the form.
To begin, work out a rough, average daily cost for each country and add it to each location in the spreadsheet. You can see my original spreadsheet for a guide on this. Then, personalise with your own plans:
Add extra in any transport costs where you’ll be hiring a car, taking a bus, flying (I usually add $50 - $100 for flights in Europe, and $250 for between continents. Book early!)
Add some extra for any accommodation you plan to splurge on (ie villa in Santorini, add a $100 per night)
Food, again add extra if you’re planning to go nuts in any locations (ie New Orleans, add $30 a day)
Then, add some extra for any misc activities you plan on doing (ie skydiving in Switzerland, add $150)
Lastly, add in any big ticket items at the bottom (ie Eurail Pass / Canada Parks Pass / Travel Visas etc)
Don’t forget about exchange rates!
IMPORTANT: If you have a flight to another country that will cost a few hundred dollars, you need to allow for that in the plan. ie: just because you are in the USA and have $60 a day to spend, doesn't mean you should.
PART THREE: Stick to the budget
You can comfortably live off a budget of $5-10 a day for food… IF you are prepared to cook and sacrifice eating out and spontaneous purchases.
Below is an idea of what to cook to stick to your budget - the below ingredients will be enough for lunch, snacks and dinner for 5 days.
(These prices are based on average cost of groceries in central Europe. Costs will differ dramatically in other countries such as Switzerland or Thailand). This also is an assumption that breakfast is provided free at the hostel. If not, buy yourself a box of cereal and milk and you’re sorted for an extra €3.50!)
TIP: Always raid the hostel's free food section, where they leave any food left over from departed guests. There's always plenty of cereal, snacks and surprises!
> Click to expand
Hostels will be your number 1 form of accommodation while travelling on a budget. Always look for one with a kitchen and ideally a free breakfast.
Air BnBs can be a nice break from hostel life and can also give you more unique experience in a location. They are generally more expensive, however if you’re travelling in a group it can sometimes work out cheaper!
Hotels are again a nice break, but if you’re on a tight budget, keep them to a minimum.
Couch Surfing is also a great way to save a heap of money, however you need to be prepared to sleep on a couch in a stranger’s house. I have done this a few times with only good stories to tell! Trust your gut and instincts.
Friends you make along your travels can become the best asset when travelling at length - stay in touch and send them a note when you’re heading their way. If they can’t host you, they’ll be sure to show you all the good (and cheap!) places around. Remember, if you stay at their house, make sure you return the favour when they’re in your neighbourhood!
Stick to buses, trains and walking. Taxis and Ubers are sometimes a necessity, but avoid these where possible in the more expensive countries (NZ, Italy etc). Plan ahead and book bus, train and plane tickets in advance; they will be cheaper.
Buses: Go Euro is a big help when comparing the cost of bus vs train in Europe, where generally the bus is cheaper but takes longer.
FlixBus and Megabus are also now in USA, meaning you can take a bus from locations such as New Orleans to Austin for as little as $1. Book early and avoid weekends
Trains: Consider rail passes such as Eurail if you are planning on travelling through central Europe, particularly Germany, Switzerland and Austria as train tickets are expensive and they do not have as many bus connections.
Flying: Airlines such as Ryan Air, Wizz and Easyjet offer flights all over Europe starting as low as €10 (additional fees for checked baggage) – compare this to a 8 hour bus ride for the same price and you’ll be glad you planned ahead. Google Flights will be your best friend for comparing flight prices and dates.
Driving: Check out Bla Bla Car, a long-distance ridesharing website, for cheaper alternate transport throughout Europe.
Hiring a car can be an incredible experience, particularly in places not reached by public transport. To find the best deals, search a few different aggravators (rentalcars.com, booking.com, Expedia), opt for a smaller car (better on petrol too) and I’ve also found that picking the car up on a weekday sometimes lowers the price.
When you’re on the road, search online for cheap petrol in the area. For example, we were in BC, Canada where the fuel as $1.30L, however just 20 minutes up the road in Alberta, the fuel was $0.90L.
Lastly, keep an eye on websites like imoova.com, where they have cheap relocation camper vans, some costing just $1 to hire. They have certain terms (maximum hire days and restricted km’s, but they can be a great option to get you from A to B (and covers your accommodation too!). I did a relocation van from Christchurch to Queenstown and then picked up another to drive back from Queenstown to Christchurch, and saved around $500.
Souvenirs, pub crawls, drinks, missed trains, daily transport costs, activities… The unplanned parts of travelling. These costs can differ from a postcard to a parking fine, and are almost impossible to plan for. If you add around $5 misc every day, this should compound and give you a bit of a buffer for when things go wrong!
I’ve found that that things generally even out in the long run. If you hike all day and spend nothing on Monday, you might treat yourself to a restaurant dinner on Tuesday. On Wednesday you manage to find a couch surfing host and save €20 on accommodation which is lucky because on Thursday you miss your train and need to buy a new ticket.
BONUS: HOW TO SAVE:
Here are my favourite 5 tips for saving bulk money, fast.
Know the end game
Before you start saving, work out how much you need to achieve your goals. With a specific plan amount in mind, it seems to be easier and more motivating when you keep track of your progress. Visualising the end game also helps: get a mood board or a few pictures of places you’re excited about and pin them to your wall, have it as your phone background. Little reminders help when you’re getting ready for your second job or saying no to that coffee!
Set a clear plan
A goal without a plan is just a wish. Set out strategies and find tools to keep yourself on track. Here’s some of my best strategies to reduce your monthly spendings:
Audit your spending: Write down how often you get paid and the total after tax then work out every single one of your outgoings, eliminate any unnecessary items, and be diligent sticking to these figures. Make sure you count rent, home bills, phone bills, food allowance and ‘fun’ (give yourself a small amount to spend). Then, calculate how much is left to save each pay.
Make your own: Before you buy it, ask yourself, can I make this? Maybe a sandwich, or a smoothie, or even a birthday card for a friend. Get crafty and save your cash. Avoid & unsubscribe: If you are easily tempted by a sale, unsubscribe to all retail emails. 30 day buy rule: If you really, really want something, give yourself 30 days to think it over. Chances are, you won’t be still thinking about it after a month. Clean out your closet: You may find plenty of gems to sell at a local market or online. If you’re heading off overseas, will you really need that slow cooker? Get a second job: If you work 9-5 Monday to Friday, consider getting a part-time job on the weekends. Every dollar counts! Sacrifice: At the end of the day, you will need to sacrifice some things in order to get ahead. One less coffee at your usual stop before work could mean a coffee in a cafe in Paris. Those new jeans; a night accommodation in a cabin in Canada.
Make a timeframe
You can save better if you have a clear understanding of when you will need the money by. A vague timeframe is not going to motivate you - everyone works better with a deadline! Be realistic, but also be firm with yourself.
Check in & Review
Even if you’re seeing your bank balance increasing, keep checking in against your plan. Write down all of your spendings for the week and audit: What did you spend this week on food? Could that be improved?
Tell people about it!
You will increase your accountability to yourself when you tell friends and family about your plan. The more likely you will be encouraged to reach your objective!
So there it is - my not so secret way that I travelled for 12 months on $20k.
Don't forget to share this if you think one of your friends might need some inspiration or help saving too.