The BUDGET! Your Questions Answered
By far, the budget is the area I receive the most questions, especially from those who want to do their own unique version extended travel. Before answering your questions let me make one thing perfectly clear, “I ain’t got no money.” In Standard English, “I am not a wealthy person”. I am living as well as I would in the United States, at a fraction of the cost. This might indicate I am smart, not rich. In other words I am a frugal little cheapskate trying to save every penny. I have discovered a way to do it and have fun at the same time. You’ll see what I mean once you take a look at the budget comparison chart in this blog. This trip is not the undertaking of someone who is independently wealthy. Trust me on that! I will try to answer all of your questions without “gettin’ all up in my business”. You will probably see that year round travel is not as expensive as you might think.
I am not a travel blogger. The updates are my way to let family and friends know what I am up to. But I do enjoy answering your questions. I like to read travel blogs, even while I am traveling. My favorite is “A Little Adrift” by Shannon O’Donnell. It is the most comprehensive travel blog I have ever read. I also like her writing style. She writes a lot about the budget for year round travel. But keep in mind she is a real backpacker so if you travel in the middle of the travel spectrum like I do, expect to pay more. Her site will help you with planning much more than I can. For those planning your round the world (RTW) travel I highly recommend her blog. I did not really plan this trip; I am winging it every day. I do not recommend that for you! On her site you will have a plethora of articles about budgeting that may answer your budget questions and I will always try to answer your questions as well.
How can you afford to take such a trip? (the #1 question!!)
The answer in three words; frugality and saving. I did not save for this trip, I have always been a saver. When I decided to do this trip, the money was there. I have been debt-free for the last twenty years or more. I don’t have children. That’s it. It really is that simple; no magic formulas or investment strategies. Outside of travel and shoes, I have always been pretty frugal.
What was the budget for this trip?
My plan was to spend no more than $25,000.00 or a little more for the year. What I will do at the end of this trip is present you with a final post on the budget and share what I spent during the year on the road. That should give you an idea of what a “middle of the road” travel budget looks like. I like creature comforts. I will not spend a year staying in cheap hostels, eating questionable street food that cost a nickel just to save a few bucks. That would be great if I were younger. Young adults today do a good job of traveling on a small budget. I am cheap but not at the risk of comfort. Don’t get me wrong about hostels. I have stayed in a few great hostels and will write about it. It’s a great choice when you find a good one.
Everyone’s budget is going to look different. If you want to stay in backpacker hostels and eat street food, you will require less money than the person who likes a bit of luxury, wants to dine in fine restaurants and stay in four star hotels. I am comfortable right in the middle of the two extremes.
I know some of you want actual numbers. Here is an example. Shannon, on the “A Little Adrift” blog, reports that she spent a total of $17,895.00 during one of the years of her round the world (RTW) trip. Other RTW travelers report spending even less. She is on a backpacker’s budget. She stays in hostels, guesthouses and travels overland slowly using buses and trains. I travel quickly and linger longer using planes, apartments and hotels. I have already surpassed $17,895.00 (not by much). I have heard quotes from other RTW travelers of $10,000.00 per year to over $50,000.00 or more for RTW travel. It all depends on how you want to travel. I am comfortable staying in the middle.
How did you organize the budget? The answer: “Huh?”
This answer falls under the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ category. I did not sit down and figure out how much each line item would cost. That would be a sure sign that I am well organized. We all know better. If you are planning a long term journey, I suggest you plan carefully for each big budget item like lodging and food. Small items add up quickly, as I found out! I’ll list some surprise items for which I did not plan. Each item ended up being a small chunk of money. Try to leave room for surprise expenses. In my head I figured on lodging no more than $1000.00 per month; food $600.00 a month or roughly $20.00 a day; internet and phone combined $30.00 a month. The one big-ticket item I could not control was the cost of transportation. That dear friend is the budget, three items in my head. Who plans a year-long trip in their head? I do. If you are not a veteran traveler, this is not the way to plan an extensive trip. For those of you starting to plan I know you will do better! Keep reading for more planning tips.
Are you sticking to your budget? The answer: “Have you met me?”
This question made me laugh. I started this journey in July 2015 and by January 2016 I was so over the budget it was laughable. Two trips home and time spent in the states did not help the budget. My inner princess took over in unexpected ways. When I resigned from my job (i.e. no more paychecks) I put my inner princess in a holding cell. But she reared her pampered little head when I least expected. I ended up in a luxury vacation rental for two months in Mexico and later moved on to Panama in a nice high-rise apartment with the most gorgeous view of the Pacific. I could have easily found cheaper lodgings but the inner princess kept whispering in my ear telling me how much she prefers a nice view and sheets with a high thread count. Eventually I was back on track and I figured out a way to shut down the inner princess for good. Instead of a holding cell I put that little heifer in a prison cell with no time off for good behavior! How did I do that? How did I show such restraint? I had a revelation. The less I spend, the longer I can stay on the road. The little princess has been locked up since I adopted that mindset. I did enjoy the ocean view from the apartment in Panama and the fine sheets in Mexico. My inner princess has good taste.
Do you have a rich man hidden somewhere? Did you rob a bank?
Okay people. We know it is more likely for me to have robbed a bank than to have a secret rich man in hiding. The answer to both questions is no. But, if you know of any single emotionally available rich men out there, hook a sister up. I am looking!
How I went off track and recovered:
Budget indiscretion #1: Splitting the month in Belize into four different locations, one week each. Not a good idea. Not a good idea at all!
The four places that broke the bank in Belize; not because they were expensive but due to poor planning.
Tip: Staying one month in one place is cheaper, easier and less stressful. For example, the apartment in Chile was $800.00 for the month, $200.00 under budget. I was left with $200.00 extra for a four day weekend in Patagonia where I stayed in a hostel. Big win for me. The good thing was I didn’t have to pack everything. I went to Patagonia; just me and my backpack. From my experience so far, a month-long stay in an apartment is cheaper than a month-long stay in a hotel, except in Asia where hotels are super cheap. A week-long stay in an apartment is almost always more expensive. Four weeks, four towns, four apartments/hotels in Belize really set me back. Lesson learned, the hard way. If you move about a lot, do your budget a favor and find a few really nice hostels. Good ones are out there and they are fun.
Please note: The price of a month-long stay in an apartment or a hotel, can be and often is negotiable. Yes I said negotiable. Staying for the month is your bargaining chip. If you don’t ask you will never know what you could save. If negotiating in high season, it is probably not going to work but ask anyway.
Budget Indiscretion #2 Going over budget on lodgings.
Mexico and Panama were two places where I went over budget on lodging but made up for it in the food budget. Below are the two apartments where I decided to go over budget.
Tip: Budgets are never written in stone. I knew I had to make up for slips in judgement. If you are going to splurge on a budget item make sure you have a way to make up for it. For example, in Mexico I knew the food budget would make up for the $200.00 overage in lodging, and it did. Food in Mexico turned out to be really inexpensive.
Budget Indiscretion #3 I did not budget for one big ticket item – water.
Tip: Include water in your budget, especially if you are staying in developing countries where the water is not safe to drink. I drink four to six 16 oz. bottles a day. That’s a lot of water and a lot of pesos. The water in the apartment in Mexico was triple-filtered and drinkable. That really helped the budget. In Panama the water was supposed to be drinkable. The water had a detectable odor, therefore, I bought bottled water. In Chile (Patagonia) pure clean water from the Andes flowed from the tap. Cha-ching! In Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand the hotels supplied me with free bottled water, at least two to three bottles a day.
Budget items you might overlook when pre-planning
Travel Insurance – I think it is a must for mature travelers, adventure travelers and anyone who doesn’t have health insurance that covers foreign medical expenses. After extensive research, I went with World Nomads Travel Insurance.
Medications – In Costa Rica the humidity wreaked havoc on the medicine in my pill box (no air conditioner, high humidity and open windows on the beach). Make sure you budget for replacement of medicines including any subsequent doctor’s visits required to replace them. The good thing, when I discovered a couple of soggy pills only a few were damaged. The humidity in Panama and Costa Rica was a killer. The problem was solved by taking the pill box and putting it in a zip locked bag. I never travel without extra zip lock bags.
Taxi’s and metro cards – While on the road I made room in the budget for local transportation because I was surprised by how often I hopped in a taxi in Panama. It was sooooooooo hot (me whining). Thank goodness the taxis are very cheap in Panama. Also budget for land transportation getting to and from the airport (I always try to choose hotels with free airport shuttles when possible)
Tipping – I like making someone’s day with a smile and a nice tip. That was my philosophy when I was working. When you are on the road a long time it is amazing how many different hands lift your luggage, clean your room, bring your food, drive you to places off the beaten path and even row your boat. I learned to do some of my own lifting. Tipping shouldn’t break your budget but should be considered when planning.
Groceries – If staying in apartments you might want to include grocery shopping in the budget. Most apartments include items like toilet paper, kleenex, dish detergent and paper towels as starter items. While you are not responsible for restocking, you do have to replenish your supply when you run out. I don’t cook. If I am in for the day I need snacks and fruit to eat throughout the day. All of these items come out of the $20.00 a day food budget. When staying in hotels, I only chose hotels where breakfast is included. In Vietnam and Cambodia I never ate lunch once, because I ate my fill of free breakfast and was never hungry until dinnertime. So I only paid for one meal a day. Now I see why they say breakfast is the most important meal!! I am rarely up early enough to eat breakfast but when it is free what’s a girl to do?
Meals – If you want to stay in an apartment to cook and save money on food I can share my perspective with you. For a family with children this might be a good plan. For a solo traveler in Central and South America, and Southeast Asia cooking is really not worth the trouble unless you really like cooking. I hate cooking. In Belize I was able to eat a full, hearty breakfast under five dollars. Lunch or dinner was between four and eight dollars, well under my budget. I found the same to be true in Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama and Chile. In Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand the food is even cheaper. One day in Thailand I ate a full, delicious meal of Pad Thai noodles with shrimp, sparkling water and desert for three dollars. The food was delicious and the restaurant to my standards.
A Comparison: Stateside versus Worldwide
I am including a comparison chart of what it would cost me to live (at the level I am accustomed to) in New Orleans. I included a car note and insurance because when I finally do settle down I will need to buy a car. All other expenses are explained below. I also plan on purchasing a home wherever I settle down but I chose to put figures for rent because there would be more expenses added in the stateside column, like insurance, lawn care, repairs etc.
Stateside Living versus Worldwide Living
|Monthly Expenses||Stateside Jasandra||Worldwide Jasandra Mexico|
|Healthcare Coverage **||$740.00 (a month!!!!!)||$64.00|
|Ground Transportation – taxis/buses/metro||$0.00||$57.82|
|Magazines – only Oprah||$5.00||$0.00|
|$4,214.00||$2,149.87 1st month in Mexico|
|$1877.34 2nd month in Mexico|
*In the stateside column the rent listed is based on the average two bedroom apartment in New Orleans.
** The healthcare coverage is the quote given to me by Healthcare.gov when I was trying to figure out healthcare coverage before leaving my job. Needless to say I did not go with that plan! Not sure what I will do when I return. I sure as heck don’t want to pay that much for healthcare.
*** As you can see, two months in Mexico almost costs less than one month in New Orleans. Also on the stateside column there is zero amount under airfare. That is not accurate because there wouldn’t be a year when I did not travel. I was too lazy to put in an estimate and redo the math.
Round the world travel is really cheaper than most people think and not to mention cheaper than living in the United States in some instances. I could have easily acquired an apartment for $600.00 a month in Mexico. Even though the prices for apartments in San Miguel are rising, relatively cheap apartments are still available.
The first month’s Mexico total included airfare and airport transport. The food bill went down by nearly $90.00 for the second month because I did not buy groceries. I didn’t cook much the first month, only breakfast. Okay full disclosure, I mostly cooked milk and cereal. I had to open the cereal box so that is close to cooking. When you can buy a good hearty breakfast for two or three dollars, what is the point of cooking?
Mexico and Thailand have proven to be the cheapest countries so far. When I look at the big picture, the countries where I went over the budget were in Costa Rica and New Zealand because I only stayed a week or two. The data in my budget records reinforces the idea that week long travel is more expensive than staying for a month. Belize was the first country and I was traveling as if I were on a vacation. Staying in four different hotels/apartments ate up a big chunk of the budget. What I spent in Belize would be half of a year’s budget for a real backpacker or at least enough money for another month on the road. It will be interesting to see what the final damage will be after a year on the road. I have a strong feeling that it will be cheaper than living in the states (New Orleans). I am quite sure there may be places just as affordable as Mexico in the states. The question remains, would I want to live in those places?
Maybe after “12 months/12 countries” I should take a “12 months/12 states” trip to compare. I think I know how that might work out. It would end on Bourbon Street, soft drink bottle caps tightly secured to the bottom of my shoes tap-dancing for change. Not a pretty picture.
Budget planning suggestions for those who are planning:
Stay away from more developed countries. After Belize I had to fly back to the states. After Chile I had to fly back to the states. While there, money just jumped out of my pockets as I was walking down the streets. Developed countries take more out of your pockets and that is why I saved Europe for last. If you plan to go to Europe or travel the U.S., plan on spending more. To make it more budget friendly, plan on staying in hostels in Europe and U.S.
Become debt-free before starting the journey.
Don’t go into debt for the trip. You probably don’t want to put the trip on your credit card, come back home and spend years paying for it. That is stress times two. Save for the trip you want to have.
Have an emergency fund for unexpected expenses.
Budget for travel insurance.
When you see you have overspent, look for ways to make up for it in the budget. See the next rule.
Do NOT overspend (hard to do when you have a princess tagging along in your head).
I hope this answered all of your questions. If you have more, please ask. I don’t mind at all.
“If you don’t like where you are, move. You are not a tree.” author unknown