Planning a Round-the-World (RTW) Trip For Under $10,000

The following is a guest post from reader Chris, who shares a quick and dirty (and cost-conscious) examination of Round-the-World Travel. He writes about about making a life of long-term travel and other related topics at ChrisCarruth.com.

$10,000 goes a long way. That’s a healthy drop in the retirement bucket, a sizable boost to any portfolio, a new(er) car or, as I’m about to advocate, an adventure of spirit and culture and affirmation that most never embark upon.

Would you believe me if I told you that you could travel the world for $10,000? Hopefully, by the end of reading this you’ll see the opportunity for what it is. Of course we aren’t talking about stopping at the nearly 250 UN recognized nations, but rather circumnavigating the globe while stopping at a selection of countries and cities. Your time frame, your itinerary, your budget (and your sensibilities) will set the limits of your travels, so keep them in mind at all times.

Being readers of MyMoneyBlog.com, I think it’s safe to assume that you’re all fairly versed in saving methodologies and tips and tricks and are in, at least, a decent financial state. If you’re a new reader or simply don’t have that kind of scratch lying around, I didn’t leave you out. I’ve left some time honored travelers tips at the bottom to both save money for your travels and to pinch pennies while on the road. General rules of this study:

  • I am traveling solo.
  • I have gear and vaccinations.
  • I have $10,000.
  • I will travel for 3 months – 1 week in the US. 5 weeks in Europe and 6 weeks in Asia.

Consideration #1 – Airfare

Costs: $1,700
Remaining budget: $8,300

Airfare these days is not only the most economical choice, but also the least logistically imposing method of traversing the globe. There are two main schools of thought when it comes to RTW airfare – have it your way or go prepackaged. Customized itineraries allow for greater flexibility of schedule, freedom of destination and directional independence, while “pre-packaged” RTW tickets typically want you flying East-to-West (or vice-verse, no hopping back and forth), have a handful of stops and must be used within a certain date (usually within one year from purchase).

My focus on traveling will be South East Asia and Western Europe in a west-to-east route. I’ve opted for an itinerary from Boots’n’all Travel, who partners with the Airtreks to bring all this in at $1299 (as of September 2010, see current RTW specials here) . There are always some hidden fees, so let’s buffer that up to a straight $1500.

Flight itinerary – SE Asia & Europe Budget Ticket: San Francisco or Los Angeles – Manila – Borneo (Kota Kinabalu) – Singapore – Angkor Wat (Siem Reap) – surface – Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City – Bangkok – surface – Kuala Lumpur – London – Amsterdam – surface – Paris – San Francisco or Los Angeles from US$1299

Note: This sample itinerary is good through September 30th. Each month Boots’n’all offers different routes, but the prices, and locations, generally stay the same.

In the interest of creating as realistic a scenario as is reasonable, I’ll dish up the fact that I don’t live in San Fran or L.A. I’m a Colorado Springs resident…a quick check on Kayak.com shows that round-trip airfare from my home to the Bay Area and back runs less than $200. Done (and subtracted from our budget).

On a side note, if you’re concerned about the environment impacts of air-travel, you’ll be happy that the sustainability movement has more than a foothold in our modern travel climate. Carbon offsetting is an option as are bio-fueled jets (not commonly available…). Of course, these will up your costs and for the sake of staying under budget I’ve left them out.

Consideration #2 – Lodging


Costs: $3,000
Remaining budget: $5,300

The location where we lay our heads at night should be a place of rest, of sanctuary. More to the point, if you can’t see yourself comfortably staying in dorm accommodations, then don’t force yourself. You’ll be happier for as will the staff and other hostelers. I will say that you should at least try dorm living before you rush to judge as it’s an excellent way to not only save money on the road, but to connect with other sojourners. Personally, I prefer hosteling in a single private room with access to shared restroom facilities. A large step up from dorms and a small step down from a hotel.

There are several factors that come into play for pricing such as season, country, the accommodation and room type and the length of your stay. More succinctly, an August dorm bed in downtown Paris for two nights will run in the neighborhood of $50USD whereas a single private in a Cambodian hostel during the same time would be $50USD for the entire week. The western world is invariably more expensive, so budget accordingly when planning out your stays in each city.

By checking the HostelWorld.com reservation engine, I’ve priced out private rooms, for 6 weeks (5 in Europe and 1 in the US) at an average of $40 a night. The total for these six weeks is roughly $1700 / $45 per night (I buffer like crazy…). Remember, we can go higher or lower depending on our personal tastes.

Now, for six weeks in Asia, I’m using HostelWorld again, to get the average costs of the region. Keep in mind that Indonesia, Cambodia and other countries in the region will be far less expensive, but it’s always better to plan for the worst and hope for the best than the other way around, right? Costs of private hostels in South East Asia for six weeks – $1300 / $30 per night.

With our handy dandy figures, we can estimate that we’ll have private accommodations, sans private restrooms, for our 3 months at a little under $40 per night or for $3,000 total.

Consideration #3 – Food, Attractions, Events, Misc

Costs: $5,300
Remaining budget: $0

With transportation and lodging addressed we’re really only left with daily expenses. These suckers add up though and it’s because of that I couldn’t discount them entirely. It’s great that we have budget for hostels and airfare, but what about the costs of getting to the hostel from the airport (and back)? What about the three hot meals? Or seeing the Louvre in Paris, Buckingham in London, catching an Oakland Raiders game while in the Bay Area, partaking in the decadence of Thailand’s full moon party or hiring that guide in Angor Wat? What’s travel without experience?

That’s where our remaining budget is allocated. It’s play money – but play smart. You need to eat, you don’t need to visit every gallery that Vienna has to offer (nor would you want to…the constant cultural bombardment would have your head swimming by the third consecutive day, trust me.)
I enjoy shopping at open air markets and foreign grocery stores, so this helps keep my budgets manageable. A bonus of staying in hostels is that you get the use of their kitchens. Home cooking on the road. Of course, you don’t want to make every single last meal, so plan on eating out once in a while, and budget that in. Like lodging, food and entertainment costs vary on the season and the region.

I’d say $30 a day in the US/Europe and $20 a day in South East Asia is about right for the cost-conscious private room hosteler. That comes to $2100 over six weeks. Yet, there’s no buffer, so let’s make that a more psychologically pleasing number – say $2,500. A cool quarter of our overall budget straight to food. It’s worth noting that most hostels offer up free breads and jams and coffees and teas in the morning…and it’s generally acceptable behavior to gorge on bread before heading out for the day. Just saying ;)

Where does that leaves us? With ~$2,800 remaining for souvenirs, taxis, entrance fees, and everything in between. Not bad and remember this was done with decent lodging and a very liberal “buffer” system. Travel can be had for even less depending your sensibilities. Travel can be had depending on you. So, take that $2,800 and go rent a bicycle and see Bali on two wheels instead of two legs, see the fine art in gay Paris, take in a show in London’s theater district, go explore both the inner and outer worlds. After all, in the end, it’s not the money – money’s just the fuel – it’s the experience.

And there it is. A quick and dirty overview of the accessibility and affordability of Round-the-World travel. As I’ve stressed, many factors come into play that will determine how long you can travel, to where, and what your daily expenses may be, but I’m obligated to write that, as with any worthwhile undertaking, travel starts with desire and with intention. If you want to travel the world – you will. It may not be today or even tomorrow, but set your wheels in motion and sooner or later you’ll get to where you’re going.

Your brother in travel,
-Chris


Chris in Soweto, South Africa

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Comments

  1. I suppose for US citizens visa is not an issue. Too bad for non-US citizens residing in the US, I guess, as those cost add up considerably and quickly.

  2. chriscarruth says:

    Hi KD, thanks for commenting.

    It’s true that being an non-US citizen *may* entail certain Visa costs, but that can be somewhat addressed by careful route planning and by not overstaying the “tourist” time-frame most countries impose on visitors.

    May I ask what your nationality is?

    On a related note, http://www.visahq.com/ is great tool for researching Visa costs for those of any citizenship.

    -Chris

  3. For those who are traveling as couples or in groups and staying in one place for more than 3 days, it may be more economical to rent an apartment rather than stay in a hostel since hostel charge per person and those costs add up.

    When my wife and I traveled throughout central europe last summer my costs for apartments in centers of big cities was rarely more $50 a night.

    Another thing i would recommend is just getting a ticket to a big hub in the geographical area of your choice. And then use low cost carriers to jump around to your destinations. This will allow you more flexibility and also allow you to travel by land which is a good way to see both europe and asia and also save on hotel stays.
    An overnight train ride from Bangkok to Surat Thani(port on the way to many islands) or an overnight train ride from Prague to Krakow lets you sleep on a comfy bed while youre being transported to your next destination. All for the cost no more than what you have paid for those nights accomodations anyways.

    In Round the World trip like this where you havent been to places where youre going, you may want to be more flexible than a rigid schedule of air flights allows. What if you like that island or city so much that you want to stay there for 10 days instead of 4?

  4. Two things I’m concerned if not traveling to first world countries.

    1. Getting sick – If traveling for 3-6 months, should get insurance?
    2. Getting robbed

  5. 1. Your US insurance will cover some overseas medical expenses, but find from them
    2. You can buy travel medical insurance if you so desire. Watch out for preexisting conditions coverage
    3. I have more chances of being robbed in a city 10 miles away(East Oakland) than in a city half a world away. My advice is not to have anything with you that you cant live without: uber-expensive camera, uber-expensive laptop, jewelry is just asking to be stolen.
    Whenever i travel, Im prepared to lose everything except my passport which i always have with me.
    I split my credit/debit cards so that i have some in person and some in my hotel/hostel/what have you, so again if i get robbed, I still have means to continue my travel.

    And finally, Ive never been robbed traveling so called third-world countries. Ive never visited Somalia though

  6. Hi H,

    I can empathize with your concerns, but have to point out that you can get sick and/or robbed at home too, no? I’m not trying to be cavalier, but rather saying that if you take a step back from your concerns they can be addressed rationally.

    As for insurance, I did buy Travel’s Insurance from World Nomad’s (just a google search away…). Paid about $240 for 6 months. Covers a slew of situations such as airfare delays, accidents, lost/stolen luggage, etc.

    -Chris

  7. One more point to consider: rapid depreciation of US$

  8. Pretty good stuff.

    I agree with Vladgur.

    I’d also say consider renting apartments or flats during some of the stops. I’ve stayed in some Western European cities (Moscow, St. Petersurg, Kiev and Paris) where you could find a “flat” for right around $40 per nite. That is, if the time of year is right and a few other factors.

    I’d love to taste the experience of “dorm” living however.

    I think it would add to the overall trip

  9. Hi – I traveled around the world for two years. My comments are:

    “Getting sick”

    Yes, you will get sick (i.e. stomach grumbling) … and you won’t care.

    Your digestion will take on a life of it’s own, you will be careful, it will grumble, you will run to disgusting toilets and do this and do that, you and other travelers will laugh about it, you’ll just ignore it and work with it.

    …. and you’ll be having the time of life, couldn’t care less, making memories that you’ll take to your deathbed that will have made life worth it. If you get really sick, you’ll fix it and still be happy that you had one of the biggest experiences of your life.

    “Getting Robbed”

    If you are careful, alert, smart, take precautions, you’ll be fine. I went everywhere (China, Tibet, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Africa ..) and never once got robbed. Then when I arrived back in the US, I noticed myself more guarded than abroad.

    If you take care of yourself, these inconveniences will pale in comparison to the lifetime experience.

    Marie

  10. That flight cost does not look right. $1,700 is extremely cheap for RTW ticket.

  11. chriscarruth says:

    Apologies for the delay response, having some small issues with the moderation system.

    As a few of the commenters have pointed out, accommodations can be changed to flats or apartments with minimal, if any, impact to the “bottom line”. It’s your trip, the gist is that RTW travel is more affordable, and accessible, now than it ever was before.

    The key is the desire. Couple that with intention, and the proper amount of research…well…there you go :)

    #####

    @Vladgur

    Yep – you can find apartments and flats for around $40 a night, but depending on the country, the style and the season your prices may differ. I should have noted this in-post, but went with Hostel/2 Star Hotel figures as those tend to fluctuate less.

    Point is you certainly can go higher or lower than the prices I outlined here (A good thing).

    Using overnight trains to defer costs does work, but I, personally, wouldn’t want to make a habit of it or count on it as a financial strategy. If you’re up for that, more power to you!

    #####

    @MR

    The dollar may not hold the value it once did but we are part of a global economy now more than ever before and several nations have seen value drop recently (Iceland, China is tinkering with the Yuan).

    In Europe, the Euro is getting stronger against the dollar, but I wouldn’t say that the USD is rapidly decreasing in value in comparison. It’s closer to where the currencies were valuated 30 months back before the economic crisis. You could argue that we’re returned to normalcy (I wouldn’t…).

    And I’d also point out that, if you’re worried about stretching the dollar, then South-East Asia, China, or India may be the place for you. The USD goes a lot farther there than it does in either Europe or in the States. I’ve met ex-patriots that are living abroad, in part, because of the cheaper cost of living. Just something to keep in mind.

    ####

    @David

    Spot on. Give Hostels a try. If at all possible, check the website or contact them beforehand. Some haunts are geared towards older, less party-going travelers looking for a quiet and relaxing atmosphere while a good deal cater to the youth market and all the debauchery that entails.

    It really is amazing the near instant bond you can make with someone else simply because you’re both strangers in strange lands. And if you hit it off you can share transportation costs, meals, and have a temporary travel partner.

    ####

    @Marie

    My feelings exactly. Thank you for the wonderful comment!!!!!

  12. chriscarruth says:

    @Retireby40

    Sounds off doesn’t it ;)

    Check out that link above (http://www.airtreks.com/Products_AirSpecials.aspx) to AirTreks “pre-packaged” RTW tickets.

    The figure is accurate, and even includes some buffer room for a flight from my home (Colorado Springs) to the West Coast.

    Worth noting that the AirTreks specials are just one flavor of RTW tickets. You can book through StarAlliance, OneWorld, STA or just Google “RTW tickets” and find additional vendors.

    Best of luck,

    -Chris

  13. Chris, I am an Indian national.

  14. @chriscarruth
    That site cannot help those who were born in India, Sri Lanka etc for visiting India.

  15. chriscarruth says:

    @KD – VisaHQ.com allows you to plug in your nationality and see what Visa fees, if any, are applicable. Good luck!

    @MR – If you call into AirTreks, or any of the other RTW sites I listed above, they can start the route from non-US locations such as in Indian or Sri Lanka. Good luck!

  16. chew on it says:

    @chris

    I’ve always thought RTW trips are way beyond me, even though I’ve always wanted to do it while I’m still young and able. You, however, have convinced me that I don’t have to wait till I’m retired to do these things. After all, the goals of saving is to be able to enjoy the spending part of it. Cheers.

  17. chriscarruth says:

    @Chew – You’ve made my day ;)

    As I’ve always maintained, the first, and most crucial step, is desire. Sounds like you have that. Happy travels!

  18. Eric Walton says:

    GREAT article. It’s been my dream for a long time to pick up and take a trip like this, journaling on the way. One suggestion for adding options into the accomodation catagory is “www.couchsurfing.com”. You can join the network and stay at many places around the world for free. This obviously isn’t for everyone but if you’re open to the hosteling option then this might work for you. I would advise taking the time to read member profiles and other user’s feedback on them.

  19. chriscarruth says:

    @Eric,

    I’ve heard great things about couchsurfing and, for the life of me, I don’t know why I left it out as an option here. i haven’t tried it myself, but it’s on my travel list of things to do.

    Thanks for posting!

  20. vijaianand says:

    Hi Chris,

    I got to read your interesting post a week ago but couln’t get a chance to comment early but I wanted to comment because you made me excited about the world travel. One of my goal is to do world travel and visit 7 wonders sometime in my lifetime.

    Your post had wealth of informmation which really pushed me to consider travelling soon with a reasonable cost. But I am married and have 2 kids and that makes thing little difficult but I am going someday soon. Really good website and nice tricks and tips.. I love to see more pictures…

    Your website also looks good with loads of info.. Keep posting..

    Vijai

  21. chriscarruth says:

    Hey Vijai,

    Traveling with children is certain a non-traditional route, but, also, certainly not unheard of. I’ve read numerous stories of parents removing kids early from school each year for an annual summer trip – and these experiences, added up over the years, make for well-rounded global citizens.

    I’m reticent to link-drop, but given my lack of first-hand experience in traveling with kids I’d point you towards this forum on “Boots’n’all” (An RTW geared website) – http://boards.bootsnall.com/planning-a-rtw-trip-with-my-3-children-t40754.html

    In case you’re interested, here’s one more link to my online photo gallery – http://picasaweb.google.com/chriscarruth

    Take care, and happy travels!

    -Chris

  22. I just learned that One World offers a round-the-world ticket with up to 16 stopovers in BUSINESS class for 220,000 miles. That would be a lot better proposition (especially given the recent Citi AA card offers).

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