What it Costs to Travel Full-Time

Fireworks always give me a bit of nostalgia. Watching their beautiful lights so bright and sparkling only for a moment even as they fade falling to the ground. It makes me think of the wonderful moments of the past.  

Only five years ago we were celebrating New Year’s Eve with dear friends in our home in North Carolina. The following year found us running from a fireworks bull in Nicaragua with a newfound friend Tanya and her family. In 2017 in Arequipa, Peru we once again dodged fireworks shot into the crowd at the central plaza. That time with new friends from Australia. At the end of last year, Trin was partying with friends in Argentina while I celebrated with some Brits on a ship to Antarctica.

My wonderful roommate Vivian and me on a warm summer day in Antarctica.
My wonderful roommate Vivian and me on a warm summer day in Antarctica. We stayed up too late a few times talking and laughing about travel, spreadsheets, and life in general.

This year we found ourselves by the docks in Wallaroo, South Australia. Most fireworks shows were canceled due to the total fire bans across most of Australia. But as we watched the display sitting on the rocks lining the shore I thought back to our journey so far and realized it has been quite the year.

What Travel Costs Each Year

I’ve never written a personal budget for myself (I have written them for others). But since we retired in 2016 I have kept track of everything we spend. Trin and I even try to guess what the following year might cost. It truly is a guess, especially with slow, full-time travel. We make it up as we go.  

Trin feeding a horse in Panama
Trin feeding a horse in Boquete, Panama

Our cheapest year yet (2016)

Our first year before we sold all our belongings we began to research what world travel might cost. Based on all our research we determined that we really had no idea what it was going to cost us. Nomadic Matt traveled the world on $50 a day, then wrote a book about it. He traveled alone for $18,000 a year. It sounded like a good place to start. We ran our numbers based on that, it was a wild guess. During our first year, we spent less than $10,000 for both of us.


Travel ParameterDatesYearly Cost Total/Individual
First Year of TravelOct 2016-Oct 2017$9,550 / $4,775
Click here for more details on how we traveled for less than $5,000 a year.
At the top of a sand dune in Lençóis Maranhenses National Park the Most beautiful place in the world
One of the most beautiful stops in Brazil, Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Brazil

Cost of Travel in Latin America (2016-2018)

In our second year of traveling, we nearly doubled our cost. Madre mia! Even more so with our third year. But we expected that it would be since a few expensive destinations like a cruise in Galapagos and Antarctica with stops in the Falklands and South Georgia were on our list of places to visit.

Travel ParameterDatesTotal Cost / Yearly Average
Total Cost of travel in Latin America & AntarcticaOct 2016 – Jan 2019$42,338 / $17,907
Click here for a list of cost by country in South America

2019, A different kind of year

Most of January I was in Antarctica but the expedition began in 2018 and we paid for in November of that year so the total cost for that trip is included in 2018.

From Antarctica, we headed back to the USA for our first visit to friends and family since leaving in 2016. We spent time in Arizona, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

By May we were off again on our exploration. First stop: Philippines, for a family reunion, then on to Australia.

Travel ParameterMonth in 2019Total Cost
Largest Cost Items
South America to the USAJan$1,562
USAFeb – May$4,084
PhilippinesMay – Aug$3,433
AustraliaAug – Dec$8,644
(includes an estimated $2K vehicle depreciation)

Key Expenses / Savings in the USA

While traveling, transportation can be one of the most expensive categories. To alleviate this cost during our time back in the USA we purchased a car when we arrived in Arizona then resold it before leaving in Pennsylvania.

Both Trinity and I have worked on cars before so we feel comfortable purchasing vehicles off of craigslist. In early February of 2019, we found ourselves in an empty parking lot with an envelope of cash meeting a stranger who was selling a car.

Welcome home cupcakes from best friends in Pennsylvania
Our close friends Tommy & Alyson welcomed us into their home when we visited Pennsylvania

We tested the car and looked up the VIN number to make sure it wasn’t stolen. Then we handed over the cash, he gave us the keys and the title and then he drove off in his friend’s car. As they drove out of sight it dawned on us that we had no idea where the guy lived or how to contact him again (it was somebody else’s name on the title). Shady much? The car needed a bit of work and Trin spent a few days under the car in his brother’s driveway in Arizona, but we got it on the road and it ran well.

Cool tree near Sydney Australia
Tree on Manly Island near Sydney, Australia

Key Expense / Savings in Australia

Australia we knew would be more expensive. We were also changing our mode of transportation from backpacking/public transportation to owning our own wheels. In South America, our categories for spending were only a few. Now we would be adding fuel and vehicle costs.

With more categories of spending, I wrote a basic estimate of what I thought it might cost us by category long before we headed down under.

Category2019 Estimate
(4 months in Australia)
Actual
Car Insurance$420$195
Transpiration: Petrol, ferry, metro$2780$2,413
Food$4,000$1,826
Entertainment$1,670$100
Camping Fees / Accommodation$2,500$310
Technology /Cell / data$240$200
Vehicle (maintenance/ depreciation)$6,250$3,600
($2K for depreciation $400 shopping spree)
TOTAL$17,920$8,644
Trin and Bonnie in the sunset
Trin and I in the sunset, the feature photo for Financial Independence without ever writing a budget

What’s the difference between a budget and an estimate?

A budget is a plan for how one will spend money. Generally, it is self-created rules on how much to spend or not to spend. An estimate for us is a wild guess on how much something might cost. We don’t want to blindly head off for some remote corner of the world and end up stranded without money or means to get home.

Once an estimate is created we rarely ever go back and look at it. In fact, writing this post is the first time I’ve looked at our estimate in a year. It does not dictate what we spend, nor is it even a guideline for us when we are deciding our activities or purchases. We decide each purchase based on the value of that item. We are both almost too frugal so this method works for us.

Living in a bus, camping in the outback Australia
Lil” Beaut, our bus, at a campsite just outside Oxley Wild Rivers National Park

Our Guideline for Australia – splurge

One of my goals for our year in Australia is to splurge. Neither Trin or I am natural spenders. I actually find it quite painful to spend money. Shopping, especially for clothes, is downright torturous to me. Well, Bunnings (Australia’s version of Home Depot) isn’t too bad.

Splurge on Food

Splurging on good food is one of the categories. It is why I entered such a high estimate. We rarely eat out, preferring a home-cooked meal much more than dining out.

For me splurging is purchasing good food without letting the cost sway me. Our shopping still leads us to Aldis first because the same brand of tuna is half the price of Woolworths (For those of you in the USA, Woolworths, or woollies in aussie abrev, is a grocery store here in Australia, not a clothing store). We purchase salmon when we feel like it, purchasing fresh herbs and expensive blueberries. We snack on walnuts and fresh fruits. So maybe splurge is a strong word, but I think it’s relative. Healthy food is often expensive – I wanted to splurge on it. Even so, we are still under the estimate.

Splurge on Beaut

We also splurged on our home – Lil’ Beaut. It cost $10K more than we had originally estimated. We could have purchased a camper van, but after two years of backpacking, I wanted a home. Part of our decision was about comfort and convenience and since we had the money for it we went for it.

Another reason we decided to spend more is the market. We felt this vehicle would retain value better than many of the others we were reviewing. It looked like a good financial decision in addition to being comfortable.

The purchase was not about the actual purchase price but the value it would retain and the value it would be to our lives over this next year.

Sometimes you have to save for an opportunity, sometimes you have to spend those savings.

NOTE: All costs are converted from local currency to USD for comparison. Costs include all living expenses except health Insurance, related health costs (like paying a deductible) and charitable giving.

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13 thoughts on “What it Costs to Travel Full-Time”

  1. Great statistics. $320 for camping fees is good in four months. We are fortunate in Australia to be able to freecamp. WikiCamps is such a bonus. Best money spent ever.
    Continue to enjoy. You are welcome to stay with us anytime.

    Reply

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