The real cost of travel

There are a lot of articles about travel – places to go, how to save money, how to spend money, and why you should go. But rarely do you find any advice on the total cost you should expect to spend on a trip. Like with anything in life, there is a kind of pride amongst travellers – we’ll tell you all about the great deal we got, but will only grudgingly admit when pressed that we ended up paying way above the odds on that airfare we needed when we changed plans at the last minute.

So what does it actually cost to go travelling? I’m going to share with you what it cost me to go backpacking for six months, which will hopefully give you an idea of what you might need to save before heading off to distant shores.

But first, let me paint you a picture of what kind of traveller I am.

I never, and I mean never, skip a meal. I hardly skip a snack, if I’m being honest. I would rather sleep in a roach infested hut to save money than miss out on stuffing my face. I love adventure activities, and I suffer from severe FOMO (fear of missing out) so I frequently end up doing things that I wasn’t planning, just because someone I spoke to at a bus station for five minutes mentioned it was a cool thing to do.

When I went backpacking for the third time in December 2009, the UK was in recession. When my other half was made redundant, we took it as an opportunity to do something he had never experienced before.

It took a little rejigging, as we already had airfares and holiday plans to meet my family in Malaysia, but in the end our six month itinerary looked like this:

London – Indonesia – Thailand – Malaysia – London – Argentina – Brazil – Bolivia – Peru – Ecuador – Colombia – New York – London

Going back to London between times, just to grab some cold weather gear and have some cocktails with friends, wasn’t exactly the usual way I’d travel, but as we had the tickets anyway from Malaysia home, it just turned out to be a cheaper way to fly.

So what did I spend for six months of travelling?


(yes I’m one of those freaks who put together a spreadsheet when we got home to work it out)

That’s about USD$11,760 or AUD$11,710 in today’s terms.

That’s £42 / $65 each day, all in.

And just to really put that into perspective, when we landed for our week in New York, slightly malnourished and the darkest brown I’ll probably ever be, we didn’t hold back, eating and doing whatever our hearts desired – in the end just that one week of our travels contributed £500 to my total spend.

So this is how it broke down:

  • 20% on airfares
  • 12% on other transport (buses, ferries, trains etc)
  • 20% on accommodation, including a week of nice apartment rental in Rio for carnival with a friend from Oz
  • 22% on food & drink, including nights out (let’s say 4 out of 7 since when you’re a couple you do have more “quiet” nights in than when you’re travelling solo)
  • 12% on tours and admissions, including a plane ride over the Nazcar lines, sandboarding in Huacachina, a jeep tour through the Salar de Uyuni, and a 5 day boat trip to Komodo
  • 3% on a week-long dive liveaboard through the Similan and Surin Islands
  • 6% on our week in NYC
  • 2% on an unfortunate incident which saw us accidentally lose our spare cash reserve
  • and 3% on miscellaneous bits and pieces I couldn’t really categorise

There you have it. When you think about what it costs to simply live day to day, wherever you are, the cost of a truly amazing, mind-blowing trip doesn’t really seem that daunting. If you plan better than we did (we didn’t even have return tickets at the time we left London for Argentina) you could cut your cost of transport right down, and make a trip significantly cheaper.

Would I do it all again if I had the choice, or bank the money? I think you know the answer to that one.

The real “cost” of travelling?

Losing yourself – to new places, to new experiences, and to new friends.


5 thoughts on “The real cost of travel

  1. I know that boat!

    So was that $65 for both? (ie: $32.50/day/person)

    As an add on, the value of meeting new lifelong friends is priceless…

    • Oh I wish! Nope it was $65 just for me per day…you could do it a LOT cheaper if you organised your travel and reduced airfares!

  2. I’ve been to many places around the world when I lived in the UK and I planned it all to a T! I found it was much cheaper to hang out with the locals and eat with the locals. Every country I ever went to whether it be in India or Iceland they were all very welcoming. You can’t put a number on what you learn from others who live in the country. Now that I’m in Canada I haven’t travelled in 6 years. We plan to head back to UK next year then travel from there to a few places. I spent 3 weeks in India living like a king for 500 pounds including airfair and accommodations and food. I’m sure that’s all changed now but back a few years that was cheaper than staying home! Great blog! Mr.CBB

  3. Pingback: Short trips v the mega epic long trip | Laugh Lots, Travel Often

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