An RTW guide: Our planning & budget breakdown

From start to finish; all you wanted to know about our RTW.

So you’ve decided to take a career break and are now in the early planning stages of your big round-the-world adventure. First off, congratulations!!!

Our inbox has been inundated with questions since we returned, mostly pertaining to the details of our trip from how we planned it to questions about visas, insurance, transportation, airfare and so forth.

Now, I’m far from calling ourselves travel experts but I know filtering through the internet can be a bit daunting and information overload. Some times, all you want is to hear someone else’s experience for good measure and validation. Yup, we’ve been there, so we hope by writing this post, you will at least get one person’s perspective and feel a bit better about planning yours.

This is our trip breakdown from early planning stages to how much we spent and where it all went. Or, as we like to call it – the mother of all breakdowns!

Pre-trip planning

We must have changed the list a dozen times before settling on our current one. In the end, we chose SE Asia because the weather is ideal for the time we are going, but more importantly, it’s cheap which means we can stretch our dollar a lot further than anywhere else in the world.

We added New Zealand and Australia because we’ve always wanted to go then mapped countries along a route that made sense based first on proximity and then cost. We also wanted to take part in festivals so the itinerary was modified to chase that theory. In the end, we landed on this original itinerary.

auckland-pc

It’s quite extensive. In fact, we planned to the tee, everything from where we’ll go, how long we’ll stay and what we’d be doing. Most will tell you, when you decide to travel long-term, you just book a one-way ticket and go. And that’s great, we had every intention to do that, but let’s be honest, spontaneity has never been in our nature. I’m too OCD to leave things up in the air. Plus our situation was a bit different because we actually had an end date set for August 2012, so we wanted to make the most of our time abroad.

Pre-booking

Prior to leaving, we had our one-way ticket to New Zealand booked. We also mapped out our month and booked our first 2 weeks of accommodations along with rental cars before leaving the States. That’s it. After that, all plans and bookings were made on the road. At our best, we had a solid plan for the next two months. Meaning, while we were in New Zealand (January), we’ve already made plans, booked our accommodations for the beginning of Australia (February) as well as Singapore and started to brush up on the idea of India (March) and Thailand (April). Needless to say, we spent a lot of time researching and planning on the road.

Insurance

We bought the Pack ‘N Go travel insurance plan through Travel Guard. It was the most inexpensive plan that had decent coverage from a reliable name. Of the 312 days traveling abroad, we fortunately never used it once.. ever.

Vaccination & medication

Ugh, shots. Who knew traveling abroad could be so expensive and we haven’t even left the States yet. Find out what we got here. We spent a total of $125 for our vaccinations. Gerard & I  still had medical insurance through work so we paid mostly co-payments. $360 for our medications including Cipro, Malarone and birth control.

Having spent over 6 months in Asia, I recommend you NOT stocking up on the meds because everything is so readily accessible and cheaper there. We were able to get cipro in Thailand for $2 and a six month supply of birth control in Cambodia for $5/ box. South America was a similar situation.

Visas

Depends who you are and where you’re going. As Americans, I am thankful our little blue book allows us to go virtually anywhere in the world with little to no effort on our part. A few applications and a fee and that’s about it. We used Travel.State.gov or the Travisa iOS app for the latest information on international travel. We needed a visa prior to arrival for Australia, India, China. For Australia and Vietnam, we applied online. For Indonesia, Cambodia and Bolivia, we got our visa upon arrival either at the airport or border crossing. Remaining countries we were not required to have a visa.

DPS airport

Accommodations

We wanted to save money but we were also willing to splurge for comfort. Neither of us enjoy the dorm room experience, we’re not 18 any more, so we decided to find affordable private doubles wherever we can. We stayed in a combination of places – hostels, apartments, hotels and couches. For hostels, we used either Hostelbookers or Hostelworld (invest in the $10 gold membership). For apartments in New Zealand and Australia, we used Airbnb. In Asia, Agoda and Booking.com are great for hotels. And in Eastern Europe, we used Wimdu.

lodging-collage

We also signed up for Couchsurfing before we left, got some wonderful referrals and managed to couchsurf in various cities including Queenstown, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kyoto, Shanghai and Cusco. We were also fortunate to stay with family in Vietnam and with friends in Melbourne, Brisbane, Seoul, New York and Fujisan.

Transportation

We’ve traveled by planes, trains, boats, motorbikes and camels. You name it, we rode it. We rented a car for New Zealand and took the bus for Australia. Traveled India, China, Japan and Eastern Europe by train. Vietnam, Cambodia, Peru and Bolivia by bus. In almost every country, if they had it, we used public transportation like the metro to get around town. Seat 61 is great for general information on train travel by country.

Food & beverage

Are you really surprised our biggest budget went towards food?!

budget-pie-chart

We may have compromised on accommodations but food is too important to play around with. It’s one of our favorite pleasures of traveling, so we didn’t hold back.. much. On our routine meals, the day to day lunch and dinner, we cut the cost by sharing one entrée and appetizer leaving room for dessert of course. In Australia, New Zealand and South America, I managed to cook a few dinners if a kitchen was available. In hostels, breakfast is usually provided, though limited, so we’d buy some eggs and cook up a feast. So if you really think about it, we only eat out for lunch on those days.

Alcohol, surprisingly, we hardly drank. Exceptions were our 1 party night out in each country and wine binges in New Zealand and Bolivia.

To see a short list of our most memorable meals of 2012, check out our 12 best things we ate in 2012 post!

Excursions

Next to food, we travel for the experience so you can best believe we splurged on activities. Bungy jumping in New Zealand, snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, camel safari in the Thar Desert, staying in a ryokan in Japan, diving in the Gilis, swimming with sharks in Hawaii, Machu Picchu in Peru, Salar de Uyuni safari in Bolivia, food tours in Budapest and New York, the list goes on and on. These can get expensive quickly, so you really have to prioritize which experiences you want to do the most.

Airfare

We spent $10K on plane tickets and this is included in our final total cost. It was really cheap to fly within Asia, the cheapest – Kuala Lumpur to India for roughly $99 per person on Air Asia! Our most expensive was flying to New Zealand at $850? and back home from Indonesia with a stop in Hawaii for $1,057.

A little travel hacking paid off for us here. Eastern Europe is less expensive when you’re traveling off-season in the winter. That cost us $1,283. Gerard was able to redeem his credit card points to cover my ticket. And I also need to point out our round-trip flights to South America was covered thanks to Gerard’s United Mileage Plus points.

For general flight search, we used Skycanner. For multi-city search, we used Vayama.

Packing

Part of the reason why we decided to do SE Asia, aside for being cheap, is the weather. Warmer weather means less clothes (in theory) – most days we were in tank tops and shorts. Traveling long-term through climate changing weather can be challenging so we omitted it all together. It wasn’t until the end of Asia that we decided to tack on South America and Eastern Europe. Luckily, we made a pit-stop home and was able to switch gears.

If you’re looking for packing lists, not to brag, but I think ours is pretty great. However, I often refer women to Devon’s packing list over at Answering Oliver. Another favorite of ours – Erica and Shawn from Overyonderlust.

Miscellaneous

We had an emergency fund of $2,000 for exactly that, emergency reasons. Our only major emergency expense was replacing our Canon s95 camera after  it broke.

Budget by country

We mentioned briefly about this here. We budgeted an average cost per day based on the country we’re in and also taking in consideration on our traveling habits. There really is no right or wrong way to budget, just base this off your style of travel. We put the most of our budget in food, no surprised there, and are willing to splurge on excursions and those chance-of-a-lifetime experiences.

daily-expenses-chart

The most expensive country for us was Australia followed closely by New Zealand. India and Hungary are a close last for the least expensive.

Surprised at our cost per country? We can explain. Exchange rates didn’t help at all – it was at its worst for us in most countries. We did a lot of activities in Australia and New Zealand. We spent only 5 days in Budapest. Japan was not nearly as expensive as most people lead it to be. We could have easily spent the least in Cambodia, but we took advantage of staying in five star accommodations for the price of 1. For $50, we were treated like Kings & Queens! It was an opportunity worth seizing. We stayed with family in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and they practically paid for everything, and thanks to the generous folks at Wimdu, our accommodations in Budapest was compensated, hence, the surprisingly low cost per country spending. South America surprised me as a whole – I didn’t expect it to cost more than Eastern Europe. Then again, we did more activities in South America vs. eating and perusing town in Eastern Europe so that explains it too. The rest were pretty on par.

Expenses

If you want to stay on budget, or at least keep your budget in mind, then taking a few minutes out of your day to log down your spending will be beneficial. It actually wasn’t tedious to track. We logged everything onto Expensify on our smartphone or netbook. In the beginning, we would Expensify as we spent but that quickly became too much, so towards the middle, we started to track it twice a day, once during lunch and another at the end of the day. Good thing we have good memories. We tracked airfare, hotels and other miscellaneous sales by only using one credit card (Capital One has 0% international transaction fees).

And now for the mother of all breakdowns – the money!

cost-breakdown

That’s roughly $25,488 per person.. on a flashpacker’s budget.. for an entire year of travel!

Savings & budget tips

Or, how we saved money while traveling.

  • We cooked our own meals, not all but some, in New Zealand, Australia and South America.
  • If you’re from the US, sign up for a Charles Schwab online checking account, they’ll provide you with a debit card with no ATM fees worldwide.
  • Asking for discount. I am not ashamed to bargain for a great deal. I always say, “if you don’t ask, the answer is always no.” But 9 out of 10 times, we have found they’ll usually try and work with you on some level, maybe meet you in the middle, so all you have to do is ask. It’s a lot easier in SE Asia. I’ve negotiated hotel rates, tour packages and have gone as far as getting a discount on bananas and buffet lunches! Haha..
  • One of the perks when traveling for two is being able to share meals. In SE Asia, not so much since meal portions are a lot smaller, but for the rest of the world, we did. I have a small stomach so I never order an entrée for myself. Instead, together we would order one appetizer and one entrée to share. That’s plenty of food for us and there are no leftovers. Plus, we always have room for dessert!
  • We did not limit ourselves to just hostels since apartments and hotels can some times be cheaper when you’re booking for two. If it’s a hostel or guesthouse,  we prefer private double rooms, but are open to the idea of shared bathroom helps cut the cost over private ensuite bathroom.
  • We didn’t get to couchsurf as much as we wanted, but we were able to find hosts in about every other country. That saved us approximately $1,500.
  • Stock up on the hotel amenities! In Thailand and Japan, most will have shampoo and body wash dispensers so I always filled ours up. Those little mini soup bars are great for washing your clothes in the sink. I rarely needed to shop at the stores for toiletry items.
  • We were fortunate to have some things sponsored. We wrote about our experiences with some tour and travel companies in exchange for discounted or complimentary activities/transportation. We didn’t do too many,  but all in all, writing sponsored posts saved us a total of $3,196.
  • Budget Your Trip offers an estimated budget guide by country. Although we feel it’s a bit on the high-end compared to a backpacker/flashpacker budget.
  • Jodi from Legal Nomads has the bible of RTW planning including budget.

Phew!.. So there you have it. More than you probably ever wanted to know, or maybe not.

Think we covered it all. Did we forget anything you want to know? Leave us a comment!

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  • Ian

    Great and informative entry! This is a good reference. I’m still in the planning stages of my round the world trip also (planning to go for 1 year at least to 18 months, maybe 24) But planning has always been my weakness. Glad to know there’s people out there who plan on the go. I’m aiming for $2K a month budget for everything on average.

    I don’t want to go off-topic here, but I will anyways :) What vaccines are highly recommended? I plan to go South America, Europe, India, Nepal and Southeast Asia. How many months in advance do I have to get the vaccines before setting off? I’m really hoping to be on the road to travel by September of next year

  • Ian

    Great and informative entry! This is a good reference. I’m still in the planning stages of my round the world trip also (planning to go for 1 year at least to 18 months, maybe 24) But planning has always been my weakness. Glad to know there’s people out there who plan on the go. I’m aiming for $2K a month budget for everything on average.

    I don’t want to go off-topic here, but I will anyways :) What vaccines are highly recommended? I plan to go South America, Europe, India, Nepal and Southeast Asia. How many months in advance do I have to get the vaccines before setting off? I’m really hoping to be on the road to travel by September of next year

  • http://www.campingthenation.com/ Kalyn

    This is such a great post, I followed your entire trip! I always wondered what the exact breakdown was for RTW costs. We decided to take a one-year trip around the US, visiting all of the National Parks instead in 2014. But your breakdown will help if we decide to hit the rest of the world after :) Sorry never used Disqus before, but wanted to leave my site in case you were interested in checking our trip out (www.campingthenation.com).

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Gerard ~ GQtrippin

      Thanks for following our trip! So many great Parks around the US that we have yet to explore ourselves… You should decide to hit the rest of the world. So much to explore. :)

  • http://www.campingthenation.com/ Kalyn

    This is such a great post, I followed your entire trip! I always wondered what the exact breakdown was for RTW costs. We decided to take a one-year trip around the US, visiting all of the National Parks instead in 2014. But your breakdown will help if we decide to hit the rest of the world after :) Sorry never used Disqus before, but wanted to leave my site in case you were interested in checking our trip out (www.campingthenation.com).

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Gerard ~ GQtrippin

      Thanks for following our trip! So many great Parks around the US that we have yet to explore ourselves… You should decide to hit the rest of the world. So much to explore. :)

  • Heidi Wagoner

    I just love this. We have been in Spain for a year and will stay another 6-8 months, then moving on to SE Asia. This is helpful for us in that area. We are going slow and trying to stretch that $. Very helpful, thanks!

  • Heidi Wagoner

    I just love this. We have been in Spain for a year and will stay another 6-8 months, then moving on to SE Asia. This is helpful for us in that area. We are going slow and trying to stretch that $. Very helpful, thanks!

  • The World Wanderer

    Impressive! I love the breakdown and seriously hope to use this guide one day super soon. :) Love you guys!

  • The World Wanderer

    Impressive! I love the breakdown and seriously hope to use this guide one day super soon. :) Love you guys!

  • Raul (@ilivetotravel)

    What a neat recap of everything that went into the trip. A really good guide for others. And even if you didn’t use the insurance (good thing!), it was worth having for peace of mind!

  • Raul (@ilivetotravel)

    What a neat recap of everything that went into the trip. A really good guide for others. And even if you didn’t use the insurance (good thing!), it was worth having for peace of mind!

  • BakoymaTravels

    This is easily the most useful travel post I have ever read, and I’ve read a lot. You guys continue to inspire and entertain. Never stop!

    Thanks for this <3

  • BakoymaTravels

    This is easily the most useful travel post I have ever read, and I’ve read a lot. You guys continue to inspire and entertain. Never stop!

    Thanks for this <3

  • Leah Travels

    You both are NUTS! I can’t imagine anyone keeping better records than this. And a pie chart? My goodness. If I ever even consider doing a RTW, I’m hiring you both as consultants.

  • Leah Travels

    You both are NUTS! I can’t imagine anyone keeping better records than this. And a pie chart? My goodness. If I ever even consider doing a RTW, I’m hiring you both as consultants.

  • http://housetolaos.com/ Sergey and Jenia

    How did you guys keep track of cash spending on daily basis? Any advice is much appreciated. For us, we have an idea what we spend per country on accommodations and transportation, but food and entertainment is a bit hazy.

    Our route is here: http://housetolaos.com/route as you can see we are avoiding most of the Europe to save our budget :)

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Gerard ~ GQtrippin

      We used the Expensify app to keep track of cash spending. It has an offline feature to help save our spending. You should look into TrailWallet app if you have iOS.

      • http://housetolaos.com/ Sergey and Jenia

        after looking for trailwallet, wanted to give you a correction – it’s travelwallet. expensify is neat, but using gps for tracking distance eats up all of our batteries.. thanks for the tip though!

  • http://housetolaos.com/ House To Laos

    How did you guys keep track of cash spending on daily basis? Any advice is much appreciated. For us, we have an idea what we spend per country on accommodations and transportation, but food and entertainment is a bit hazy.

    Our route is here: http://housetolaos.com/route as you can see we are avoiding most of the Europe to save our budget :)

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Gerard ~ GQtrippin

      We used the Expensify app to keep track of cash spending. It has an offline feature to help save our spending. You should look into TrailWallet app if you have iOS.

      • http://housetolaos.com/ House To Laos

        after looking for trailwallet, wanted to give you a correction – it’s travelwallet. expensify is neat, but using gps for tracking distance eats up all of our batteries.. thanks for the tip though!

  • http://www.jettingaround.com/ Pola

    Your breakdowns are always so detailed, love that! Not sure if I ever do an RTW, but if I do, this will be super helpful!

  • http://www.jettingaround.com/ Pola

    Your breakdowns are always so detailed, love that! Not sure if I ever do an RTW, but if I do, this will be super helpful!

  • Sarah Buchanan

    Great article, lots of useful information. Are your “daily expenses by country” your Total spent per country divided by n. days? (excluding flights I assume) in other words your daily total average per country.

    I’d be interested to know what your average daily basic cost was per country. e.g. just Accomodation, food, booze, museum entry, general daily costs
    (excluding organised day trips, big tours, travel, miscellaneous, flights etc)

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Gerard ~ GQtrippin

      You’re right. Our daily expenses by country is exactly that. We did include domestic flights though. For Thailand, we included our flight from Koh Samui to Chiang Mai into our overall Thailand budget. All international flights fell into the airfare category. We break down our daily basic costs per country in some of our other posts. We have specific travel cost breakdowns for Australia, New Zealand & India. We’ll work on more when we get to them.

  • Sarah Buchanan

    Great article, lots of useful information. Are your “daily expenses by country” your Total spent per country divided by n. days? (excluding flights I assume) in other words your daily total average per country.

    I’d be interested to know what your average daily basic cost was per country. e.g. just Accomodation, food, booze, museum entry, general daily costs
    (excluding organised day trips, big tours, travel, miscellaneous, flights etc)

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Gerard ~ GQtrippin

      You’re right. Our daily expenses by country is exactly that. We did include domestic flights though. For Thailand, we included our flight from Koh Samui to Chiang Mai into our overall Thailand budget. All international flights fell into the airfare category. We break down our daily basic costs per country in some of our other posts. We have specific travel cost breakdowns for Australia, New Zealand & India. We’ll work on more when we get to them.

  • http://travelingted.com/ Traveling Ted

    A comprehensive guide for RTW that will help others who follow in your footsteps.

  • http://travelingted.com/ Traveling Ted

    A comprehensive guide for RTW that will help others who follow in your footsteps.

  • Lazy Travelers

    thiiiiis is amazing and will be so helpful for future rtw-ers!

    also, totally hear you on the pre-planning. we met more than a few travelers who were judgey about the fact we had our itinerary set, but we felt the same way. with a finite amount of time (and ours was only five months!), you want to make sure you see everything you set out for! we definitely left some things up to chance, but i’m glad we had our itinerary pretty set.

  • Lazy Travelers

    thiiiiis is amazing and will be so helpful for future rtw-ers!

    also, totally hear you on the pre-planning. we met more than a few travelers who were judgey about the fact we had our itinerary set, but we felt the same way. with a finite amount of time (and ours was only five months!), you want to make sure you see everything you set out for! we definitely left some things up to chance, but i’m glad we had our itinerary pretty set.

  • lola

    you are SO organized. i love it and i LOVE the references to packing!! miss you two…you’re travel ALL STARS!

  • lola

    you are SO organized. i love it and i LOVE the references to packing!! miss you two…you’re travel ALL STARS!

  • Pingback: Best Reads: October 2013 : Pack Me To

  • lauren_rae

    Fantastic tips! My boyfriend and I are getting ready for our RTW trip, leaving in 3 months and just now starting to get organized. You mentioned that you used the Pack ‘N Go Travel Guard insurance… did you renew every 60 days? It seems this is the maximum time allowed for coverage.

  • lauren_rae

    Fantastic tips! My boyfriend and I are getting ready for our RTW trip, leaving in 3 months and just now starting to get organized. You mentioned that you used the Pack ‘N Go Travel Guard insurance… did you renew every 60 days? It seems this is the maximum time allowed for coverage.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    We always love seeing the stats, so interesting. We’re glad you had a great time and enjoyed yourself, that’s the main thing and you cannot put a price on that! :)

  • Andrew Wyatt

    We always love seeing the stats, so interesting. We’re glad you had a great time and enjoyed yourself, that’s the main thing and you cannot put a price on that! :)

  • Nico Bories

    Hi guys, wanted to ask you about obtaining a visa for Vietnam. Through using Travisa, did you have to mail in your passport?

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Gerard ~ GQtrippin

      From what we remember, we used http://www.vietnamvisapro.com for our visa. And we didn’t have to mail in our passport.

  • Saul

    Love your blog. Thanks for sharing your advice with everybody!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com/ Kieu – GQ trippin

      Thanks Saul! Hope you find it helpful — happy travels!

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