The Golden Question
It’s the question on every wannabe traveler’s lips. How much does it cost to go traveling? It’s a simple enough question, but unfortunately there is no clear cut answer, as it depends on so many different variables. This guide aims to shed some light on some of the factors of cost to give you a better idea of how much you need to stuff in the piggy bank.
Costs Before You Go
Round the World Ticket Cost
If you’re heading off on a traditional Round the World trip, you’ll be wanting a round the world ticket. This is a specially-priced ticket which gives you flights to a fixed number of destinations which have to be taken within a year’s duration. Generally speaking, the flight destinations are pre-chosen by you when you purchase the ticket, but can be changed later (for a fee); the dates of the flights are usually flexible and can be changed (usually for free, although sometimes you have to pay). The cost of a round the world ticket can vary greatly, depending not only on the complexity of the ticket (obviously the greater the number of flights, the more expensive the ticket) but also the world economy. If fuel prices are sky-high, you’ll pay a correspondingly whopping fuel charge. The most basic round the world tickets can start from as low as £700, but for a more involved itinerary you are likely to be paying over £1000, and in some cases possibly as much as £2000.
There are so many gadgets, garments, thingamajigs and gizmos marketed for the backpacker these days it’s entirely possible to go crazy kitting yourself out for your trip. What you’ll spend on gear depends, of course, on what you already have; but between getting a new backpack, a GoreTex jacket, new clothes and electronics, you could easily blow another £500. Try not to get tempted by the goodies; only buy what you think you absolutely need.
Depending on your country of origin, you may have to pay for vaccinations to protect you in the foreign climes you’re going to. Speaking from the point of view of the UK, where I’m from, you can get the basic inoculations for free from your doctor; anything specific that’s only required outside of the UK you need to pay extra for, either at your doctor’s or at a travel clinic. A full course of vaccinations could cost you £200-300.
One of those hidden costs that only creeps up on you the day before you’re due to leave! Backpacker insurance policies vary in cost between providers (and also in level of cover), but typically you’ll be looking at £250-£300 for a policy valid worldwide for a whole year.
Costs on the Road
How you travel can affect your ongoing costs enormously. For instance, if you plan on having a few beers a night you could be adding £thousands onto your trip cost. Likewise if you smoke cigarettes, or plan to undertake lots of expensive activities such as scuba diving or adventure sports. These sorts of costs are extremely tough to quantify, so consider what kind of travel lifestyle you’ll have, and adjust your budget estimates appropriately.
Where You Go
This is the biggie, and it varies hugely from country to country. For instance, what you might spend on a single day in London could easily keep you going in India for four or five days. By limiting the time you spend in developed countries, you can make your cash go a lot further. Here are some very approximate figures at the daily cost of backpacking in some select areas of the world: Western Europe £28/day (UK £35/day); Eastern Europe £17/day; North America £28/day; Japan £30/day; India £12/day; South East Asia £14/day; Oceania £22/day.
Level of Planning
One of the joys of backpacking is the spontaneity it gives you. You don’t need to plan what you’ll do from one day to the next; you just wake up and decide there and then. Unfortunately this can work against you financially. If you are using, for instance, budget airline flights to propel yourself around a continent, you’ll likely end up paying steep prices if you book last minute. If you prepare in advance you can get cheaper deals, but you’ll lose that wonderful element of spontaneity and freedom. It’s a tough choice to make for some (personally I value my freedom too much to commit myself to travel plans, so I end up paying a premium, but I don’t mind).
Where You Stay
There are a wealth of accommodation options for backpackers. Most popular destinations will have dorms, where you get to sleep in a big room with nine or so other snoring travelers. These are cheap and great places to meet people. If you crave some privacy, you can often get a single room at a hostel, but you’ll pay more for the luxury. In other places, such as South East Asia, you will typically find private rooms in guesthouses are the way. Prices can vary, though, based on location, cleanliness, whether there is a fan or air-conditioning and so on. Choosing an air-conditioned palace of a guesthouse over a fleapit fan room can bump up your budget a fair bit, so adjust your budget appropriately for whether you’ll be slumming it or living more like a so-called “flashpacker”.
By considering some of the above factors and how they are relevant to the trip you have in mind, you should be able to form an answer to the question how much does it cost to go traveling. But before you start saving for the amount you’ve calculated, be sure and add on at least 25% more of that total to your savings goal. It’s vital you have enough money on the road; there’s nothing worse than scrimping because you’re low on cash, and not doing once-in-a-lifetime things you’d like to do because of lack of funds.