It’s decided. You’re ready to get out there and see the world, and soon. But having made the first hard decision, a new set of doubts and misgivings start to set in. Can you afford it? How can you make long-term or RTW travel work on your budget?
Round-the-world travel takes some planning, and you may have to wrangle some of your more unrealistic expectations into submission but round-the-world travel can be affordable, and depending on where you’ve been residing, cheaper than staying home. Here’s guest poster Jean Cioli gives us the scoop.
1) Slow Down
Rushing from one world wonder to the next is really expensive, not to mention exhausting. Travel is hard work; you’re much better off picking a few priorities and pacing yourself. Speed is stressful, and stress is part of what a major trip is trying to escape. Besides, the longer you stay, the cheaper a place usually becomes. Short-stays usually mean being limited to vacation or tourist digs booked way too far ahead of time. Embrace slow travel and take as much time as you can at each destination to really cut your costs and make the most of each stop.
Spending more than just a few days in each location allows you to settle in, get a feel for a place and seek out off-the-beaten-path attractions and authentic local haunts which often have the added advantage of being dirt-cheap. Slowing down also means you’ll probably actually remember a place, not just check it off an arbitrary list. Trust me on this one, when I think about my first trip to Italy, and rushing around to fit in Milan, Venice, Florence, and Rome, I remember very little about the character of any given place. On the other hand, in Seveso, the small town where I spent 10 days before I did my whirlwind tour of Italy’s top attractions, I made meaningful connections with the locals and the place.
2) Travel Overland
Zig-zagging across a country in planes has one and only one big perk: the speed. That’s about it, folks. While some legs of your trip might mandate a flight (Argentina to South Africa comes to mind) traveling overland offers major benefits and is a big part of slowing down for most experienced travelers. You’ll see a lot more of Rajasthan if you traverse it by train than if you just fly through in a hurry.
Taking a train, bus, car, or bike will almost always save you money and give you a chance to get a much deeper understanding of local culture and geography. What makes the difference? Stopping in the in-between places (not just big cities and UNSECO World Heritage Sites) and meeting and making connections with locals who aren’t burnt out on tourists. Even in Spain, where I’m fluent in the official language, and have been living for about ten years, I feel like I make the strongest connection with a community traveling overland. Of all of the places I’ve traveled in my years here, the ones I’ve felt the most welcome in have been out of the way villages that simply can’t be reached any way but in a car.
3) Work on the Road
A lot of people’s dreams about around the world travel center around seeing new places while escaping the 9 to 5 grind. They’re worn out with the schedule, the environment, their coworkers, and sometimes even the work itself. Even so, there are plenty of ways to work that don’t mandate sucking down burnt coffee (because, caffeine) and suiting up in your Monday best. Working remotely full- or part-time as you go is a great option for people who have work that can be done from anywhere with an internet connection.
And for those with jobs and skills that don’t lend themselves to that kind of flexibility or who simply can’t bear the thought of logging in a few days a week, working the front desk at a hostel in exchange for room and board, or teaching private language lessons for some extra cash is a good way to flesh out your trip budget when it’s down to bare bones. Of course, if you ask me, taking your work with you wherever you go is the way to go, but then I might be somewhat biased, as I myself work for a distributed company with employees around the world.
4) Save Money on Flights
This is a biggie. Hands-down, your round-the-world air tickets are likely to be the biggest chunk of change you drop in one place for your trip unless you decide to wing it and buy as you go. So how can you get cheaper flights? Book your tickets 4 to 6 months in advance, be flexible on your dates (avoid peak season travel), fly in one direction (no back-tracking), cross the equator less, be willing to connect (flying direct is pricey) and finally my favorite method to employ: fly less.
The more of your flight-segments you can switch out with overland travel, the happier your budget will be. One trick to doing this successfully is the idea of choosing cheap travel clusters wherein you spend substantial time exploring adjacent areas, using mostly overland travel, and maybe some short flights. Another way to figure out the cheapest possible route is using online trip-planning tools like Indie to explore different dates, and routes by adding and subtracting flights and overland segments on your itinerary.
5) Choose Your Destinations Carefully
The places you land in will make the biggest difference in your day-to-day RTW travel budget. A place to sleep or something to eat in destinations like Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Iceland will cost you multiple times over what they would in Southeast Asia and South America. The U.S. and Western Europe are a bit more budget-friendly, but can’t compete with the cheap food and accommodations in Eastern Europe and Central America.
This does not mean you should avoid more expensive destinations altogether, but consider how many expensive locales you can afford to include, and how to offset them with stays in cheaper destinations. There will be other trips, so you don’t have to do it all in one go!
Jean creates and manages content for BootsnAll from the road and her home base in Barcelona.
First and last photos by Tim Leffel, others used by license from Shutterstock.