So you’ve read your copy of The World’s Cheapest Destinations, read the books from Rolf Potts and Nomadic Matt, you’ve priced your tickets out on the Indie RTW Flight Planner, and you’ve been following a dozen bloggers doling out advice on traveling the world for cheap. You’ve been saving like mad and you’re ready to take off on your trip around the world!
Before you put that round-the-world travel budget in ink, however, don’t make the mistake many before you have made by overlooking hidden expense categories. These are all going to cost you more beyond the basics of food, transportation, admission costs, and lodging.
Jabs in the arm aren’t just a smart prevention measure for your health: in some cases you are supposed to show proof of those jabs to enter a country. (As in the countries in the map at the top, for Yellow Fever.) Unless you are lucky enough to have a local health clinic doling them out for free or cheap, or you have a platinum insurance policy at that job you’re about to quit, the cost of these will easily run into the hundreds of dollars.
Money-saving tip: For shots that require a series of two or three, you can get the latter one(s) in a city like Bangkok or Panama City for less. Almost any country outside the USA has better health care options for less.
Not everyone buys travel insurance, but it only takes one motorbike accident or bad fall on a trail to make you wish you did. Policies can be as low as a night’s lodging a month if you shop around and aren’t trying to include “hazardous activities.” If you can avoid the U.S.—the most ridiculously overpriced health care system—you will pay less.
I now pay for an annual policy from Allianz that costs me less than a one-way domestic flight and I know I’m set no matter how many times I leave home during the year. (Disclosure – I’m also an ambassador for them.) Some backpackers prefer World Nomads.
Money-saving tip: Getting a higher deductible makes sense if you’ve got a stash of money to pay reasonable everyday costs and only use the insurance for a real calamity. On the other hand, if you’ll be in remote areas a lot, you’ll want good evacuation insurance. Read the offerings carefully and pick the policy that’s the best match.
Expensive Admission & Tour Fees
If you’re going to travel all the way to Jordan and not go to Petra, or visit Peru for the first time and skip Machu Picchu , that’s pretty dumb. Yes, these places are going to cost you, as are a lot of adventure splurges that are the whole reason people visit certain islands.
The admission costs at the great wonders of the world can be hefty. No matter how low your daily budget is, you need to be able to go over it now and then for activities and sites that are truly worth it. Only doing what’s free means missing out on a lot. You’ll regret what you didn’t do more than spending money on what’s worth experiencing.
Money-saving tip: Balance splurge days with cheapo days: stay put in a cheap place for a week (a simple beach, a rural town, hiking huts) and spend far less than your normal budget those days. It might not make up for expensive Petra, but it’ll help the balance.
Medicine, Doctors, and Tampons
You will get sick at some point from something you ate or drank and will think you’re about to die. You will go to a doctor, get some medicine, and get better later. If you don’t factor in a few visits like this, you’ll be one of the fools who may have something serious for six weeks running and doesn’t go to the doctor. I met one of these idiots in India. He didn’t want to pay the $5 for a visit to an Indian doctor. His wife ordered a salad at a truck stop when our bus stopped…
You’ll also learn that Americans have it good when it comes to the price of toiletries and cosmetics. Plan on spending more than you do at home—even in the cheapest countries—for deodorant, sunscreen, and yes, tampons.
Money-saving tips: Leave enough room in your bag to buy an extra one of these things when you see a good deal, rather than paying through the nose in some small town with no supermarket. Also bring long-sleeve cool wicking shirts or rash guard shirts that also block the sun. And a good sun hat. Then you’ll need less sunscreen.
Travel Gear That Will Last
If you’re going on vacation, you can save some money by heading out with a low-quality backpack, poorly made clothing, and average shoes. Halfway through that trip though, you will probably need to replace them all. In a foreign city where choices are slim.
If you’re going to go backpacking around the world for a year, you need travel gear that’s good enough to go as hard as you do. You will interact with that backpack every single day, so it needs to fit well and endure lots of abuse.
Your shoes are super-important when you’re on the move. Have you ever gone a year only wearing two or three pairs of shoes? That’s a lot of pounding, and with an extra 40 pounds weight on them as well from your pack. Put good shoes, a good backpack, and quality quick-dry clothing into your budget. Want some tips? Here’s the dependable travel gear and clothing that has never let me down.
Money-saving tip: Buy last year’s/last season’s model. There’s a clear retail cycle with gear where a change of seasons brings a clearing out of inventory. Watch for huge sales and buy last year’s discount merchandise at the online shops. You’ll get quality at half the price. Here are the best times to buy travel gear.
On a round-the-world travel trip, there will be times when you miss your train and have to buy a nicer class ticket to take off anytime soon. (Been there.) There will be times the trip out to an island will be so arduous and difficult that you will spend your last $100 to buy a one-way flight back instead of facing the ferry again. (Been there.)
There will be times that bus you expected to take from Point A to Point B isn’t leaving again for 18 hours. You can stay in that crappy town you’re stuck in or you can pay for a taxi. Take my word for it: you want to budget for that taxi.
Things go wrong when you travel. Many circumstances are way beyond your control and you have to accept that. Most problems that arise, however, can be solved by patience or money. When you’ve run out of the former, you need the latter.
No money saving tip for this one. There were times I would have paid far more than I did to avoid serious aggravation.