Travelling RTW: Budget

Travelling RTW: Budget

By S. Bedford

This is the third installment in my series on Travelling RTW (’Round the World). If you missed Part 2: What to Do, click here.

Scrimpin’ and Pinchin’ 

One of travel’s most daunting components is the expense. The majority of backpackers must set aside money for years (yes, plural) to fund their RTW trip. To give you an idea of cost: my year-long RTW trip was slightly less than $20,000, although that amount could have been remarkably reduced had I not partaken in a camping safari in Africa, a tour of Tibet or quite so many intoxicated evenings in Thailand.

Saving for a RTW trip requires discipline, sacrifice and a significant lifestyle adjustment. Dinner engagements become coffee dates; unbridled shopping sprees become wistful Pinterest browsing; and inebriated nights on the town become boxed-wine parties in the living room (did I not mention sacrifice?). Greater modifications may include acquiring a second job or moving back home with your parents.

When the economic life begins to get you down, keep in mind that the memories of peeling apart two-ply toilet paper for double the usage will fade while those of your grand adventure will remain forever. (While I’m theoretically kidding about the toilet paper, hey, a backpacker’s gotta do what she’s gotta do.) 

Before you go, research the average travel costs in your desired destinations, and be realistic with yourself. For instance: it is essentially impossible to backpack through South America on only $20 a day unless you’re hitchhiking, Couchsurfing and purchasing all of your meals at local markets. That said, those are excellent ways of keeping your expenses low as well as immersing yourself in the culture. Consider recording everything you purchase prior to and during your trip to remain on top of your budget. 

When determining how to spend your money, think about what you will remember once your trip has ended, and what discomforts you are willing to endure in order to maximize your travel opportunities. 

Surefire methods of cutting costs while on the road are:

Beware the pull to purchase too many souvenirs. While it is an effective method of supporting the local economy, give yourself permission to be frugal if you discover your bank account is waning rapidly.  Avoid purchasing souvenirs. Instead, adorn your house with framed photos of your journey, and mail personalized postcards to friends and family (how retro!).

Be mindful of your alcohol consumption. This is what drains most backpackers’ budgets without their knowledge. 

Travel, eat and sleep as modestly as possible so you can devote your money to more exciting activities. By cutting costs in these areas while we were in mainland Southeast Asia, my travel mate and I were able to save enough money for a flight to the Philippines—which turned out to be one of our favourite destinations.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

It was either Ralph Waldo Emerson or Aerosmith (or someone else entirely) that astutely observed, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” The road offers as much adventure as its end; henceforth, do not shy away from sleeper trains, chicken buses and longboats as they are abundant in potential experience and discovery. While the modes of transport utilized by locals will inevitably take longer and be less comfortable than those frequented by tourists, they will undoubtedly be more affordable.

Regardless of how you travel, ensure your valuables are secured in a safe spot. As pickpockets are familiar with moneybelts, consider placing your passport and credit cards in a sock, then pinning it to the inside of your waistband so it rests in your pants along your thigh as opposed to against your stomach. Don’t forget your eye mask, earplugs, toilet paper, hoodie or sarong and enough snacks to tide you over in case there is no access to purchasable food while in transit.

Cheap Eats

If you are travelling through developing nations for upwards of a year, you will almost certainly acquire some sort of digestive malady. Hopefully it will befall you while you are in your guesthouse and not on a long-distance bus. However, if the latter does occur, you may take solace in knowing that you are not the first backpacker to leave an odious trail at regular intervals along the roadside (Dear Tibetan highway patrol: I’m really, really sorry). 

Some backpackers have the misconception that street food is the chief perpetrator of travellers’ diarrhea, but this is a fallacy. If a cart vendor experiences a high volume of turnover, their wares are arguably fresher than anything that has been sitting around a restaurant kitchen for an untold amount of time. One of the strongest defenses against tummy trouble is to go somewhere that is teeming with locals (as it demonstrates the proprietor relying on repeat business) and order what everybody else is having.

Not only is street food a delicious method of sampling regional cuisine, it is also much more affordable than repeatedly dining in tourist-aimed restaurants. To keep your costs low, avoid backpacker cafes and eat as the locals do. If you are travelling through an expensive region such as Europe, consider buying food at the grocery store or vegetable market and preparing your own meals in the hostel kitchen (this is typically only a money-saver if cooking for more than one person, so invite your dorm-mates to dinner).   

Oh, and in some countries, beer is less expensive than water; do what you will with this information.

Save and Snooze

If you can convince yourself that your surroundings truly do disappear when you close your eyes, then you will save a fortune on accommodation. Sure, you may need to slide a T-shirt over the pillow before you rest your head; yes, you might wonder whether the hissing pipes’ discoloured emissions render you cleaner before or after your shower; all right, you perhaps will have to defend your possessions not from slick-fingered thieves but from brassily curious cockroaches. But a dollar (or baht or rupee) saved is a dollar that can be used towards an activity or another day on the road. On that note, to avoid contracting bedbugs, don’t dump your possessions on the bed, and keep your backpack as far away from the mattress as possible. 

While financing a RTW trip can be intimidating, it is also absolutely achievable as long as you maintain an unwavering devotion to your goal and a realistic approach to your budget. 

Watch for the next article in this series on How to Plan a ’Round the World Trip entitled Part Four: How to Pack.


S. Bedford is an indie traveller who has trekked, motorcycled, wandered, bussed, hitchhiked, boated, tuk-tuk’ed and stumbled through more than 50 countries in the last decade and lives by the notion that home is where you lay your backpack. Follow her on Twitter: @SBedford86 / Instagram: @sbedford_86

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