The Cost of Full-Time Travel
“How much does it cost to travel full-time as a Professional Hobo?” I am asked this question regularly by readers of my personal website. And while I maintain that the cost of full-time travel is dependent on oh-so-many factors that are unique to every individual, I have just finished my year-end accounting for 2008 and am willing to share my own finances with the world.
2008 was a year for me spent entirely on the road. I opened the New Year on a remote corner of the Big Island of Hawaii, then traveled around for a week and moved to the other side of the island for four months. In April and May I spent six weeks traveling through Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, arriving in Australia in June. My first six weeks in Australia were spent in transit, first in Cairns for a few days, then enjoying a long drive from Brisbane to Melbourne via the outback. At the end of July I settled down in the rural countryside north of Melbourne, and that is where I remained for the rest of the year.
Despite Wise Bread reader comments about Hawaii being extraordinarily expensive, I must still emphasize that travel – and the costs thereof – are very unique to the individual. Before embarking on a life of full-time travel, I enjoyed my week or two a year of vacations like most people. Being from Canada, the stress was usually on going somewhere warm for a week during winter to sit on a beach and defrost, the cheapest option of which entailed a charter flight to an all-inclusive Caribbean resort. The week generally cost $1,000-$2,000 per person, all inclusive.
At the height of my career as a financial planner, I enjoyed more lavish trips, including a three-week bonanza in South Africa that set me back almost $10,000.
So I am well aware that the cost of vacationing is not cheap at the best of times, and can be downright exorbitant if we are not careful.
But the cost of traveling full-time is somewhat different. You are not searching for souvenirs, paying to see all the attractions (at least not as much as you may as with a traditional vacation), or constantly eating out at restaurants for lack of having kitchen facilities.
As a full-time traveler, I also save money by not having a home and set of regular expenses to maintain. I usually work in trade for my accommodation (occasionally with some additional perks thrown in there like internet or household supplies), and since I always have a kitchen, I prepare inexpensive and healthy foods at “home”.
The flip side to full-time travel, and where the expenses add up, are in transportation costs (airfare being the biggest culprit), accommodation costs between work-trade arrangements, and general sightseeing excursions that I treat myself to while traveling through.
So how much does it cost to travel full-time? Aah aah – patience; not quite yet. First, I will explain the sorts of expenses I incurred so you have a frame of reference. Here is a laundry list of the things I purchased over the last year, as well as regular expenses I incurred:
- Travel Insurance
- Accommodation for accumulatively three months (sightseeing and travel between work-trade arrangements; mostly took the form of hostels and camping)
- Visa applications
- Medical emergencies
- Cell phone purchase
- Cell phone expenses, plus long distance cards
- New laptop purchase
- New software
- Internet charges (while on the road)
- Car purchase (in Australia)
- Miscellaneous car expenses (registration, etc)
- Fuel costs
- Car rental (in Hawaii)
- Health & Wellness (some chiropractic treatments, vitamins, etc)
- Business Association Memberships
- Website hosting and maintenance
- Professional camera purchase
- Charitable donations
- And of course, food! (including meals out as well as groceries)
As you can see, 2008 for me was not without a set of expenses that were unanticipated (like buying a new computer and cell phone, and paying for medical expenses not covered by travel insurance). On top of it all, I bought a car (crucial to get around in rural Australia), and of course, the cost of airfare made the biggest imprint on my pocketbook.
So how much does it cost to travel full-time? For myself and my boyfriend, we managed to get through 2008 for under $20,000. That is for two people. Split that in half, and it cost me $10,000 to live on the road for one year. Practically though, many expenses borne by both of us would have been necessary if just one person were traveling (like the car purchase, fuel, electronics, and phone charges), so although it is all well and good to split our $20,000 year in half to come up with a per/person number, it is unrealistic. I would wager that had it just been me on the road, I would still have spent about $14,000.
And even though I spent the majority of 2008 in relatively expensive global places like Hawaii and Australia, by being creative and realistic, I still managed to eke out a living on the road with an income that technically would see me below the poverty line in North America.
Has the perceived cost of full-time travel been holding you back from jumping off the edge of becoming a Vagabond like me? If so, the rug has just been swept out from under you. With some saving, some excruciating letting go, and some creative living arrangements, you too can realize a dream of spending life on the road…if you want to.