Reader Question: How Much Does It Cost to Travel?

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World travel cost

How much does it cost to travel? Photo by Patrick Slanovc, Novi Sad, Serbia

How much money do you need to travel?

An Explore for a Year reader, Andrew Doades, asked an excellent question recently if I had tips on how to estimate travel costs around the world.

Andrew writes:

“I’m currently working 9-5 and I’ve been thinking about leaving for a few months to go travelling, reading your blog has inspired me to finally make the push.

The only thing that’s been keeping me back is the thought of money issues – I’d be interested if you can provide some advice and tips to help work out how much I’d be needing – I’ve got a few places I want to visit around the world and the last thing I want is to get caught short on money.”

- From Andrew Doades, via email (question posted with permission)

So, how does an aspiring traveller figure out how much money they’ll need?

Two resources I use to estimate my travel costs to Southeast Asia and Europe on my current trip, and Central America and South America on past trips, are Lonely Planet guides and prices of small group tours.

Low-end budget, using Lonely Planet

The start of every Lonely Planet country guide provides a recommended budget for the region.

Because Lonely Planet is geared to the budget traveller, I use their cost estimate as the minimum amount of money I should have to travel in the country.

Here’s a summary of their budget recommendations for various world regions. You can view the source page by previewing the book on Amazon.com via the links I reference below.

Region Budget recommended by Lonely Planet
Southeast Asia $15-$35 USD/day, or $450-$1050/month, average of $750/month
(see page 25 from Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring after clicking on “Look Inside”, Amazon.com)
Europe 40-80 Euros/day, or $66-$120 USD/day, or
$1,980-$3,600/month, average of $2790/month
(see “Getting Started > Costs & Money” from Lonely Planet Lonely Planet Europe on a Shoestring after clicking on “Look Inside”, Amazon.com)
Central America $15-$40 USD/day, or $450-$1200/month, average of $825/month
(see “Getting Started > Costs & Money” from Lonely Planet Central America on a Shoestring after clicking on “Look Inside”, Amazon.com)
South America $35-$45 USD/day, or $1050-$1350/month, average of $1200/month
(see page 15 on Lonely Planet South America on a Shoestring after clicking on “Look Inside”, Amazon.com)

Comments: Compared to my actual expenses from my 4 months in Southeast Asia and 5 months in Europe (current trip), and 1 month each of in Central & South America (past trips), these Lonely Planet budgets are reasonable low-end ranges if you exclude major tours or special courses, such as scuba diving courses or multi-day treks/hikes.

Higher-end budget, small group tour prices

Small group adventure tour companies like Gap Adventures have over 1,000 trips to every continent. Their posted tour prices include accommodations and transportation.

Because Gap Adventures makes a margin/profit on their trips and they generally use guesthouses/hotels instead of dorms, I use their tour prices as a high-end estimate for how much funds I need.

Here are sample prices from tours that cover entire regions.

Region Cost of Gap Adventure tour
Southeast Asia $2380 USD for 32 days, Indochina Discovery
Europe $3500 USD for 28 days, Paris to Rome Adventure
Central America $2140 USD for 32 days, Central American Journey
South America $5900 USD for 2 months, or $2950 USD for 1 month, Great South America Journey

On my current round-the-world trip, my Southeast Asia budget was about $900/month and my Europe budget (averaged between western and eastern Europe) was about $1,800/month excluding transportation (a Global Eurail Pass with 15 travel days over 2 months, is about $1,100 USD, or $550/month). Based on this, I would consider the Lonely Planet average budget to a low-end but comfortable amount that assumes:

  • In Europe, you’re staying in dorms, cooking 1 meal a day and eating out for the other meal, breakfast included at accommodations or homemade
  • In Southeast Asia, you’re staying in relatively cheap but still comfortable guesthouses, eating local street food and a non-street food meal once a day

In my opinion, it’s possible to travel for less per month than the Lonely Planet ranges if you:

  • Travel slowly, staying a multiple weeks in a country, thus saving transportation costs
  • Plan longer stays in one place, giving you the opportunity to ask if your accommodations if they have discounts for longer-term stays (I’ve gotten 5-10% off for stays over 1 week)
  • Cook more of your own food in Europe, spend more time in cheaper Eastern Europe

Based on the average Lonely Planet budget recommendations and the higher-end Gap Adventure tour prices, here is the summary of the minimum and maximum budget ranges for the four regions of the world.

Summary of budget ranges

Region Lower-end budget, USD
(from Lonely Planet)
High-end budget, USD
(from Gap Adventure tours)
Southeast Asia $750/month $2380/month
Europe $2790/month $3500/month
Central America $825/month $2140/month
South America $1200/month $2950/month

>> Do these budget ranges seem appropriate to you? What is your #1 tip to help Andrew figure out how much it costs to travel in a country? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

For more answers to reader questions, subscribe to email updates, follow me on twitter.com/lilyleung, or like me on Facebook.com/ExploreforaYear.

Have a travel question? Other people probably have the same one. Email me at lily@exploreforayear.com and I’ll do my best to answer it here.


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  • Ian Figueroa

    I just started reading your site, and it’s been a good resource and reference point. I’m trying to create a budget for my planned RTW for a year to 18 months. I remember reading in one of your post that your budget was about 24k, just wondering if that included plane tickets (because that seems to be the most expensive part). I spent just over USD 2000 this year for plane tickets from california>tokyo>manila>singapore>hong kong>south korea>california. that was half of my budget for that 5 weeks of travel.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Ian,

      Yes, that $24K included flights. I initially considered a RTW ticket, but decided to buy them as I go. Below are the prices for all my international flights in CAD and all flights are one way.

      Toronto -> Delhi – $700
      Delhi -> Bangkok – $500
      Bangkok -> Hanoi – $83
      Kuala Lumpur -> Singapore (round trip) – $76
      Kuala Lumpur -> Bangkok – $131
      Bangkok -> Istanbul – $525
      Romania -> Cairo – $289
      Sharm el Sheikh -> Amman, Jordan – $295
      Amman -> Bangkok – $436
      Bangkok -> Toronto – $828

      I also took a lot of short-haul/domestic flights, like 5 flights between Bangkok and Chiang Mai (50 min flights) just because I didn’t feel like taking a 10 hour bus, but I doubt a normal traveller would do my weird route :)

      Long-haul flights are expensive but if you’re travelling a long time then the cost is spread out more. Let me know if you have more questions.

      - Lily

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  • http://twitter.com/MyTravelLogs Chris

    This is a great post, I think many people will find this useful.  Just need to keep it updated as times do change but this really does help people to plan their gap years.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Chris,

      Good idea with keeping the cost ranges updated as time goes by. When I was try planning it was really helpful to have at least some prices (even if they are only guesstimates) to take a stab at setting a budget, so hopefully others find this compilation helpful for planning too :)

      Thanks for stopping by!
      - Lily

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Chris,

      Good idea with keeping the cost ranges updated as time goes by. When I was try planning it was really helpful to have at least some prices (even if they are only guesstimates) to take a stab at setting a budget, so hopefully others find this compilation helpful for planning too :)

      Thanks for stopping by!
      - Lily

  • http://twotravelaholics.wordpress.com Two Travelaholics

    Great post! Very helpful for getting an idea of costs. Thanks for compiling the information. We’re definitely going to use it as a starting point :)

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Good luck with your trip planning :) If there’s anything else I might be able to help with later, feel free to let me know.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      - Lily

  • http://www.chasingtheunexpected.com Angela

    Great post and tips, I agree on the prices in Southeast Asia, it’s really cheap. I hate how expensive Europe is, although to be honest now that I’ve been back to Italy for about a month, I’m finding very good deals and prices maybe less high than when I left more than a year ago, at least in Sardinia, where I’m now. I’ll be going to Rome next week, I will see how it is there. But yeah, not even to compare to SE Asia!

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Angela,

      Europe is definitely more expensive than Asia, especially western Europe. Luckily a lot of the hostels here have kitchens so being able to cook my own food has helped manage expenses while forcing me to eat healthy too ;) Enjoy Rome!

      Thanks for stopping by!
      - Lily

  • http://twitter.com/familyonbikes Nancy Sathre-Vogel

    This is such a difficult topic – we all have unique wants and needs. Good job trying to get a handle on it!

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Nancy,

      You’re right – this is a hard question to answer! But hopefully guesstimating a minimum monthly budget will be a helpful starting point for travel planning and knowing how much money you need to save to take a travel to a particular area(s).

      Thanks for stopping by!
      - Lily

  • http://travelyestravel.blogspot.com Charmine

    To cut cost you could also buy ready-to-eat food from super markets.For chicken sandwich,juice&water I once paid 5 euros in Munich.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Charmine,

      Great suggestion on using supermarkets for meals. It’s fast, cheap and I find in Europe (especially in Germany) there are large supermarkets everywhere. Thanks for the budget tip!

      - Lily

  • http://technosyncratic.com/ Technosyncratic Travel Blog

    We just wrote a post about how much we spent while in London for the month of August (http://technosyncratic.com/2011/09/11/monthly-budget-august2011-cost-to-live-in-london/).

    We spent $79 per person/per day if we take into account our flights there from San Francisco and a huge fluke medical bill, but with those two things eliminated our costs came out to just under $19 per person, per day.  Housesitting (and thus not paying for accommodations) and our propensity to travel slowly were our two big money-savers.  :)

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Christy & Kali,

      Thanks for sharing your link on How much does it cost to live in London?. You demonstrate a really good point about finding unconventional ways to travel so that you still have a great experience without having to spend as much as one would expect.

      You just reminded me that couchsurfing.org is also a good resources for meeting local people while having a place to stay at the same time.

      Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your budget for London :)
      - Lily

  • http://www.GQtrippin.com Gerard ~ GQtrippin

    Love the breakdown by region! Many people tend to just put the total cost of their entire RTW trip. This helps better with planning a long-term trip. 

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Gerard,

      Thanks for your feedback. Budgeting for a RTW trip is pretty challenging, especially when you’re going to different world regions. I’ve never travelled long-term in Central or South America, but would like to on future trip so this article was a good exercise for me as well.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      - Lily

  • Traveling Ted

    This is a great resource for Andrew or anyone else who is thinking of breaking out from the cubicle.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Thanks Ted. Doing an extended trip through Central and South America is on my bucket list, so writing this article was a great way for me to start planning that adventure as well. From the comments of the other travellers on this article, it sounds like both areas are relatively budget-friendly, which is great news!

      - Lily

  • http://www.manonthelam.com Raymond @ Man On The Lam

    I haven’t been great about tracking my expenses, but for the past couple of months in SE Asia, I haven’t spent more than a $1000 a month.  But I don’t stay in dorms, I like my A/C and private bath, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I have a craving for beer every now and then.  It can be done much cheaper, but why live like a homeless person for the sake of a couple of hundred dollars. :)

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Raymond,

      Isn’t Southeast Asia fantastic for getting value out of your budget?! I always recommend this area for people asking about travelling on a budget, and your point about having your own room, beer etc just goes to show that budget travel doesn’t have to be painful or uncomfortable.

      Thanks for sharing your SEA budget :)

      - Lily

  • http://twitter.com/thecloud_people Jamie Davy

    such an intense question! love the resource listing you put together, and budget comparisons from different sources. south america greatly depends on which countries. chile, brazil and argentina would be a completely different budget compared to bolivia for example. i think your central american budget is on the money. you could make it a whole lot more expenisve if you really wanted to!

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Jamie,

      Thanks for your guidance on the South American countries – I’ve only been to two countries on that continent so I couldn’t comment as much on Lonely Planet’s recommended budget as I could with Southeast Asia or Europe. It’s great news to hear that Central America isn’t so expensive, because I’m considering travelling through that area on a future trip ;D

      Thanks for sharing your tips!
      - Lily

  • Christy @ Ordinary Traveler

    Great in depth resource. Thanks for putting this post together. I’m really bad about keeping track of my travel expenses. I should try to do that more often. :)

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Christy,

      When I started my trip I was so militant about entering all my expenses into a spreadsheet on a daily basis and even categorized all my expenses to so I could track how much I spent on accommodations, snacks, meals, transportation etc. It was so much work! Now, I just keep track of the amounts I’ve withdrawn from my bank account/paid on my credit card and use that to gauge if I’ve been spending what I expected to spend. Simplifies my life so much :)

      - Lily

  • http://www.europeantravelista.com Debbie @ European Travelista

    Rick Steves also publishes a range of expenses for Europe but he doesn’t stay in dorms or hostels.  Costs really vary by personal preferences but there are ways to travel less expensively by cooking (like you mentioned) or picnicing.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Debbie,

      Good point on the picnic-ing and self-catering. I didn’t do much of that in Southeast Asia (most guesthouses/hostels don’t have kitchens there and food is really cheap), but kitchens seem pretty normal in Europe. Plus, picnic-ing is very economical for long train rides.

      - Lily

  • http://twitter.com/StruxTravel Michael Figueiredo

    This is a great idea for a post! I never realized how less expensive Southeast Asia and South America were than Europe. 

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Michael,

      The low cost of travelling Southeast Asia was a surprise to me too! I didn’t expect to be able to travel so comfortably for $30 per day. Hearing the other travellers’ comments about Central America being budget-friendly is also great news, because I’d love to take an extended trip there in the near future.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      - Lily

  • http://myexpatgermany.com/ Laurel

    Very informative post Lily.  I didn’t realize that South America was that much more expensive than Central America.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Laurel,

      I didn’t realize that South America would be so different from Central America either. I’ve heard that Brazil costs more than Ecuador or Honduras, but I didn’t know by how much. Writing this post has definitely given me helpful information to consider if I plan a trip in the future to the Latin America region.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      - Lily 

  • http://twitter.com/fotoeins Henry Lee

    Timely and informative article; thanks, Lily!

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Henry,

      Glad you found it helpful!
      - Lily

  • http://nomadicsamuel.com Nomadic Samuel

    Nice article Lily!  Having backpacked extensively in South America and South East Asia I can say the budgets you’ve posted are pretty much spot on.  South East Asia definitely tends to be cheaper as a whole with only Singapore standing out as an exception.  On the other hand, South America has a wider range.  If one is sticking to Andean countries and traveling a lot in Bolvia they could get by on a SE Asia budget, but in Chile and Brazil things start to shoot up to the higher end of the scale.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Samuel,

      Thanks for these country tips. It’s great to know that Chile & Brazil are in a different budget range from other countries in South America – it’s hard know what the variation will be when you only have a guesstimate for the entire continent. 

      Thanks for stopping by!

      - Lily 

  • http://www.so-many-places.com Kim

    Thanks Lily!  This helps a lot as Brian and I begin to plan our budget!!

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Kim,

      Glad you found it helpful, there’s a lot of budget info in the comments travellers are leaving as well, so hopefully that helps too! Good luck planning :)

      - Lily

  • http://www.neverendingvoyage.com Erin

    Thanks for linking to our South America budget. I agree that LP estimates are a good starting point and you can add costs of big activities to this and up the budget if you like to stay at more comfortable accommodation. It’s also true that it’s much cheaper to travel slowly, and you can even look into things like working in exchange for accommodation (helpx.net) or  house sitting (we use mindmyhouse.com) to get free accommodation for a few weeks.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Erin,

      Thanks for writing your article on the costs for countries in South America :) I’ve only been in Ecuador and Peru, and both times were with a small group tour so thanks for your feedback on the backpacking cost estimates. It’ll be helpful for future self-planned trips there :)

      - Lily

  • http://twitter.com/Ayngelina Ayngelina

    I’d agree with the Latin America ranges for sure. I lived on 750/month easily without looking at my spending in Central America. In South America I had to be a bit more careful but stuck to 1000/month although the month I stayed in the same place in Ecuador I only spent $400. The longer you stay somewhere the cheaper it is.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Ayngelina,

      Thanks for the feedback/confirmation of the Latin America ranges, I know you spent a lot of time in that area this past year!

      - Lily