It’s the number one question we get asked about our travels: how can we afford to do it? And it’s the post I’ve hesitated to write the most, simply because our experience is unique and not universally replicable for all families.
But that’s the case with everyone, isn’t it? How we saved up for this trip isn’t the same for other round-the-world families, nor would it be for you, should you take on this task. So as long as you read this post knowing what I say is descriptive, not prescriptive, then I’m happy to offer you how we’re doing it financially.
Atypical of a post about money, I’m going to be a bit right-brained here, starting with a few thoughts about why this sort of trip isn’t as expensive as you might think. For us, anyway.
1. We’re still working.
This is the most important thing to remember about this trip of ours: it’s not a nine-month vacation for us. The entire time, we’re doing our darndest to keep up with our work so that we continue to bring in the same level of income as when we’re living in one place.
It means I write posts while we’re on planes when I’d rather veg with a book. It means holing up in Sydney, Australia for weeks to create an e-course instead of exploring the fourth most expensive city in the world. It means searching hither and yon for a sliver of internet access so I can publish posts, answer emails, record podcasts, and post on social media. And it’s been hard. We’re actually working harder than when we’re home, simply because the work itself is harder to do from the road.
My view for much of early January in Sydney.
Kyle can currently work from anywhere as well, and we don’t think this will always be the case (hence one of the reasons we’re doing the trip now). We realize how fortunate we are to have two working adults who can do their jobs from anywhere—it’s the main way this trip is possible for us.
2. We’re doing it cheap.
There’s nothing fancy about anything we’re doing on this trip. Even the places that are more touristy, like Queensland, New Zealand, or Victoria Falls, we’re doing as cheaply as possible—cooking our own food, and enjoying the “real life” side of things more than the tourist traps. Most of our housing is from budget-friendly options on HomeAway and AirBnB (use that second link to get $25 credit when you travel).
Our guesthouse in Kampala, Uganda.
Our bigger flights were bought as several group trips from AirTreks, which specializes in round-the-world travel—they’re able to get better deals for people willing to flex on dates, times of travel, and even exact destinations. (This is why we occasionally have flights departing or landing at 3am—not always fun with kids.) We also sometimes take bare-bones flights that have no food or drinks. But by buying our tickets as more-or-less three separate legs (China to South Africa, then Kenya to France, then Croatia and eventually back to the States), they were collectively cheaper.
3. We’ve partnered (a little) with some brands.
I want to be honest and fully disclose that because of my work as a blogger, I do have the opportunity to partner with a few brands in exchange for exposure. It’s nothing much—definitely nothing enough to fully offset our costs—but I do appreciate the partnership, and I’m grateful that my work provides this.
As of now, the only brands we’ve partnered with are Tourism Queensland (they gave us a few excursions, like snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, and our housing at the campsites), HomeAway (they’ve given us a bit of credit for housing in exchange for some posts about family travel), and Socially Responsible Safaris (which we’ll partner with in a few days, to go on a safari in Kenya—they gave us a discount, so we’re still paying for a good chunk of it).
This is it as far as partnerships go. Again, this isn’t enough to offset major costs—but it is a reality on our trip, so I want to make sure you know that as you think about our budgeting.
4. We’re traveling slow.
I’ve already talked about this, so I won’t rehash the glories and benefits of slow travel. But traveling slow really does save money—we’d much rather fully enjoy a country well over visiting tons of places and amassing scores of passport stamps. The mere moving from place to place adds up quickly, so curbing this cuts significant costs.
Strolling the local botanical garden in Sri Lanka, with monkeys following.
5. We know people internationally.
I don’t mean this in a “I know a guy” way, but our past of working for nonprofits abroad has meant having a number of connections that has allowed us to find cheaper lodging through friends. (We even enjoyed housesitting for one of our AoS contributors in Australia when they were on a family vacation!) None of this lodging has been fancy, but it has saved us quite a bit, and we are grateful.
Our “tour” of the Nile—normally this would cost our family almost $200, but our local friends in Uganda recommended a friend of theirs. Joel, pictured, knew EVERYTHING about the local birds. All in all, it cost us about $40.
6. Our expenses aren’t that different from regular life.
This is key, and it’s often forgotten. We sold our house before we left and all our belongings are currently in a low-cost storage unit, which means other than our monthly storage fee, we have no rent or mortgage. Our one older minivan is paid for, waiting for us at Kyle’s parent’s house. This means we also don’t have any normal-life transportation costs like gas or vehicle upkeep. We’re also debt-free.
All this means we can fill in the void on the budget line-item for housing with our current travel lodging. Instead of paying for gas and vehicle maintenance, we’re paying for taxis, metros, and a few car rentals. We’re hardly buying anything on the road, like clothing, educational supplies, or general home maintenance purchases. And entertainment is pretty much doing what we’re doing—no real added expense there.
Hitching a ride in Jinja, Uganda.
By eating out in the cheaper countries and cooking at our lodging in the more expensive ones, our overall food budget remains about the same as if we were at home. Sure, there are a few excursions we’re paying for, but they more or less even out from a real-life absence of things like extracurricular activities (no karate lessons this year) and everyday purchases.
We could eat out in Thailand and spend about $10 total for our family of five. With leftovers.
Overall, our expenses might be a smidge higher than what we spend in our regular life, but not by much. Probably not as much as you think.
A bit of the nitty-gritty
Long-haul transportation is the main expense we have that doesn’t show up in our normal life—international flights, cross-country trains, and the like. And it’s this transportation that gets the bulk of our trip budget.
It’s hard to give a final total, because we’re still not done buying airline tickets, but they’re looking like an overall cost of about $50,000 for our family of five (most of these coming from AirTreks). We saved up for this over several years, putting any extra income towards our trip savings. We also have the expense of visas for a few countries.
Playing with the local kids in Ethiopia.
The rest of our funds mostly comes from our regular monthly income, just as how we’d use it in our real life. We’re still saving monthly for the future and we still live frugally. All in all, our trip life doesn’t cost that much more than our normal life.
We’re still trekking through some low-internet places, so I won’t be able to answer as quickly as I like, but if you have other questions about budget, I’ll do my best to answer them! Leave a comment below with any thoughts.