Monday, July 5, 2010

The true cost of a RTW trip

It’s hard to believe this is our final month in the good ol’ USA for awhile. Not only that, but we have to say goodbye to our beloved Portland, OR in just 8 short days. We’re continuing to check things off our pre-trip to do list; most recently we completed our last round of vaccinations, got international drivers licenses, got our Australian visas online and sent off for our China & India visas. With the exception of a few minor things, we have purchased all of our travel gear. What we still haven’t done, amazingly, is book a single flight or tour. Of course, there’s a reason for this.

Once we start buying tickets we know we are essentially dictating the course of our trip. True, we will be able to make changes, but not without penalties. We’ll be even more locked into our prepaid tours (a 10 day Egypt tour and a 14 day Kenya/Tanzania safari) and would definitely lose our deposit and potentially a lot more if we have to cancel or change those parts of our trip for any reason. We have also ultimately decided to only purchase the most expensive long haul flights this far in advance, either because we have to be somewhere on a specific date or because we‘re worried the fare is going to increase significantly. Unfortunately, we have six long haul segments, not including our Delta standby flights from Nashville to Australia (via Atlanta & Los Angeles), from Mumbai to Amsterdam, and from Madrid back to Nashville (via Atlanta). The six ticketed flights alone will cost us just shy of $4000. Combine that with the two pre-booked tours, visas, and a comprehensive trip protection & traveler’s medical insurance policy and we’ve spent over $9000 before we ever leave home. Not to mention the exorbitant cost of our vaccinations (over $2000 per person, not covered by our U.S. health insurance policies). As you can clearly see, this round-the-world trip is not going to be cheap!

We spend a lot of time these days talking about our budget. We’ve each allocated $30,000 for this trip. You would think that’s more than enough money to go around the world a couple of times, right??? And, yes, I’m sure you can do a RTW trip on a much smaller budget if you are willing to camp & self-drive or backpacker bus your way through some of the more expensive destinations like Africa. Or, spend the majority of your time in places like Southeast Asia, where you can live well for under $20 per person, per day. We don’t mind roughing it in a certain sense, by staying in dorms with shared baths in hostels or couchsurfing, eating from street carts instead of at sit-down restaurants, and forgoing some museums & activities with higher entrance fees. But we’re planning to be on the road for a minimum of 7 months, and, if all goes well, potentially longer. There are going to be times when we want a private room, an identifiable hot meal, and to see or do something that we’ve traveled over 10,000 miles from home for. We know it’s going to be tough to stay within our budget and that we’ll have to keep track of our expenses all along. While obsessing over the money we’re spending could easily ruin the trip, the last thing I want is to be 4 months in and realize I’m down to my last allocated $1000 and it’s time to pack up and come home.

Partially for that reason, but also for geographical & seasonal purposes as well as to ensure that we travel to the most far-flung, hard-to-do-on-a-typical-American-one-week-vacation places first, we’re starting in Australia & New Zealand. Not exactly low budget countries! We originally planned to spend about a week in Sydney, then fly to Cairns to explore the reef, Darwin to visit Kakadu National Park, Adelaide for the wine region, Kangaroo Island for the animals, and Melbourne for the food & culture. Based on our research over the past week, we’ve pretty much decided to axe Darwin from the trip, not because we don’t want to go, but due to the overall cost of activities there (1-2 night package tours to explore Kakadu are upwards of $400 and lodging in Darwin is at least $100/nt). This will also “save” us about $200 in airfare compared to flying directly from Cairns to Adelaide. In Cairns, a full day boat excursion to snorkel various sites on the reef is over $125pp. The logistics for Kangaroo Island make it fairly expensive (a RT ferry or flight from Adelaide, limited food & accommodation options - but there is a hostel that we’ll try to reserve, a 2-3 day car rental…). Ultimately it’s all about finding a balance and not blowing thousands of dollars in the first month of the trip!

It has been hard to write this post about money. But it’s very much a daily reality for us now and will continue to confront us in myriad ways throughout the trip. I just hope that we are spending enough time in the lower budget countries to offset the higher costs in the most expensive ones. I keep telling myself that this is why I worked so hard my whole life and got rid of all the excess “stuff”, to have this opportunity to travel, see the world and meet lots of interesting people in the process. But the truth is that it has been over 5 years since I traveled for longer than 1 month under sometimes tough conditions, alone, in northern India. Only time will tell if I have what it takes to not only complete a trip of this magnitude, but to share all of the ups & downs with Greg and come away from it at the end fulfilled & with the travel bug satiated, at least until the next time!!!


  1. Please keep in mind that you are in the thoughts of folks back home who will never venture to the places you are going. We love reading about the reality of your travels - the good parts and even the not-so-good. It will be such an adventure! I'm rooting for you! I hope you both a safe and exciting 7 months.

    -Kim (Wagner) Hill

  2. An envious and potentially too personal inquiry??

    Dearest Alethea::

    As I have always looked at RTW world cruises and thought...well, that is just a dream...but seriously, and I certainly hope I am not prying too much by asking this...simply how can one afford to go on such a trip as this and stay away for so long without working? I, too, have worked for soo long, yet, with a mortgage and such obligations could never imagine spending this type of money. Is it because you sold property and invested well? Was this all such wonderful savings planning that has allowed you to do this? Either way--my hats off to you, because I simply couldn't imagine doing what you are doing--it must be incredible--and to do it with your love--also the best feeling imaginable! I hope you have the best time of your life!
    Monica :)

  3. Hi Monica,
    Sorry for the delayed response. Internet access hasn't been the best here in New Zealand!

    Anyway, I don't mind your question at all; it's certainly a valid one. As for the finances, all I can say is that I've done it all on my own by working hard & making sacrifices. Never made any real money on investments, property, etc. Being a flight attendant for six years was not a good way to save money; in fact, I spent more than I earned! And living in NYC certainly wasn't cheap either! After I quit flying I just kept working hard day in & day out, changed jobs/companies when I thought it was best, and managed to double my salary in about three years time. I didn't have to sell my soul to do it, but almost! It required a lot of 15 hour workdays and total dedication to my job (executive/personal assistant to CEO-level) at the expense of everything else. But I knew it wouldn't last forever because I was working towards a goal (i.e., had to have $50k in cash savings, excluding 401k, to allow myself to quit my job). I also have chosen not to have kids, no pets, shared my housing with roommates, sold all my stuff, etc.

    Greg hasn't traveled nearly as much over the years and his bank account shows it. He also sacrificed by living with his parents to save more money and enabled himself to have more opportunities by going to night school and getting a masters degree.

    I guess that's it. Sounds simple and, in a way, it is. Keeping a strict budget, not living beyond our means (in fact, living well below it), and setting goals & achieving them is what got both of us to where we are today.

    All I can recommend is to make sure you have your priorities straight -- actually sit down and write out what you want to accomplish or do in the next week, month, year, etc. and then figure out what you'll have to sacrifice or change in your current life to make that happen. It's definitely not easy and takes serious dedication & persistence, but it's soooo worth it!!! :) All the best to you!

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