When Lynn and I started our journey traveling around the world, we already knew that we weren’t like most of the other travelers we would meet along the road. We were not in our early 20s, staying in shared rooms at hostels, and partying most nights until the early hours of the morning. We were in our 30s, hoping to find inexpensive private rooms, and more interested in getting a good night of sleep in order to wake up early and beat the crowds to see some of the most amazing things this world has to show us.
We had our backpacks and in many ways we were backpackers, but months before we had left on our trip Lynn found a better term for our type of traveler. We were flashpackers. Many sites have their definition of a flashpacker, but most can agree that they are usually older, have a higher budget, and tend to carry more electronics (laptops, DSLR cameras, etc.). That definition fit us almost perfectly. There was just one thing that made us a little different. Even though we had a higher budget than some, we still wanted to do things inexpensively.
A More Detailed Way of Tracking Expenses
During our sailing trip from Panama to Colombia we learned that most backpackers do not track their spending through Quicken. I know, you’re probably just as horrified as I was (that’s a joke). When I told our fellow sailing-mates about my system for tracking our spending they looked at me as if I were speaking a foreign language… to be fair, for some of them I was. I knew using Quicken was a little crazy, but talking with them about their tracking made my methods seem insane. They didn’t categorize their spending, or take time analyzing receipts in order to find a missing peso that wasn’t tracked. How would they know how much they spent on ice cream?
Fortunately, there was a method to my madness and because of it, I can now write this article. See, it was all worth it. Right? Please, tell me it was worth it…
The main categories were based on location, so each city or area that we visited had it’s own set of categories (and Food had sub-categories):
- Alcohol & Bars
- Desserts & Snacks
Here were the two non-location specific categories I created in order to track the other expenses for our trip:
- Travel Insurance – one time cost for insurance for both of us on our trip.
- Travel Supplies – this included some items we purchased before the trip and some items we had to replace along the way, like sandals, clothing, a hard drive, and a tripod.
After it was all said and done I wish I had added even more sub-categories. I found that the miscellaneous category was too broad and transportation could have been split into different modes of transportation as well. I did go back and sub-categorize some of these expenses, but there were some miscellaneous expenses that I just couldn’t identify.
Breakdown of the Costs
You may think I’m going to tell you exactly how much we spent on everything we did on our trip, but unfortunately I’m not going to do that. I don’t feel like it’s anyone’s business how much we spent on our trip. What I will do is give you some great stats based on percentages. If you’re planning your own trip, I think you can get some interesting information based on what we spent money on and how it compared to other expenses from our trip. If you have an idea of how much you plan to spend on lodging during your trip, these percentages may help you budget for other parts of your trip.
With that being said, let’s get started with the expenses. I’ll start with the main categories and break down any sub-categories within them as well.
Excursions were anything we did or saw along our trip. A lot of excursions were cheap and some were even free! This allowed us to do and see a lot, and spend money on some of the bigger more expensive excursions that we were looking forward to.
What this proves is that you have to eat… and it costs money to eat! The crazy thing is how much money it costs to eat at restaurants. During the second half of our trip we had quite a few apartments and made a lot of meals from groceries, but the cost of our groceries was still not even close to the amount we spent eating at restaurants.
Lodging was important to our budget and sort of the one thing that we felt we could plan and budget for appropriately. We left for our trip with a plan to spend no more than $50 a night on lodging. We did even better than that though and averaged below $40 a night. We could have spent less, but our plan was to always have a private room. We also cut our lodging expenses in South America by taking night buses when we could.
Transportation was a big part of our budget, and that was mainly because we packed a lot of destinations into our trip. Some people like to spend weeks in certain areas or cities, but we tend to travel fast and spend only 2-3 days in each place we visit. The more you’re moving the higher your transportation budget will be!
The miscellaneous category included a lot of things that I just didn’t feel like breaking out, but now I wish I had. After we got back, I went through and sub-categorized as many of these expenses as I could. This miscellaneous category includes the following: bathrooms, casinos, diving certification, exchange costs, fees/taxes, gifts, haircuts, internet, laundry, movies, personal care & pharmacy items, photos, printing, repairs, scams, showers, small tips, and travel visas. Below are a few of the higher cost items from this category.
Identifying the Least & Most Expensive Places We Visited
This was actually a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. I had all of the data broken out by city and country, so it should have been easy, but there were other things that had to be taken into consideration.
- There were 4 countries in which we purchased a travel/vacation package for a set amount. I couldn’t include these countries because the cost per day ended up being higher than it should have been. Bolivia for example is one of the poorest countries in South America, yet it ended up being one of our most expensive countries. Bolivia, Panama, Kenya, and Mexico were removed from my list.
- I had to remove specific transportation costs for certain countries. Flights can be expensive even though a lot of our flights were paid for with miles. Some were not, but it didn’t make sense to have an expensive flight count against the cost per day for a country. Egypt is a good example. Our flights to Egypt were some of our most expensive because using miles didn’t make sense. I removed those flights from the calculation and it makes the cost per day in Egypt more accurate when comparing it to other countries.
- There were also countries in Eastern Europe where we basically did nothing but sleep there and then leave the next day. Serbia was our lowest cost per day, but all we did was eat dinner, spend the night and leave the next morning. I had to remove countries like this from the list as well.
Least Expensive Countries We Visited
(for 2 people)
We spent quite a bit of time in Colombia and visited 4 different cities. Guatape, a small vacation town near Medellin was definitely one of our favorites. We didn’t love the food, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t cheap, but so was everything else including: transportation, lodging, and excursions. Colombia is also where we met some of our favorite people from our entire trip… that we’re still connected with through social media!
(for 2 people)
We didn’t spend a lot of time in Montenegro, but the little town of Kotor was one of our favorite stops in Eastern Europe. We ended up getting a nice little apartment inside the old walled city where we were able to cook our own meals, do laundry and drink beers on the balcony. Our one main excursion was a free hike to a castle above the city with an amazing view of the bay.
(for 2 people)
When I think about each of the 3 places we visited in Ecuador, it’s amazing how much we actually did during our time there. Most of our excursions were cheap… especially in Quito where we took public transit everywhere! One of our favorite things we did was riding a big swing on a mountain in Banos, and that cost us around $5 total for the day.
Other Countries Worth Mentioning
South Africa – $92 per day (for 2 people)
We did SO MUCH in South Africa and it’s crazy how inexpensive it is to visit there (minus the cost of getting there). We loved South Africa for so many reasons and the fact that it was so inexpensive was definitely one of them.
Guatemala – $93 per day (for 2 people)
If we were to do it all over again, we would spend more time in Guatemala. We’ve said it multiple times and we mean it. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of our next vacations is a trip to explore more of Guatemala. Beautiful country, great people, and pretty inexpensive.
Slovakia – – $93 per day (for 2 people)
I wouldn’t say we had a ton of things to do while we were in Slovakia, but it was also the end of winter. Still, we had a great time in both Bratislava and Kosice, and we didn’t spend much during our time there.
Hungary – $101 per day (for 2 people)
Hungary was a little more expensive than some of these other countries, but when I think back to our time in Budapest, we saw and did so much during our couple days there. There’s also a lot to see within the city and it’s all accessible via public transit. Even better, most of the attractions you can visit for free.
Peru – $117 per day (for 2 people)
I know, this is a lot more expensive than the others, but I also feel like the main reason Peru’s cost per day is so high is because of our time in Machu Picchu (which is VERY expensive compared to the rest of Peru). I think back to cities like Trujillo, where we paid $4 (total) for the two of us to sit down for a lunch that included soup, a main dish, and a drink. Peru can be cheap, and there’s so many things to see and do there. You would be crazy to skip it!
Most Expensive Countries We Visited
(for 2 people)
What can I say about Argentina, other than it was expensive. Ok, so they were going through a currency crisis at the time and with inflation, everything was overpriced. Compared to other countries in South America, Argentina’s transportation expenses were nearly 4 times as much. It wasn’t all bad though… Argentina still has a lot of amazing things to see and do (although I wouldn’t say eating food is one of them). Still one of our favorite places we visited, El Chalten, is in Argentina.
(for 2 people)
We didn’t spend much time in Austria and we were there during Easter weekend, but it was still very expensive. Lynn had a hard time finding lodging within our budget so we ended up going over. Excursions were pricey and so were our meals. We could have saved money by getting food at the grocery store, but they were all closed for the holiday weekend. The one great thing about Austria was that the public transit was reasonably priced, fast and reliable.
(for 2 people)
It’s crazy to think that the first stop on our trip was one of our most expensive. Even crazier is that this cost per day excludes our flight into Belize and it also excludes the additional expense of my open water diving certification. The reason Caye Caulker, Belize is so expensive is because it’s an island, so it costs money to get supplies there. Groceries were more expensive than Whole Foods, which forced us to eat out for nearly all of our meals. Our main excursion was diving, which was expensive, but completely worth it at the same time.
There were a lot of things that I wish I would have tracked a little differently on our trip, but tracking our expenses wasn’t the reason we went on this trip. Still, I kept track of a lot more than most people do, but that’s just what I do! I love budgets and stats!
I hope that anyone reading this that is trying to plan a trip around the world or some sort of long-term travel finds this article helpful. Don’t forget, if you have any questions about budgets for planning feel free to contact us in the comments or through our contact form.
If you’re someone that enjoys stats, I hope this article was as interesting for you as it was fun for me to put together. It’s been over 6 months since we returned from our trip, so having the opportunity to look through some of the details of our trip again was pretty awesome.
Here are some additional stats I just had to share with you:
- Cheapest Snickers bar – $.33 – Cape Town, South Africa
- Total money spent on ice cream: $124.28