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How Much Does it Really Cost to Travel the World

How much does it really cost to travel the world? I’m asked this question often, and I’m always forced to shrug my shoulders and say that a traveler’s expense sheet is based more on their comfort threshold, travel methods, drinking habits, and site-seeing ambitions than on the basic costs of just about any country. It [...]

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How much does it really cost to travel the world? I’m asked this question often, and I’m always forced to shrug my shoulders and say that a traveler’s expense sheet is based more on their comfort threshold, travel methods, drinking habits, and site-seeing ambitions than on the basic costs of just about any country. It is possible to travel any country on $10 per day, just as it is possible to drop 100s of bucks daily anywhere on this planet.

If you’re bicycling or walking, camping on the sly, abstaining from bars, and getting food in local markets and cooking it yourself, no country in the world is expensive. If you want to go to every tourist attraction, stay in nice hotels, take first class transportation each day, get drunk in bars, and eat in middle class restaurants no country is going to be cheap.

The above map is a global survey of estimated travel expenses for 2012.  The blue countries can be traveled for under $20 per day, the brown ones for $20 to $40, and the red ones for over $40. The countries that are left blank I either do not have personal experience traveling in or not enough data to make an estimate. All prices are quoted in US dollars.

As this site is about vagabond travel, I assume that you are interested in traveling as cheaply as possible — which demands a certain amount of discipline. This means:

  • Only occasionally drinking to excess in bars.
  • Sleeping in dorm rooms in hostels or camping.
  • Taking local transport and avoiding first class buses and trains.
  • Traveling slowly (changing locations less once or twice per week).
  • Eating where the locals do or preparing your own food.
  • Only occasionally going to tourist attractions.
  • Are able to find enough entertainment in free, simple activities.

If you want to add excesses to the estimated prices above, then plan accordingly.

The above map does not provide estimates for extreme vagabond travel, as any country can be traveled for very little money if you’re providing your own transportation and shelter.

(Read about how to travel in expensive countries cheaply.)

Speed of travel is important for calculating budget

A general rule of traveler’s thumb is the slower you go the cheaper travel will be, the faster the more expensive. Transportation is one the three essential travel expenses, but apart from food and shelter, it’s one that you don’t need everyday. By staying in places for a week or two at a time you will lower your travel expenses exponentially. The prices in the map above are calibrated for changing locations once or twice per week, but are generally estimates for travelers who have a lot of time to stick around and really soak up their travel destinations.

Price estimates are for travelers

The price estimates above are for travelers who are generally interested in seeing places for what they are, hanging out in the streets, and watching the great show of life unfold before them. There is really no way to generally calculate travel expenses if someone wishes to link tours across the world. The estimates above are for travelers who only occasionally go on paid tours and engage in the excesses of tourism.

Airfare not included in estimates

Airfare is not calculated into the prices above. This is due to the fact that the amount of times that a traveler will fly per year/ during the course of a given trip varies greatly: some travelers will only fly once a year, while some seem to fly nearly every month. Some travelers don’t fly at all. Apart from regional budget airline flights, getting on a plane is the single biggest expense for every modern traveler — and the amount of times any of us flies is going to drastically affect our budgets. Next week’s Around the World Travel article will focus on planning flight paths around the globe.

Travel expenses map conclusion

By staying in the blue countries, peaking into the brown ones, and working or all out avoiding the red ones a traveler can blaze a trail across the world for the minimum about of money possible. The less money travelers spends the farther and longer they can travel. Money is not only a monetary measurement for a traveler but a temporal measurement as well. Your savings plus your earnings divided by your daily budget is how many days you can spend on the road. If your fractions are constant you can travel forever.

(Read more Budget Travel Tips on VagabondJourney.com.)

This article is part of a series called Around the World Travel. This series of articles will provide tips on how to take a trip around the world or travel the globe perpetually. 

Filed under: Budget Travel, Perpetual Travel

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3705 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

14 comments… add one

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  • alf June 7, 2012, 10:19 am

    Extremely useful article, and perfectly accurate for the 13 countries I have personally traveled this year.


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    • Wade Shepard June 7, 2012, 7:52 pm

      Thanks Alf,

      Appreciate the feedback. If you ever experience any discrepancies between the prices represented on the map and reality or go to any of the countries I don’t have data for please let me know. I’m going to continuously update this map.

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  • the candy trail ... | Michael Robert Powell June 8, 2012, 12:03 am

    Hi Wade. Pretty accurate map. Will add a few modifications in Africa: some of these places not colored are: $20-40+ (mostly due to lack of cheap hotels and transport). I know that Mauritania, Niger, Chad are pricey (likewise most of formerly-French Africa; CAR and Congo I’ll be in next year). Eritrea and Sudan can be under $20. Prices in Turkey would see it move closer to $20-40 (but depends on whether in east or west of country). Mongolia also gets expensive if you want to venture beyond UB.

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    • the candy trail ... | Michael Robert Powell June 8, 2012, 3:24 am

      A few more: Costa Rica & Panama are more expensive – like in the $20-40 range. And while I’m yet to get there I believe Gabon, Eq. Guinea, Congo-Brazzaville are also no bargains. UK better in $40+ range.

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      • Wade Shepard June 8, 2012, 4:27 am

        Right on, thanks for the info on some of the African countries that I had blank. The map has been updated. Costa Rica, Panama, and Turkey were tricky ones to pin down general expense estimates for as they are sort of on the cusps between blue and brown. I thought about it and realized that you’re right on Turkey and I made the change. I’ll keep readjusting this map each year. The help is much appreciated.

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  • Caitlin June 9, 2012, 12:04 am

    Mmm… I would say that Ghana is cheaper than Togo. I’d put Ghana around 20 bucks a day, but Togo more like 25-30.

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    • Wade Shepard June 9, 2012, 8:59 am

      Thanks! Took your Ghana tip. How about Burkina Faso?

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      • Caitlin June 9, 2012, 9:52 am

        Burkina, well, if you’re a longer term traveler like myself and can arrange a homestay, it can be really cheap. (I rented a little two-room house in a family courtyard with lunch & dinner every day for about 175 dollars for the month. I know that I could have paid a ton less but I didn’t feel it was worth it to haggle that amount down.) However, if you are traveling normally, hotels are not really THAT cheap, especially if you’re solo. I’d stay traveling normal-style would amount to about 25-30 dollars.

        Ghana MAY have become more expensive. I was there for the first time before the re-valuated the cedi. Then they changed the cedi and pegged it to I think the dollar. The second time I went, they were using this new cedi. I’m trying to remember if it was more expensive, and it’s possible it was, but I was staying with friends so I can’t really remember.

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        • Wade Shepard June 10, 2012, 2:03 am

          Excellent, thanks for the help.

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  • Caitlin June 9, 2012, 9:54 am

    And come on… England isn’t a red one? And Italy? France?

    I remember when I was in England I went hungry my last day because I only had enough money to get to the airport. Mind you, I was only in the country three days, and I was 19, but I remember being scandalized by the prices.

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    • Wade Shepard June 10, 2012, 2:14 am

      Really? I always found London not too bad in terms of accommodation and food costs for a city with the reputation as a big, popular, and expensive — well, if you’re staying in hostel dorms and eating from grocery stores or working class joints. It has always been my experience that England is far cheaper than France — but I haven’t been there since 2006, so maybe this has changed a little. But I just did a quick check of hostel prices and it’s still possible to get a bed in the heart of London for $10 – $15. This is way less than pretty much all the rest of Western Europe save for maybe Portugal.

      Here’s a guide for Eating Cheap in the UK, just in case you’re ever going hungry in England again 🙂

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  • Mercury June 9, 2012, 11:56 am

    I would suggest reversing Britain and France. In my experience Britain is considerably more expensive than France. Outside of Paris, France can be travelled for under $40/day. While Britain has prices more in line with Scandinavia. I would also reduce netherlands and belgium down to the middle category as well. Netherlands is considerably cheaper than Britain and a little cheaper than Germany. Finally, I would leave Switzerland as it is with prices in line with Britain and Scandinavia.
    p.s. Is mongolia really cheaper than China? I’m surprised that China isn’t in the under $20 category, not arguing just surprised.

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    • Wade Shepard June 10, 2012, 2:38 am

      Really? Respectfully disagreeing here. I’ve always found France far more expensive than the UK.

      China has gotten pretty expensive. Most travelers who want to move at a steady pace and actually go to some attractions will probably spend way over $30 per day. To go to an attraction (like a garden, a museum, historic site) you’re looking at at least a $10 entrance fee. Buses now cost around $6 per seat hour. If you’re taking trains, going real cheap, can speak some Mandarin, and know where to find cheap food/ accommodation, traveling slow, and are not going to many attractions then you could probably average out at around $16- $17 per day over the long term. That’s about what I spend when not tramping/ hitch-hiking — but it takes being pretty stoic and not many people are going to want to travel like this. It’s sort of like how it’s possible to travel anywhere on under $10 a day, but few people really want to do this.

      All these price estimates are pretty general and should be taken with a good amount of relativity.

      As fro Mongolia, I’ve not been there since 2007, so maybe this is different now. But in the UB region it was possible to find $4 dorm beds and $7 kangs in shared yurts. Outside of this region, as MRP pointed out, the travel infrastructure peters out and it can get expensive.

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  • Alex June 12, 2012, 10:53 am

    Wade, are you joking about Over 40$ in Russia? Yes, if not to say about place to live and if we are not talking about Moscow, well Russia is not so expencive in most cases. There much troubles with traveling culture there, hard to find camps, couches and so on. But I think Russia must be in 20-40$ color.

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