The Bottom Line: Our 2018 World Travel Costs

You may be wondering what it costs to travel the world full-time. I think you will be surprised to learn that it can be less costly than you think.

When Steve and I first toyed with the idea of traveling the world full-time we thought it might be a pipe dream. Our main concern was that it would be unaffordable. Then we researched world travel costs and found that many people are living a nomadic life and are generous enough to share information about their costs.

Seeing how affordable travel can be was the difference between having a dream and having a goal. Three and a half years later our goal became a reality.

Two young women
Leaving our daughters Stephanie and Laura was the hardest part.

Now we are happy to share our first year’s costs in the hope that it will help others take the first step toward turning their dreams into reality.

The Budget

We originally set our budget at $3,000 per month. We then tacked on an additional $4,000 a year for general expenses such as supplies, travel insurance, and virtual mailbox service. This put our original budget at $40,000 per year ($36,000 + $4,000).

This budget included an average cost of $1,000 per month for lodging. After our experience with our Paris apartment, which you can read about in Lessons From Airbnb, we upped the lodging budget to $1,500 per month. This put our monthly budget at $3,500 and our annual budget at $46,000 ($42,000 + $4,000).

All costs are in U.S. dollars. It is important to note that we are only including expenses that relate directly to travel. The following items are not included:
Stateside medical insurance
Routine medications
Base cost of our cell phone plan
Storage of our possessions in the U.S.
Gifts

It is also important to note that we do not have many of the expenses of daily life that we had when we lived in the U.S.  We sold our home and our cars, so we don’t have insurance, maintenance, or property tax expenses. We have no mortgage, rent, or car payments. For the most part, we are spending the money we would have been living on in the U.S. on travel.

The French Pavilion at Versailles
Cut the grass or visit the French Pavilion at Versailles?
The Reality

2018 Costs by Category

CategoryCost
Food$11,500
Lodging
11,100
Transportation8,000

Activities4,000
Supplies1,800
Medical1,000
Office Related700
Telephone300
Other500
Total$38,900

Our 2018 travels included a fifteen-day Transatlantic cruise with five ports of call and stays in fifteen foreign cities over eight months. As you can see, we spent $38,900 (just under $4,900 per month) during these eight months. Annualized this comes to $58,300. This was $12,300 higher than our annual budget of $46,000.

This is where I should write about how bad we feel for going over budget and vow to do better. But we don’t feel bad.  If we were putting our finances in jeopardy we would be expressing remorse. Steve and I are working closely with a financial advisor and he’s not worried, so neither are we. We made some conscious choices to spend more in certain cases, and we made a few mistakes. The bottom line is we reached our level of comfort and it costs $58,300 per year.

Our style of travel was higher than backpacker level and definitely under luxury level. I would classify it as three-star. Our lodgings were clean and comfortable, often stylish, and almost always had a kitchen and a separate bedroom. Most of them had a clothes washer. Our meals were either cooked at home or eaten in mid-level restaurants.

That being said, I believe a couple could travel for a year on $40,000. However, it would not be three-star all the time and would not include a Transatlantic cruise.

Five people on a boardwalk
You can see sights like this one in Sitges, Spain for free
What These Expenses Include

Lodging – The cost of the cabin for the cruise is not included here.  The entire base cost of the cruise is included in transportation because we chose this method to get to Europe in lieu of flying.

Transportation – This includes all costs to get to each destination and fly back to the U.S. in November. It also includes the cost to travel within each city and the cost of a rental car for two weeks in Byala, Bulgaria.

Supplies – The largest cost here was a MacBook Air and accessories for $1,000. It is included as a travel cost because we would not have bought it if we weren’t traveling since we had a perfectly good desktop computer at home. This category also includes $350 for shoes and hiking boots. You can’t put a price tag on foot comfort. Clothing, in general, is not included, but if something was purchased specifically because we were traveling it is included. We also spent $54 to mail several items home from Strasbourg. According to other nomads, it is not uncommon to take too much when you start out.

Medical – This entire cost was for annual Medjet travel insurance coverage. This provides evacuation services in case of serious illness along with other protections. You can read a little about Medjet’s services in Travelers’ Little Helpers: Our Favorite Services and Apps or visit their website at https://medjetassist.com/. Vaccinations and medications needed for travel would be included here but we did not need any for this trip.

Office Related – The largest cost here was $199 for our annual virtual mailbox subscription and $34 for scanning overage charges. You can learn about this service at https://my.travelingmailbox.com/. We spent $125 for additional internet service on the ship. This was necessary since we were in the process of selling our house in the U.S. Website hosting for one year was $71, AAA membership was $66, and a Rosetta Stone subscription was $55. The remainder was for printing, postage, notary service, and office supplies.

Telephone  – This was for the purchase of SIM cards and any additional charges we incurred using our AT&T international day plan. It does not include our base cost for AT&T since this is not directly related to travel.

Other items  – We spent $200 for laundry for those times we did not have a washer available, $200 in currency exchange costs due to the dollar being weaker that the Euro, and $100 in money lost to theft.

Where We Went Over Budget

Three items in particular contributed to this overage: The cruise, our short trip to London, and moving around too much during the second half of our eight months abroad.

In deciding to take a two week cruise from the U.S. to Europe to begin our adventure we made the conscious choice to spend the extra money. Even though the cost of $4,300 for fifteen days was more than double our budget, we are glad we did it.

We opted for a cabin with a balcony and probably would not do that again. A couple of cruise company sponsored tours also added to our cost. Now we are confident enough to explore on our own. We thoroughly enjoyed our time on the ship and plan to do other one-way cruises again.

Two young women in traditional dress in Seville, Spain
Young women in Seville, Spain, one of our ports of call

In July our daughter Laura and her friend Ashley visited us as part of a two week tour of several European cities. We decided to take a short trip to London with them. The three night trip was fantastic and we look forward to seeing more of London. It was also extremely expensive. This short trip ended up costing $700 per day for a total of $2,100. This included $230 to reissue our Chunnel tickets because we missed the check in time. Ouch!

Tower Bridge and Jeff Goldblum statue
Jeff Goldblum and the Tower Bridge in London

Staying in Airbnb apartments for twenty-eight days or more provides deep discounts. We visited fifteen cities in these eight months not including the ports of call on the cruise. We spent twenty-eight days or more in five of them and were only slightly over budget for these five combined. Considering that two of them were in France, this was not bad at all.

Our stays in the other ten cities were shorter which drove up the daily cost of lodging. We also chose a few more expensive places like a sailboat in Lisbon.

Marina in Belem area of Lisbon
Our short-term home in Lisbon

Moving between cities also increased the transportation costs. We were able to use the very economical trains and buses in Portugal but opted for a personal driver when going from Bucharest, Romania  to Byala, Bulgaria. The total cost for this was $225 ($175 plus a $50 tip for our driver who went above and beyond in helping us sercure our rental car). We used the rental car for two weeks in Byala then drove it to Plovdiv, Bulgaria. The total cost including gas was $426.

Details for the Detail Oriented

2018 Costs by City

CityCountryTotal CostDaysCost per Day
Cruise U.S. to Spain$4,30015$287

BarcelonaSpain3,60031116
ParisFrance3,80028136
StrasbourgFrance3,70028132
LondonUK2,1003700
ZagrebCroatia3,20028114
BucharestRomania2,6002893
ByalaBulgaria1,80014129
PlovdivBulgaria1,7001894
SofiaBulgaria7005140
LisbonPortugal2,80014200
AvieroPortugal5003167
PortoPortugal7005140
SintraPortugal1,30010130
LagosPortugal5004125
FaroPortugal6004150
LisbonPortugal7004175
FlightTo U.S.8001800

General3,500
Totals$38,900
243$160

General costs include $1,700 for supplies, $1,000 for Medjet coverage, $500 for office related expenses including $200 related to our virtual mailbox, $200 for loss on exchange rates and $100 for international driving permits.

You Can Do This Too!

Right now you might be thinking that you could never afford to do this. Guess what? You probably can. We are in our early sixties and are living on money we have saved over forty years of marriage. But you don’t have to wait until your old(er) to travel the world.

Thanks to the Internet you can meet people of all ages who are living a nomad life. Some of them save up for a year or so of travel and others work on the road as digital nomads. You can certainly see many of the world’s wonders and have exciting experiences on considerably less than we spent.

If the idea of traveling full-time is appealing to you Google the heck out of it. There are so many resources that planning has never been easier.

What’s the worst that can happen? You spend all you money and return home with wonderful memories, funny stories, and far too many photos.

Bridge over a stream
Oh, the places you’ll go, the beauty you’ll see
Was It Worth It?

Absolutely!

I could say that you can’t put a price tag on the experiences we had, but I just did. We met wonderful people, were exposed to different ways of life, and saw sights that we had only read about. We made friends with several cats and ate way too much. History came to life, we enjoyed wonderful art in museums and on the street, and we learned the difference between Bucharest and Budapest.

These eight months have enriched our life beyond words and dollars. And that is really what this whole dream was about in the first place.

Steve and Linda at Plitvice Lakes National Park
Steve and me at Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Happy traveling,

Linda

 

 

Travelers’ Little Helpers: Our Favorite Services and Apps

There are many helpful services and apps that are making travel easier and more affordable than ever. Although we aren’t getting paid (yet) to publicize them, we want to share our favorites with you.

Accommodations
Airbnb

Since April 2018 we have stayed in fourteen Airbnbs. We got off to a rough start and were about to give up on Airbnb. Instead we learned to make it work for us. Read about our first year’s experiences here and get some helpful tips from Lessons From Airbnb.

With a monthly budget of $1,500 for accommodations we are able to get an apartment with a separate bedroom, a kitchen, and WiFi. There is usually a clothes washer, and we often have a balcony. At $50 per night this is the bargain of the century. Many hosts offer discounts for stays of more than 7 days, and even deeper discounts for stays of 28 days or longer. We find the site very easy to use, and we have had relatively good support.

Find the perfect place to stay with Airbnb.

Booking.com

For short stays and side trips we prefer booking three-star hotels since that does away with the need to coordinate check-in with an Airbnb host and we aren’t looking to set up house. In these cases we have used Booking.com and we have been very happy with them. They also offer apartment options similar to Airbnb and conversely Airbnb greatly expanded its hotel options in February 2018, although we have not booked a hotel though them yet. A little competition is a wonderful thing!

Booking.com has a loyalty program they call the genius program. It kicks in automatically after you have booked five reservations through them. The program gives you 10% off future bookings with properties that choose to participate as well as other perks like free airport transfers and late check-out. The discount percent increases as you book more.

Book a great accommodation at Booking.com and be the genius you always knew you were.

Transportation
Uber

We can’t say enough good things about Uber. Although we are big fans of public transportation, it isn’t always an option. With Uber we get door-to-door service, all done electronically. No payments to deal with at the end of the trip, no fumbling for tip money, no worries about being ripped off. In one year’s time we only had one billing problem. It was an overcharge due to a technical problem in the browser. By using the app’s help option we were able to quickly get a refund. And in case you didn’t know, Uber’s app will also let you schedule a ride for a later time.

Communication
Local SIM Cards

Our cell phone provider is AT&T. They have an international option that allows unlimited use for $10 per day, charged only if you use it at least once in a 24 hour period. That is fine for short trips. However, that would cost $600 per month for the use of two phones if we used it every day.

For longer trips our best option is a local SIM card. A quick online search tells us which providers are available in our location and what prepaid plans they offer. Plans can be as  short as one day or as long as one month. After we pick a provider and a plan we go directly to the store and have them insert and register our cards. Be aware that this requires an unlocked phone and ID. And for some reason we still don’t understand it can take up to an hour to get two cards installed.

Our average cost for a SIM card good for one month is $20 US. This includes data, SMS, and local calls. We have found it more economical to use our AT&T international plan when calling U.S. business.

WhattsApp Messenger

For personal calls to the U.S. we use WhattsApp. It is a free service owned by Facebook that you can use to send test messages and make voice and video calls.

Mail Service
Traveling Mailbox

One service we would be hard-pressed to do without is our mailbox service. Without it the best option would be to have mail sent to our daughter. She would then have to open it, scan it to us, forward items we need hard copies of, and deposit any checks received. Traveling Mailbox does all of this virtually. They notify us via email when we receive mail. We then log in to see our mail and tell them what we want done with it.

They will forward mail anywhere in the world and deposit checks for you. Both of these have small fees attached. There are several virtual mailbox providers, but when we researched them in the Spring of 2018 this was the best for our purposes. We have used them since then and couldn’t be happier with their service. This service costs us $199 per year and is definitely worth it.

Let Traveling Mailbox make your life easier.

Travel Insurance
Medjet Travel Insurance

Medjet is an air medical transport and travel security membership program with two tiers of coverage: Medjet Assist will transport you to a home-country hospital of your choice if you have a medical emergency while traveling. The insurance also covers the transfer of mortal remains. Medjet Horizon covers the above situations and adds guidance and evacuation services in cases of terrorism, natural disaster, political threat, pandemic, and violent crime. They also provide crisis response services if you are a victim of a crime such as kidnapping or extortion, or if you disappear. You can purchase coverage for one trip or for a full year.

Medjet offers a discount for AARP members. Our cost after the AARP discount for a full year of coverage with Medjet Horizon is $1,078 for both of us.

Explore your Medjet options here.

World Nomads Travel Insurance

World Nomads travel insurance comes highly recommended. We opted not to use them because some of their coverage would be duplicating coverage we have though our Chase Sapphire Credit Card. Their policies cover emergency medical and dental care in the country you are visiting as well as medical evacuation in certain cases. They will also transfer your mortal remains. World Nomad policies also include things like trip cancelation and delayed or lost luggage coverage.

Learn what World Nomads can do for you.

On-The-Go Apps
Currency Converter

We use the free My Currency Converter & Rates app by jRuston Apps but a quick look at the App Store shows that there are many to choose from. This is indispensable when grocery shopping and eating out. You can quickly see that your 80,140 pesos meal in Colombia costs you only $25.60 US.

Google Translate

We try hard to learn basic phrases in the local language, but sometimes we just have to resort to an online translator. As with the currency converter there are many apps to choose from. We like that Google Translate allows you to type, speak, or take a photo to get a translation. We have found the photo option is very helpful for translating cooking directions.

Google Maps

Of course when you are traveling in a new city you need a map. Our go-to is Google Maps. However we did have some problems using it in Europe. It would often reroute us, thereby sending us in circles. The lack of street signs in some European cities added to the problem. We have learned to carry a paper map and when possible we plan the trip before we leave home so we have a mental picture of where we are going. Google Maps seems to be working better in Latin America.

Bank Cards
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

This card is on many lists as one of the top cards for worldwide travel. While I can’t compare it to other cards, we have been very happy with this card. It has a great sign-up bonus, no foreign transaction fees, and offers double points on all travel and restaurant spending. There is a $95 annual fee, but if you use this card for virtually all your purchases you will get so much more back in rewards. Reward points used for travel are valued at 1.25% so you get an even greater benefit.

A note about our thoughts on credit cards. Many years ago we discovered finance guru Dave Ramsey and worked hard to become debt free. This is the main reason we were able to retire early and travel full-time. One cornerstone of his program is using cash for all purchases. The main reasons are that with cash you can only spend what you have and research has shown that people spend more when they use credit cards as discussed in the article from Forbes.

We have now switched to using the Chase card. By using our card we get an accurate record of our expenses. We have found that when we use cash while traveling we often can’t account for all of it. You would think it would be simple to keep a record of cash expenditures, but being in an unfamiliar environment and not speaking the language means we often fail to get a receipt or record what we spend while we are on the go.

Because I keep a careful record of our spending, comparing our ongoing costs with our budget, and I pay the balance every week, we are not putting ourselves in the position of getting back into debt.

Find the perfect Chase credit card for you.

Other Bank Cards

The Chase Sapphire card is our primary card but we also carry a AAA MasterCard, a Chase debit card for withdrawing cash, and the debit card from our credit union in Jacksonville, Florida. We are very careful not to carry all the cards in one place in case of loss or theft.

Happy traveling!

Linda

 

 

Lessons From Airbnb

In this post I will share some of our Airbnb experiences and the lessons we learned from them. If you are in a hurry you can scroll to the bottom to see the summarized list.

During the eight months that we traveled in 2018, we stayed in twelve Airbnbs. The option to rent apartments at reasonable rates helps make full-time travel affordable. While Airbnb is not the only place to book short-term accommodations, it is probably the most well-known. We have relied on it and continue to do so. However, it was not without some bumps. One host misrepresented his apartment, leaving us with a curtain in place of a bathroom door. Another host canceled our reservation 11 days before our arrival date. But possibly the strangest thing was the solid block of ice in the freezer in our rental in Croatia. Despite these and some other issues, we learned to make Airbnb work for us, and you can too.

A Not So Smooth Start

After our first three months on the road, we were losing faith in our go-to accommodation booking site, Airbnb. We were initially drawn to Airbnb because of the wide range of choices worldwide and the fact that many hosts offer deep discounts for stays of 28 days or more. This fit in perfectly with our plans to spend one month in each location.

We got off to a less than promising start. Our first booking was an apartment in Barcelona. It was an instant book. Just push the button and your stay is scheduled. So we booked it and immediately posted this milestone to Facebook. We were on our way!

The next day we got a message from Manuel, the host, saying the price was wrong. He didn’t name a new price but asked us to make an offer. We said no and asked him to cancel the reservation. If you cancel an Airbnb reservation of 28 days or more (long-term in Airbnb land) you are liable for the first month’s fee. But Manuel wouldn’t budge.

After waiting several days for Manuel to cancel the reservation I called Airbnb and they said the best thing was for us to cancel and there would be no penalty.

With that taken care of we were able to book another apartment in Barcelona for $500 more than the first one. It had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a small balcony, and I kid you not, a washing machine on the rooftop patio.

Lesson learned – do not instant book.

We now communicate with the host before booking. We verify the dates and price and ask any questions about the accommodation at this time.

Barcelona Airbnb living room
The living room of our apartment in Barcelona. For $1,600 US it was safe and clean, but nothing special.
Barcelona Airbnb patio
Our tiny balcony in Barcelona. Hedgie loved watching the action from up there.
Next Stop – Paris

We were so excited to find a studio for $1,000 US per month. From the description, we knew it was small and we knew that $1,000 per month was very inexpensive for Paris. We planned to spend two months in Paris, so we grabbed this baby. The minute we walked in we knew that there was no way we could spend two months there.

There is small, and there is microscopic. The whole place was about 100 square feet. In addition, two things in the posting were misleading. First, there was a picture of a Murphy bed with shelving on either side. There was a Murphy bed, but no shelving because there wasn’t room for any. Second, there was a review stating that the bathroom didn’t have a door, with a reply from the host saying there was a door. Unless door has a different meaning in France this was a lie. There was a curtain separating the bathroom/kitchen area from the living/sleeping area. And it didn’t even go all the way across. Because of these two issues, the host agreed to let us out of the second month without penalty.

Paris Airbnb bathroom
The bathroom area in our Paris apartment. Note the tiny sink above the toilet. It did have an amazing shower though.
Paris Airbnb foldable table and chair
A foldable table and chair that became my early morning workplace while Steve slept.

Lesson learned – never book a place for more than one month. We can tolerate most places for that long.

Second lesson learned – always verify that there is a door on the bathroom. Only half kidding here.

Now What?

With the second month’s Paris lodging canceled we decided to go to Strasbourg, France for one month. We had to scramble because it was tourist season, but we found a place. We practiced the first lesson by communicating with the host before booking and came to an agreement with the host.

Eleven days before we were scheduled to arrive she asked for an increase of 54%. We said no. She replied by saying we should cancel the booking. She wanted to avoid the penalties Airbnb imposes on hosts when they cancel a reservation. These include financial penalties and a review stating that the host canceled. We told her that since she had changed the terms she would have to cancel it, which she eventually did.

I was surprised that she did not get a review that said she had canceled. When I asked Airbnb support about this they said they didn’t post a review about her canceling because she had a good history. Great way to support your customers, Airbnb.

We ended up finding a place in Strasbourg that turned out to be nearly perfect. It was clean, spacious, and uncluttered. It was a little higher than our budget but we were happy to pay the difference because it had a real door on the bathroom. Even if it was a sliding door that tended to open on a whim, requiring the use of a doorstop to guarantee privacy.

Lesson learned – do not book with any host whose comments show that they canceled a reservation unless the host provides a good reason.

We realize that emergencies happen. Airbnb gives hosts the option of responding to a cancellation post. If they don’t respond we can only assume that they did not have a very good reason to cancel on a past guest.

Airbnb in Our Future

During this time we had three more reservations booked through Airbnb, two of them long-term. We were feeling a little trapped but knew we had to make the best of it. I am happy to report that all these apartments had good, solid bathroom doors. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t other issues.

The next stay was three nights in London. We found what appeared to be a lovely two-bedroom flat, but it turned out to be quite dirty. The problems included food left in the sink, odor in the refrigerator, mold in the shower, stains on a curtain, and cooking supplies that belonged in the garbage.

London Airbnb curtain
Stains on a curtain in our London rental. Yuck!

I immediately messaged the host to let him know. I suggested he might want to see the apartment’s condition since he worked only two doors away. He did not respond to this. He did offer to have the cleaning crew come back. We declined. Since we only had two full days in London we didn’t want to spend them waiting for and watching cleaners and we weren’t comfortable leaving them with our belongings. And what assurance did we have that they would do a better job since he was not taking responsibility to check on them?

Since it was a short stay we decided to make the best of it. Because of the condition of the kitchen, we ate all meals out. Oh, darn! We were amused that his review of us included that “the apartment was returned clean and tidy”. What?????

No new lesson here. Sometimes you just chalk it up to experience and move on.

On to Zagreb, Croatia

Our next stop was Zagreb, Croatia. We booked a spacious apartment for only $813 US. It had air conditioning and was relatively clean and very comfortable. And it had a real door on the bathroom. There was only one problem, a solid block of ice in the freezer.

Zagreb Airbnb block of ice in freezer
At least the freezer was nice and cold.

We were shown into the apartment by Mladen, a friend of our host. He did not speak English, and we don’t speak Croatian. Steve set about looking around the apartment. He opened the freezer door and saw the ice. Mladen quickly ran over signally “no” and firmly shut the door. OK, so we didn’t have use of the freezer, no big deal.

Shortly after he left we had a message from our host telling us that we must not use the freezer to cool the apartment and if the refrigerator breaks we will be charged for it.

The next day Steve offered to defrost the freezer. Our host’s response was quite chilly. She told Steve not to touch it. She ended up sending Mladen over to take care of it. It turned out the entire freezer was a block of ice, so this problem had been going on for a while. We couldn’t understand why it wasn’t taken care of earlier.

Aside from this issue we had a great stay in this apartment and managed to put this issue behind us when dealing with our host.

Lesson learned – take pictures of any problem areas as soon as you arrive, and discuss the big ones with the host.

We’ve actually been doing this from the beginning. The other thing we do is take pictures before we move any items so we can put them back before we leave.

Lesson reinforced – You can’t make this stuff up.

Discovering Superhosts

While in Zagreb we took a side trip to Split, a small beach town on the Adriatic Sea. This time we rented from a Superhost. We were there for three nights and this was a wonderful Airbnb experience.

Superhosts are Airbnb hosts who have met several requirements including receiving high scores from guests, having no cancellations by the host except in extreme cases, and having a high rate of response to inquiries.

Lesson learned – Rent from Superhosts whenever possible. You may still encounter a problem, but it is less likely.

All’s Well That End Well

The seventh apartment we stayed in was in Bucharest, Romania. The host of this one was not a Superhost because we booked it before we instituted that policy. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a very good stay. The apartment was as advertised and the host was readily available even though she was out of the country. And the bathroom had a real door. We were on quite a roll.

During the rest of the year, we stayed in six more Airbnbs including a sailboat in Lisbon. All but one host was a Superhost.  Except for some mild seasickness on the boat, all of these stays were wonderful.

Lisbon Airbnb sailboat
Our temporary floating home in Lisbon.
On deck of Lisbon Airbnb sailboat
Hedgie settling into life at sea.
The Big Lesson

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. We got off to a less than great start with Airbnb, but it has some serious pluses for long-term travelers. It offers affordable places to stay, it has a very user-friendly search experience, and it has very good support response.

Through trial and error, we learned to make Airbnb work for us and you can too by using these five rules:

1. Do not instant book. Communicate with the host before booking to verify the dates and price and get answers to any questions or concerns you have.

2. Do not book one place for a longer period of time for which you can deal with a less than ideal situation. For us it’s one month, for you it might be different.

3. Avoid hosts who have unexplained cancellations.

4. Document problems upon arrival.

5. Book with Superhosts whenever possible.

Happy traveling!
Linda