How Much Does it Cost to Travel Around the World – May 2012 summary

Each month we provide a monthly summary of our expenses during our trip around the world. We’ve documented every dollar, yuan, and bhat spent on our journey to help you see how affordable RTW travel by showing you how we break down our expenses. To follow along on our travels and receive guidance to follow your own dream, click here to get our weekly newsletter

Holy crap, we’ve been on the road for 20 months. I don’t know why, but there are just some moments that make us stop and shake our heads in surprise that we’ve been living this dream for over 1.5 years.

We spent all of May in China, enjoying a few thousand kilometers of train travel (seriously, we love the trains here) across the country and arriving in Beijing. During our trip north we found that the accommodation prices have steadily risen. While not high by the standard of Europe or America, we have seen a 50% increase in room costs from our first stop in the Yunnan province and Beijing. Here in Beijing we’re currently paying $36/night for a small apartment. It turns out that renting an apartment for 3 weeks enabled us to negotiate a lower price and save about $5/night over the local hostels. As we all know when traveling, every little bit helps.

In May we saw our expenses jump up from April, due primarily to our high priced train travel and getting our Russian visas. When we left from Chengdu to Beijing our goal was to get hard sleeper beds (which actually are much nicer and softer than the name implies). However, when we went to buy the tickets we discovered that not only is this a very popular route but it seems that travel agents buy up all the tickets in advance so you have to pay a premium. Instead, we ended up spending an additional $120 (which was almost double what we expected) to get the only available option for our 13 hour trip. Alas, when traveling in China it is always an experience of discovery and new lessons learned.

In news that makes us scream with delight, we were able to get our much anticipated and much worried over visas to visit Russia. The total was $286 for both visas, which is a steep price to pay for a 30 day visa, but given that it is a dream destination for us we decided we could not skip the opportunity.

Otherwise, our numbers continue to stay well under budget, which is good as we gear up for the most expensive part of this 18,000km over-land journey to Portugal. Follow along through our website to see how we progress while we keep track of our expenses here. It is sure to be an exciting experience each step of the way.

Let’s Get to the Numbers

  • Total spending to date (for entire trip) through May 2012: $38,836
  • Total spending for May 2012: $2,263
  • Daily average for May 2012: $73.01
  • Overall daily average (20 months on the road): $63.88

Expense Breakdown:

Frequently Asked Questions:

Over the course of providing these monthly spending reports, we’ve received a lot of questions and requests for clarification on our spending and finances. In order to spread the answers to more of you we’ll start including one each month here.

Why did you spend so much in Thailand (or insert any other country here)? Don’t you know you way over-paid?

This is one of the most annoying questions we’ve received, and it also happens to be one of the most frequent we’ve fielded since publishing our first report. In fact, it has been shocking just how many people feel it is their duty to write in to tell us just how crazy we are for spending $20/night on a room when they were able to sleep for just $3/night and ate on less than a $1/day. Well, at the risk of sounding insensitive, who the hell cares???

Travel, like life, is not a competition. We all travel according to our own styles, plans, dreams, goals and desires. What works for one person will not fit everyone else. We publish our spending information here as a guide and try to be as transparent as possible to help others who may be exploring a trip of their own. However, if you love to camp or sleep in luxury hotels your costs are sure to be different, but at least you’ll have a baseline to start with through this information. We promise not to judge you regardless of your style or plans, but will instead be extremely excited that you got out there and followed your dream.


  1. I found the who the hell cares line really funny.

    I did not see the cost of the China visa in the past post how did it compare to the Russian one?

    • Hey Keith,
      Glad you you enjoyed the line. I let a bit of my unfiltered thoughts in there.

      Our Chinese visa costs were reported back in March. Turns out they are the same price at $140/person. The biggest difference is we received a 6 month visa for China compared with 1 month in Russia.

  2. Hi!

    I just read your book “Dream, Save, Do”. Thanks for the free download! Am I wrong to assume that your budget is 100 USD per day as a couple, meaning $50 per day per person? I am trying to see if your budget is feasible for me and my husband. Thanks in advance for your reply.

    Happy wandering!


    • Hi April,
      We’re so delighted to hear you liked Dream Save Do. We’d love to hear your thoughts either in email or on an Amazon review as we enjoy knowing what resonated with you and to hear about your own dream.

      The budget figure of $100/day is for both of us. Since there is no way or reason for us to break many of the expenses down (meals, hotel, etc) we budget it all together as a couple. Clearly coming up with your own budget will be a combination of speed, style, and locations. However, after 20 months I do believe that $100/day is a good starting point and adjusting up/down based on your circumstances.

  3. following this. Just curious but is the $0 water because it’s included with food..I understand you can’t drink the water in China (and need to buy bottled)..also, for food, is that all eating out or did you get to cook your own in any lodging (was there a stove?). Thanks!

    • Hey Joanna,
      Great to hear from you. The water is actually below a dollar because we purchased 2 bottles of water that cost less than $0.50. However, because I round off the cents it shows up like this. For our time in China we have gotten great use of our Steripen as we hate to buy bottled water. However, there are occasions you just need a cool drink in the city.

      As for food, virtually all of this is eating out. We do buy some fruit/veggies to eat in the room but generally have not had kitchens in the hostels in China. Our new apartment here in Beijing does have one and we’re using it a bit more.

  4. Thank you! I’m so glad you wrote that last bit…I find it really frustrating that the travel community considers it a competition to see who can a) pack less stuff and b) spend less money. It does a disservice to newbie travelers, who think they should stay in the cheapest rat hole and leave their floss at home–neither of which is true.

    Well said!

    • Hi Gigi,
      I know exactly what you mean. It can be off-putting and discouraging when people try and tell you that you are not traveling in the “ideal way” (aka their way). The truth is there is no right way to travel, only getting out there and seeing the world. Whether you’re sleeping with the rats or have caviar beside your bed, go see the world if that is your dream. I promise not to judge you for it, but instead will be cheering you on every pillow topped mattress or flea ridden cot of the way.

  5. Nice to see a new report. I am glad you two enjoyed my homeland travel. As u say, some travel agents buy the train tickets and sell with illegal profit. Most of time, we buy the tickets approved agent by rail way company. U any have to pay 5 yuan surcharge.

    Btw, when are u going to Russia? Do u take the train from Beijing to Russia or by air? Do u plan to travel Mongolia?

    • Hey Tim,
      Great to hear from you and I’m so happy you reached out. We happen to be in Mongolia right now. We are taking a break to shower and check email in UB before heading back out to the country to see more of the country and meet more of the people. Then, on July 14th, we head north on the Trans-Mongolian to catch the Trans-Siberian across Russia. So many exciting places to visit.

  6. Jonathan says:

    I was doing research about a trip this large for some friends and myself. We want to start from U.k to Kazakstan to Mongolia to China to Thailand on motorcycle. Based on your experience with some of those countries, do you think a trip like this can be done with $15K in 3 months?

    • Hi Jonathan,
      What an exciting adventure you have planned. We just met a couple who is buying motorcycles here in Mongolia and plan to travel around for a couple months. The idea has us both thinking about riding bikes, though we both admit having zero experience. But the concept of all you could see doing a trip like this has us considering stepping outside our comfort zone.

      Depending on how you travel, $15k is far more than you would need for such a trip. We will spend less than that for the 2 of us in 6 months on the road, which includes all our transportation costs (primarily buses & trains). If this is a per person figure then I would expect you could do this for less than half this amount. The expenses will be highest at the start of your trip and then plummet once you get to China and Thailand. If you choose to camp at all then the figure would go down even further. I can’t speak to petrol prices specifically, but expect these would be a key difference but likely still less than our bus/train tickets.

      Please let us know about your trip as it would be great to follow along and get inspired to climb on bikes ourselves. Our interest is certainly piqued.

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