How long can I travel for?

Sitting on the bus from Cork to Dublin, I got to thinking about a recent discussion I had with fellow traveller and blogger Elizabeth the Island Enthusiast about the different ways of calculating how long you can travel for – whether for a quick jaunt, extended – or even permanent – travel.

Short term

The most common way of budgeting for a short trip (of a weekend to several months) is to allow for transportation (flights, bus/train tickets etc.) to and from your destination, and then a certain amount per day.

Nomadic Matt has an excellent book How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. So if you were planning a month-long trip on a budget of $50 (USD) a day, it would be a relatively simple matter of multiplying 30 by $50 (or the equivalent in your currency): $1,500 + your airfares there and back (don’t forget to allow for travel insurance as well!)

Method 1: Plan the trip you want to take and save

Use sites like Lonely Planet (just click on the location you’re interested in and then choose ‘Money and Costs’ for an estimate) to calculate the total you’ll need to save for the time you want to spend in the place you want to go. Be savvy in your use of these estimates.

For example, using AirBnB and cooking most of your own food, it may be possible to spend well under the 60 Euro a day Lonely Planet lists as typical for a ‘budget’ day in Greece. If you’re sharing a double room in a hotel, there is no need for each of you to budget 100 Euro per day for a ‘midrange’ day either.

Method 2: Escape now!

If you’re itching to go, check out a list like Nomadic Matt’s Five Destinations Under 30 (US) Dollars Per Day and divide your current savings by that amount.

For example, as $1 USD is currently around $1.30 AUD (use xe.com for current conversion rates), the $20 daily amount listed for Thailand would be around $26 AUD. If you had $1,000 in savings, you could escape to Thailand for a bit over a month (+ airfares and insurance).

Medium term

If you’re planning an even longer trip (say, a ‘gap year’) retirement planning calculations can come in handy.

While many retirees, young or old, plan a world trip, the same kinds of calculations used to figure out how long your savings, pension, or superannuation will last can be useful in considering how long you can travel for at any age or life stage.

Both in retirement, and in extended travel, you’re giving up work for a long period of time (until either the trip ends or you do!), and during that period, you still need money to cover your expenses.

If you’re planning on taking a gap year or an extended holiday, retirement calculators can be used to figure out approximately how long your money might last, taking into consideration the fact that (hopefully) the money you have saved and invested will be generating some returns while you’re away.

For shorter holidays, this level of detail generally isn’t necessary, as (unless you are mega wealthy, in which case you probably won’t be worried about this anyway!) the returns you receive won’t be particularly substantial.

Retirement calculators work differently to the normal savings calculators you might have access to on your bank’s website in that they assume that you will be making withdrawals (to pay for accommodation, food etc.) rather than deposits.

Simply plug in your current (or target) savings balance, proposed monthly withdrawals (e.g. $1,000 for Thailand) any increases in withdrawals you foresee (e.g. in line with inflation in the country you will be visiting), the returns you are receiving on your investments, your tax rate, and whether you will make the withdrawals monthly or annually.

For example, $30,000 withdrawn at a rate of $1,000 a month could (depending on inflation, tax, and return rates, but using the defaults given) last for 32 months rather than 30.

Forever!

Alternatively, depending on your rate of saving and spending, it can be possible to save and invest enough that you will be able to travel using the interest and (theoretically at least) be able to finance your travels forever. Paul Tehorst, author of Cashing in on the American Dream: How to Retire at 35 and his wife, Vicki, have been doing this for the last 30 years!

The Early Retirement Extreme wiki details this concept, showing how savings of $200,000-$500,000 may be sufficient (depending on your levels of self-reliance and frugality) to retire early, leaving you free to travel the world, if that’s your bag. Mr. Money Mustache has a great table outlining withdrawal rates and target savings.

For example, for expenses of $15,000 a year, at a safe withdrawal rate of 3%, you might save up $500,000, or, for the older retiree using a withdrawal rate of 4%, $375,000 may suffice.

Short on cash?

If indefinite or permanent travel appeals to you, but you don’t have the stash of cash, another alternative (equally applicable to the medium-term traveler) is to travel and work. You might do this teaching English (or another language), or if you have an online business, you may be able to work remotely. If you own your own home, don’t forget to factor in the income you could earn from renting your place out (which we’re doing to help finance our current travels).

Regardless of how long you are travelling for, and which method you choose, it is essential to have a buffer. Good travel insurance is a must, and having enough money to take a taxi if you need to get out of a sticky situation, to book a hotel at the last minute if your plans fall through, to buy airfares home if you suddenly need to return, is vital, no matter your budget.

Things can and do go wrong on the road, and having a cushion of money beyond the amount you plan to spend on day-to-day essentials can help overcome this.

Earlier this year, when we were in Fiji and Cyclone Winston struck (an experience I recently wrote about in a guest post on Elizabeth’s blog), our spending blew out when we took an evacuation boat back to the mainland and had to take whatever we could get in the way of accommodation. At first, we stayed in a dormitory, but after that, we were placed in a luxury apartment, which was considerably more than we were planning on spending. Of course, all of the ‘luxuries’ of airconditioning, widescreen TV, full kitchen and so on were not functioning given the lack of electricity or clean/hot water following the cyclone, but we certainly weren’t complaining.

Our travelling party was fortunate in that we had enough spare cash to cover these expenses, plus dining at the hotel restaurant most nights, where the staff used kerosene lamps and stoves to cook. Normally, we would have cooked for ourselves or eaten out at more modest eateries, but given the curfew and the closure of most businesses, this wasn’t a possibility in the immediate aftermath.

Others weren’t as fortunate – backpackers already travelling on a shoestring whose flights were cancelled panicked about the additional days of unexpected accommodation to pay for, and came to the restaurant for hot water to put on their noodles.

This experience highlighted to me the importance of having a backup plan – and of learning to cook in what can be quite constrained conditions. (I started to get quite inventive with non-instant-noodle foods that can be prepared in a hotel room – something I’m writing a book on at the moment!)

What are your travel dreams?

Calculate how long you can travel for – short, medium or long-term!

Today’s featured image is from Blarney Castle, where kissing the Blarney Stone (listed on the Discovery Channel’s 99 things you must do before you die) is said to give you the ‘gift of the gab’.

BlarneyCastle

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6 thoughts on “How long can I travel for?

  1. good story Sarah, I recommend having a back up plan for extra cash / bank account amounts just in case of disasters, budget blow out on motels, health issues + the list goes on forever especially if you are ” getting old”. 50 USD a day in the US usually means living in a dorm with 6 other strangers or flea pit and little food let alone riding the Greyhound bus. Have you done the Big Mac price check in the countries you are travelling yet, it was done many tears ago by a traveller to compare the actual product { bigmac burger} to compare money values in different countries, and scandanavian countries were the major winner in expensive junk food. bit like the shilling cake costs way more. bye for now pete the plumber.

    1. Thanks for your comment Pete, and I fully agree about the necessity of a back up plan with extra cash and extra bank accounts.
      You’re right that $50 a day is not a big budget by any stretch of the imagination in countries like the US. Nomadic Matt works on the principle of averaging – in some countries, it’s possible to live well on $50 a day, and to get by on around half of this amount (see http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/five-destinations-under-30-dollars-per-day/)? – in others, as you point out, it costs a lot more. (Norway, in our recent experience, was an example of this). Matt supplements his expensive travels with longer periods in cheaper countries so it averages out to around $50 a day.
      Thanks for bringing up the Big Mac Index – I must write about that in the future!! ??

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