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Posted by on Mar 10, 2013

How Do We Afford to Travel the World?


Warning – this is a long post, but worth the read for anyone dreaming of traveling…

We’re 55 days into our Round the World trip and no closer to knowing where this journey will take us. Almost everything we thought would happen when we first planned our trip has been scrapped, changed or is in a holding pattern. That’s what this time is about though, right?  The journey, not necessarily the destination.

Our time in Cambodia is almost halfway over – a month and a half gone with the blink of an eye. When we initially schemed about traveling long-term, Cambodia wasn’t even on the list of countries we were planning to visit. But we’ll most likely end up spending more time here than anywhere else. Had we not stumbled upon a volunteer program in SE Asia, we would have missed out on a number of rich experiences in a country that has really endeared itself to us time and again (most of which Dave has been chronicling in his Random Thoughts posts).

However, this post isn’t to wax poetic on our experiences. It’s a practical look back on how we’ve managed so far and what’s ahead. We have already met people from all over the world who are on 2-week, 2-month or 2-year holidays. We have learned about people’s dreams and desires to travel longer, farther and be more connected to the places they’re seeing.

This post is to tell you it’s possible. Your travel dreams and far-flung ideas can become a reality. Whether it’s traveling the world or hopping a flight for spring break, you can make it happen with a little foresight. As we were planning, I scoured blogs of other travelers to understand budgets, steal spreadsheets and map out our finances to make sure we could make it happen. Here is my attempt to give back to the travel community and those plotting their own dreams.

If we would have stuck to our original plan, we would have never seen the temples at Angkor.

If we would have stuck to our original plan, we would have never seen the temples at Angkor.

How Much Does it Cost?

A big caveat as you read this – we are not backpackers. We don’t usually stay in hostels or eat all our meals from street vendors. We do stay in moderately priced guesthouses, hotels or apartment rentals and spend way too much money on food and drinks.  We saved a lot of money for this trip and while we live within our means, we don’t need to scrape by (yet!). I’ve tracked every dollar, baht and riel we have spent so we always have a pulse on where we stand financially.

Our first two months were a mix of pure travel and of settling into volunteer life in Cambodia. We have splurged on some things (case of wine anyone?), but overall have come in under budget compared to what we thought we’d spend. We are budgeting the easy way and planning $125 a day across our entire trip, knowing that some countries will cost much less and many will cost much more.


We traveled for 21 days throughout Thailand and spent an average of $96 a day, which included two inter-country flights and all of our daily travel costs. Not factoring in the in-country flights, we spent $80 a day.


We landed in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to begin a three-month volunteer assignment. We spent a bit of money up front renting an apartment, buying a few necessities for daily apartment life and also made a long weekend trip to see Angkor Wat, which included a one-way in-country flight. Even with all those costs, we spent $94 a day. Not factoring in the in-country flight and our visa costs, we spent $86 a day. Being based in Phnom Penh is more expensive than living in rural Cambodia and we do take advantage of some western amenities from time to time.

Total for Two Months

We’ve spent $4,690 in two months of traveling, broken down as follows:

  • Lodging – $1,507
  • Food & (way too many) beverages – $1,382
  • Inter-country flights – $525
  • Misc (apartment things, toiletries, souvenirs, and lots of randomness) – $482
  • Sightseeing (entrance fees, guides, tours) – $409
  • Visas – $50
  • International flights – $0 (more on that below)

Hands down we would have spent more in two months living our “real lives” in California then we have traveling.

Our costs for March and April should be lower. We won’t be taking any flights and our up-front living costs in Phnom Penh are behind us. A few upcoming weekends away to celebrate our five-year anniversary and Khmer New Year will impact the budget a bit, but not significantly.

Here’s the biggest catch regarding our budget: we have yet to pay for an international flight and don’t intend to until possibly August, which is 8 months into our trip. Our volunteer program covered our initial flight abroad and covers a return ticket, which we’re using to continue onward.

What’s Ahead?


Just like these kids, we'll keep on truckin' soon.

Just like these kids, we’ll keep on truckin’ soon.

We leave Cambodia on April 29 headed to Tokyo, Japan. Our flight connects through Shanghai, China and due to new visitor exceptions in China, we can stay in Shanghai visa-free for up to 72 hours. We’ll take advantage of seeing a bit of China before eventually arriving in Tokyo on May 2. This entire flight is our “return” ticket with our volunteer program so it’s free.

On May 18, we’ll depart Tokyo for Christchurch, New Zealand flying on miles from our United account. After a month in New Zealand, we’ll head to Australia (again using miles).  Sometime in late July or early August, we’ll make our way to London where we’ll meet up with Dave’s parents for a cruise through the Fjords in Norway.

We have a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card that earns us double points on travel and dining purchases and has no foreign transaction fees. The Chase points can be transferred to our United account, so it’s likely we’ll be able to use miles for the long Australia to London flight. The geek in me is so excited about saving money on flights, which could otherwise quickly eat away at our budget. Sure we pay a few fees for the mileage tickets, but they’re insignificant given the costs of international flights.

What’s Changed?

Everything. Our initial plan had us starting in Maui, on to New Zealand and Australia and then maybe to Thailand and Vietnam before heading east. Instead, we started in Thailand, are living in Cambodia and will visit China and Japan before finally making our way Down Under. Having flexibility and not being locked into airline tickets has given us the freedom to really explore places we never even considered. Our travel timeline now puts us in New Zealand and Australia in the off-season, which will save us money in these expensive countries.

We’re really looking forward to our next month and a half in Cambodia. We’ll explore some of the southern coast as well as Koh Kong, the western province that borders Thailand. We’re also anxiously awaiting our next long-haul flight and the opportunity to see another country.

If you’ve been to Shanghai, Tokyo or the mountains near Mt. Fuji – we’d love your recommendations. We can’t wait for some real hiking!

For fellow travelers, I hope a peek into how we’re making our dream come true helped you in some way. Happy planning!









  1. You amaze me with each post I read! I miss you terribly but with each post I feel an excitement for life that I know I will only experience thru you. Enjoy and be safe!

    Love you,

    • You can experience it too! 🙂

  2. Hi Jill_ It was wonderful to see both you and Dave the other night via Skype. I love to read each and every post.

    I know that you said that you had originally planned for this trip to start in Hawaii, but July 2014 can be that ending spot!!!!! A family trip to Oahu for a 5-6 night stay!!!!!!!!! Stacie and I have started a plan and are looking into houses on the east side of the island! My kids are soooooooooo excited because we started to talk about this trip shortly after my mom passed away! I am hoping that you and Dave will strongly consider this trip and let us keep you updated on our findings!

    Love you lots. Take care!


    • We’ll keep it in mind! We have a couple of bar/bat mitzvah gifts we’ve promised and it may be a trip to Hawaii…we’ll see!! Great to talk to you all – miss you!

  3. Such a fantastic post. I really appreciate that you’re willing to share all of the nitty-gritty details with your readers. You’re offering hope to a whole lot of would-be world travelers!

    • Thank you Jennifer. I feel so lucky to be traveling, I want others to be able to do it too!

  4. Thanks for sharing! I’ve been wanting to message you about volunteering abroad, as I’ve been looking into a bunch of different programs lately. This post and the post with volunteer tips have been super helpful! I love reading your blog, seeing pics, and hearing about all your travel adventures! Enjoy your next adventure over the next couple of weeks!

    • Christina – I’d be happy to talk more about volunteering and share anything I can with you. It’s so well worth it in so many ways! Thanks for all the positive feedback!