By Gretchen Richter de Medeiros
When we first started thinking about doing a RTW trip, the biggest question in my mind – even before “where should we go?” – was “what will it cost?” I had traveled extensively in my 20s, Rodrigo and I had done a few international trips together, and we’d just finished a 6-week family journey to Brazil, but I’d never planned any trip this scale. 11 months. 5 people. 3 continents.
Being a bit on the OCD side about money, I did have good financial records from these trips as a basis to start my budget. I spent a lot of time reading other family’s RTW sites; two that come to mind are Six in the World and The Nomadic Family (although now I’m enamored with Travel Junkies because that family is about as detailed as me in record keeping, and they’re sharing!). BootsNAll gave me another perspective on what to expect, especially for RTW airline tickets and longer-term lodging. To round out my research, I combed through traditional travel guides like Lonely Planet and Rick Steves’ Europe (these specifically because their travel philosophy is much like ours: we don’t need frills, but we do want to be safe, healthy, and “local”).
By mid-2012 I’d landed on a figure. And then I added 20%. Because I’ve managed enough software projects (plus a major kitchen remodel) to know that no matter how excellent a planner you are you’re going to hit unexpected costs, and some of your projections are going to be wrong. And when I told Rodrigo our number, he freaked... just a little bit.
Here are some of the guesstimates and rules-of-thumb that we're using. We'll make adjustments as we go along to fine-tune the upcoming months' worth of travel. I'll post country-reports to keep you all updated on how we're doing. Hopefully this series of posts will let us pay it forward to other families who are planning their own RTW adventure.
* Lodging: $1000 per week
* Transportation: $150 per week
* Food: $400 per week
* Entertainment/Education/Museums: $125 per week
* Special Experiences/Excursions (e.g. hiking the Inca Trail): $1500
I reduced the guesstimates for lodging and transportation for our three months in Brazil by 50%. Happily, friends and family have hosted us for several weeks, and we have use of a car for the price of the gasoline we use. Being in one place for such a long time also helped keep food costs down; it's a lot easier to maximize your grocery-dollars when you have a real kitchen, can plan multiple-days-worth of meals, and have a full-sized refrigerator for leftovers.
We used the same numbers for Africa as we used for South America, with the giant exception of "Special Experiences/Excursions". One of the main reasons South Africa's on our itinerary is to see wildlife, so we looked in to several not-glamping-but-also-not-camping Safari options. Not surprisingly, a Safari will be one of the most expensive things we do all year.
* Special Experiences/Excursions (e.g. Safari): $15,000
* Lodging: $1,250 per week
* For more expensive countries like France and the UK, $2,500 per week
* Transportation: $250 per week
* Food: $500 per week
* Entertainment/Education/Museums: $250 per week
* Special Experiences/Excursions (e.g. language school in France): $3000
* $1000 per person
* $3500 per person
* Backpacks and other luggage: $600
* Computers and other personal devices, (e.g. Kindle, Nook) $4000
* Photography equipment: $1500
I'm all about the buffers, so I've squirreled away a chunk of savings to live on when we return and before we get jobs again.
Looking back on all of this with almost 5 months of travel under our belts, I see the things I left out of the original budget such as on-the-road medical expenses, toiletries, and the monthly payment to our property managers. Our transportation numbers for South America were off because we rented cars and road-tripped more than we thought we would. There have been some good surprises, too, like cheaper-than-expected lodging and food in Peru and Chile.
Where Rodrigo's the creative director of our outfit, I'm the chief planner and CFO. Tracking all of this has been my job. We're saving all our receipts. I update actuals vs. budget about once a week. I'm fine tuning projections as we get closer to each country. We're opting for experiences over souvenirs. And yes, every once in a while I have a major financial freak-out. But I know that living this crazy dream will be worth every penny.