The big money question: how can we afford this trip?

It’s the number one question we get asked about our travels: how can we afford to do it? And it’s the post I’ve hesitated to write the most, simply because our experience is unique and not universally replicable for all families.

But that’s the case with everyone, isn’t it? How we saved up for this trip isn’t the same for other round-the-world families, nor would it be for you, should you take on this task. So as long as you read this post knowing what I say is descriptive, not prescriptive, then I’m happy to offer you how we’re doing it financially.

Atypical of a post about money, I’m going to be a bit right-brained here, starting with a few thoughts about why this sort of trip isn’t as expensive as you might think. For us, anyway.

1. We’re still working.

This is the most important thing to remember about this trip of ours: it’s not a nine-month vacation for us. The entire time, we’re doing our darndest to keep up with our work so that we continue to bring in the same level of income as when we’re living in one place.

It means I write posts while we’re on planes when I’d rather veg with a book. It means holing up in Sydney, Australia for weeks to create an e-course instead of exploring the fourth most expensive city in the world. It means searching hither and yon for a sliver of internet access so I can publish posts, answer emails, record podcasts, and post on social media. And it’s been hard. We’re actually working harder than when we’re home, simply because the work itself is harder to do from the road.

working

My view for much of early January in Sydney.

Kyle can currently work from anywhere as well, and we don’t think this will always be the case (hence one of the reasons we’re doing the trip now). We realize how fortunate we are to have two working adults who can do their jobs from anywhere—it’s the main way this trip is possible for us.

2. We’re doing it cheap.

There’s nothing fancy about anything we’re doing on this trip. Even the places that are more touristy, like Queensland, New Zealand, or Victoria Falls, we’re doing as cheaply as possible—cooking our own food, and enjoying the “real life” side of things more than the tourist traps. Most of our housing is from budget-friendly options on HomeAway and AirBnB (use that second link to get $25 credit when you travel).

uganda guest house

Our guesthouse in Kampala, Uganda.

Our bigger flights were bought as several group trips from AirTreks, which specializes in round-the-world travel—they’re able to get better deals for people willing to flex on dates, times of travel, and even exact destinations. (This is why we occasionally have flights departing or landing at 3am—not always fun with kids.) We also sometimes take bare-bones flights that have no food or drinks. But by buying our tickets as more-or-less three separate legs (China to South Africa, then Kenya to France, then Croatia and eventually back to the States), they were collectively cheaper.

3. We’ve partnered (a little) with some brands.

I want to be honest and fully disclose that because of my work as a blogger, I do have the opportunity to partner with a few brands in exchange for exposure. It’s nothing much—definitely nothing enough to fully offset our costs—but I do appreciate the partnership, and I’m grateful that my work provides this.

As of now, the only brands we’ve partnered with are Tourism Queensland (they gave us a few excursions, like snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, and our housing at the campsites), HomeAway (they’ve given us a bit of credit for housing in exchange for some posts about family travel), and Socially Responsible Safaris (which we’ll partner with in a few days, to go on a safari in Kenya—they gave us a discount, so we’re still paying for a good chunk of it).

This is it as far as partnerships go. Again, this isn’t enough to offset major costs—but it is a reality on our trip, so I want to make sure you know that as you think about our budgeting.

4. We’re traveling slow.

I’ve already talked about this, so I won’t rehash the glories and benefits of slow travel. But traveling slow really does save money—we’d much rather fully enjoy a country well over visiting tons of places and amassing scores of passport stamps. The mere moving from place to place adds up quickly, so curbing this cuts significant costs.

monkeybridge

Strolling the local botanical garden in Sri Lanka, with monkeys following.

5. We know people internationally.

I don’t mean this in a “I know a guy” way, but our past of working for nonprofits abroad has meant having a number of connections that has allowed us to find cheaper lodging through friends. (We even enjoyed housesitting for one of our AoS contributors in Australia when they were on a family vacation!) None of this lodging has been fancy, but it has saved us quite a bit, and we are grateful.

nile tour

Our “tour” of the Nile—normally this would cost our family almost $200, but our local friends in Uganda recommended a friend of theirs. Joel, pictured, knew EVERYTHING about the local birds. All in all, it cost us about $40.

6. Our expenses aren’t that different from regular life.

This is key, and it’s often forgotten. We sold our house before we left and all our belongings are currently in a low-cost storage unit, which means other than our monthly storage fee, we have no rent or mortgage. Our one older minivan is paid for, waiting for us at Kyle’s parent’s house. This means we also don’t have any normal-life transportation costs like gas or vehicle upkeep. We’re also debt-free.

All this means we can fill in the void on the budget line-item for housing with our current travel lodging. Instead of paying for gas and vehicle maintenance, we’re paying for taxis, metros, and a few car rentals. We’re hardly buying anything on the road, like clothing, educational supplies, or general home maintenance purchases. And entertainment is pretty much doing what we’re doing—no real added expense there.

jinja drive

Hitching a ride in Jinja, Uganda.

By eating out in the cheaper countries and cooking at our lodging in the more expensive ones, our overall food budget remains about the same as if we were at home. Sure, there are a few excursions we’re paying for, but they more or less even out from a real-life absence of things like extracurricular activities (no karate lessons this year) and everyday purchases.

thaifood

We could eat out in Thailand and spend about $10 total for our family of five. With leftovers.

Overall, our expenses might be a smidge higher than what we spend in our regular life, but not by much. Probably not as much as you think.

A bit of the nitty-gritty

Long-haul transportation is the main expense we have that doesn’t show up in our normal life—international flights, cross-country trains, and the like. And it’s this transportation that gets the bulk of our trip budget.

It’s hard to give a final total, because we’re still not done buying airline tickets, but they’re looking like an overall cost of about $50,000 for our family of five (most of these coming from AirTreks). We saved up for this over several years, putting any extra income towards our trip savings. We also have the expense of visas for a few countries.

batiplayground

Playing with the local kids in Ethiopia.

The rest of our funds mostly comes from our regular monthly income, just as how we’d use it in our real life. We’re still saving monthly for the future and we still live frugally. All in all, our trip life doesn’t cost that much more than our normal life.

We’re still trekking through some low-internet places, so I won’t be able to answer as quickly as I like, but if you have other questions about budget, I’ll do my best to answer them! Leave a comment below with any thoughts.

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36 Comments

  1. katy

    THank you for posting this! It’s always inspiring to hear about “real people” making it on a real family budget and following their bliss.

  2. Bertha

    Thank you for posting this and for finding slivers of internet so persistently!! I love reading about it all and this post gives me so much hope for a European trip that my Honduran husband dreeeams of doing with our children! 🙂

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Totally! I hope you get to do that European trip. 🙂

  3. Amanda Espinoza

    Thank you for posting this! Our experience is similar. We are debt free and saved our money. My husband works online. Last year my husband and I took our 3 young kids to a week in London, a month in Berlin, and a month in Paris. We also got to spend three weeks living in NYC’s Brooklyn & Upper East Side last November. My husband keeps working while we travel and will even join a co-working space for the fast internet and to have uninterrupted times of working. We found that it’s difficult to do client based work and travel at the same time, so we are home now and building a company selling products Shopplugins.com. We like spending money on food, convenient flights, and nice AirBnBs, so we know our cost is going to be higher. We lived in Paris’ city center in a tiny apartment, versus a cheaper and larger one outside the city. But that is the fun of travel – you get to spend how much and as little as you want! I agree, it’s the cost of traveling between cities that adds up quickly. That’s one of the reasons why we only went to 3 cities in Europe versus hitting a dozen. Thankfully, there is enough to fill a month and MORE in the larger cities! I love it. Thanks for sharing this post.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      “Thankfully, there is enough to fill a month and MORE in the larger cities! I love it.”

      Yes! So very true, Amanda.

  4. Laura Camacho

    Thank you for this! I’m not surprised by any of your answers – except that I had hoped you’d gotten more sponsorships! But your approach is very reasonable. And I love it when people are transparent about their finances.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Actually, I’m glad we didn’t get more sponsors! There’s a cost to that, for sure, so I pick and choose those sparingly. We coulda done more, but we’ve stuck to this so far, and it’s been good.

  5. Allie

    This is SO cool, Tsh. Like really really neat. I really appreciate the specific total cost, too. It’s not like living in the US with kids is free, either, so it’s not an insane amount considering the amazing experiences you and your kids are having. Plus, life is NOT about having the most in the bank when you die.

  6. Diane Twinamatsiko

    Do you really mean $50,000 total for all the expenses of this trip? Or were you referring to travel expenses only i.e. Plane tickets, traveling from place to place? The $50,000 includes your food, lodging, and excursions as well???

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Just the plane tickets.

      • Diane Twinamatsiko

        Ok, that’s what I thought. Thanks for your reply.

  7. Joel Torres

    So much envy has taken over me. A large trip savings will now be implemented in our monthly budget. Then, a few years from now, you’ll see pictures and postings of our adventure that we’ll constantly day was inspired by your family!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      YEAH we will!

  8. Diane Twinamatsiko

    My husband is from Uganda, and I have traveled there five times. I’m So excited to see more of your pictures from Uganda and hear about your experience there! After the expensive plane tickets, and always staying with family for free, our other expenses have still always added up quickly.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I’ll get there eventually! I find it easier to process different places after I leave them, sometimes weeks later. I still need to post about New Zealand, which was mid-December! I’m not worried about this at all, though… All this to say, I’ll get to Uganda in all good time. 😉

      • Diane Twinamatsiko

        Oh, I understand! Especially about the spotty internet access, too. Blessings on the rest of your trip. It’s so cool and so inspiring!

  9. Emily Gomes

    Do you have any travel health insurance or something like that for emergencies, or do you just keep an emergency fund available?

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      We have a basic med-evac type of policy in emergency situations, but for the most part, we just pay out of cash this year (not that we’ve needed to yet, except for a few minor medicines!). In general, healthcare tends to be much cheaper in other countries anyway. In Thailand, our daughter had a minor ear infection: two doctor visits and a prescription-grade antibiotic cost less than 20 bucks.

  10. Katie Clemons

    Excellent thoughts, Tsh! I think it’s very easy for us to look at what someone else is doing as an additional cost to the life we lead. We don’t think of the sacrifices other people make.

    My family constantly gets asked about flying back and forth between Germany and the US. We don’t have smart phones, pets, TVs and cable, Netflix … I think those choices alone covered the tickets. 😉

    Keep writing. Keep sharing. I love it.

  11. Melissa

    Thanks for sharing this, Tsh! I am single with a modest income, but I am able to do a lot of travelling because of every day choices. I get a lot of people asking me how I am able to do it and the truth is, it is just about choices. I keep my day to day expenses low and it has allowed me to have some pretty amazing experiences! I hope that I can continue with this lifestyle, one day when I have a family. Thank you for being such an inspiration!

  12. Laura Hildebrandt

    How truly blessed you and your family are to experience a time like this. Most people will never have these chances, so it is wonderful of you to share with us. I am truly enjoying following you through your travels. God bless you all.

  13. Sharon Holbrook

    So interesting and helpful re the travel….yet I couldn’t help but be distracted by the intuitive format of your to-do list. Fascinating!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Ha! It’s basically mind mapping. 🙂

  14. Brooke McAlary

    Come on now, our place was pretty fancy! 😉

    This is a really great insight into what it takes to pull a trip like this together. It’s not as easy/straightforward as the surface would suggest.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      SUPER fancy. You have a trampoline! (And now whenever we go to a new guest house, the 4-year-old says to his siblings, “Guys, bad news—no trampoline here, either.”) 😉

  15. Jesse Hoover

    I have loved watching you guys travel the globe with your family, how fun! Thanks for sharing a part of the journey with us. Question…I saw Kyle had bought some GoPro items before the trip to take video…has he shot much footage? Especially curious since you’re in Victoria Falls, is he posting them on-line publicly? Hope the rest of your journey goes well!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Hey Jesse! So you would laugh at the amount of draft posts Kyle has in the back of this blog… he has posts about what he’s packed, about tech stuff, etc., but he just hasn’t had time to edit and finalize them. (It’s much harder to post from the road than we thought, what with other work have to take priority!)

      He is taking a TON of footage with his GoPro. A ton. And he’s editing some, but not enough to fully post anything yet. I think he’s hoping to finally get some online once we’re in France, where we’ll take a breather for a few weeks. Including Vic Falls—we’re going to see it today!

      • Amanda Espinoza

        If you need a place to work in Paris, be sure to check out the AntiCafe. http://anticafe.eu/en I think there are 2 or 3 locations. They have a flat daily fee that also includes snacks and all the handmade barista drinks you could ever want. It gets crowded, but we really liked working there.

  16. Devi

    Fascinating information – thanks for giving us an inside look. I traveled around the world for a year 2008-2009, and I spent a total of about 11,000 AUD (plane, lodging, food, everything).

    I flew from Melbourne to New Zealand, then California, Texas, Arkansas, Canada, UK, South Africa, Ethiopia, UK again, Geneva (switzerland), Ukraine (for 3 months), Ireland, Sri Lanka (for 3 months) and then back “home.” Like you I saved so much money by staying with people I knew. I think Geneva was the only place where I paid for hostel accommodation. Everywhere else I went I stayed with friends or friends of friends.. but traveling as a single person is SO much easier in that way than traveling with kids.

  17. Melanie Hollis

    Hope you enjoyed Vic Falls! Stunning!

    We have been following you for years, and are so enjoying reading about your travels. I see you are now in South Africa! We live in Pietermaritzburg in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands, with great access to the Drakensberg, the beaches, or the game reserves, as well as the Midlands Meander, a well-known art and craft route.

    Talking of saving money, and staying with friends, or friends of friends 😉 if you would like to come and stay with us for a night or two (or longer!), you are most welcome.

    We have 6 1/2 year old boy-girl twins, and we also home school!

    Make the most of our beautiful country and travel safely. Let us know if you need somewhere to crash!

  18. Molly

    Thanks for this, Tsh! I had a wonderful time traveling the world with my husband a few years back also and dream of doing it with kids. I wasn’t sure on something: Are you saying that your family will spend about what you spend to live normally in a year PLUS the 50K in plane fare, or is that part of the “what we spend normally” figure? (i.e. is traveling the world for a year costing you in total about the same as living in Oregon, or about 50,000 more?)

  19. Bethany

    Oh, here’s the post I was looking for! Thanks for this post!

    Bethany

  20. Sheil johnson

    I am loving following your adventure in instagram! This is a question I’ve asked myself and my kids wondered too, as I’ve been sharing your travels with them, but I would probably never have asked ☺️. But it’s fun and interesting hearing how you made it work. Thanks for sharing!

  21. Nikki Johnson

    My biggest takeaway from this post…being debt-free!!! Love it! So many more options in life when you aren’t tied down with debt.

  22. Michele Cherie

    So few people do what your family is doing because it doesn’t seem financially feasible, but longer-term travel can definitely be a realistic goal. My husband and I are taking our 6 month old, 3 year old, and 6 year old to France for three months this summer (with a stopover in Iceland). It can be intimidating to travel when our kids are so young, but what an experience it will be for us all! After a few years of planning and saving, we’ve just purchased our tickets and we’re so excited! Merci for setting a great example and for sharing your family travel tips along the way.

  23. Misty

    I love this! We saved up for almost 4 years for our adoption, and we lived in Uganda for 12+ weeks. We didn’t sell our home, but all 5 of us went (and came home as 6) and shopped for groceries and all that. Our biggest expense was driver cost, and we did save up and go on a short safari. But it was SO good!

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