How we travelled the world without going into debt

Funding our RTW trip - How we travelled the world (without going into debt)

I know a lot of you have been waiting patiently for this long-expected post! Here it is – how we’re funding our RTW trip without going into debt.

Travel on a budget

Travel on a budget often involves housesitting, a mainstay of RTW travellers. We won’t be staying in one place for very long, though, and we’d need to crack the market first – getting that first gig without experience is probably the toughest part.

Instead, we’ll be backpacking, hostelling, and looking for apartment/room rentals. In lots of cases, private rentals seem to be cheaper than hostels in big cities. There are sites like AirBNB and Roomorama, which have large databases but also high prices and hefty fees. There’s also plenty of others, like Wimdu, 9flats and Housetrip, which I prefer due to the no/low fees. These range from shared apartments to full private apartments, but at the very least you’ll generally at least get a futon to yourself. Some rentals may charge huge deposits/bonds/cleaning fees, or extra fees for extra guests. I would just browse listings on all the sites and see what catches your eye on a case by case basis. Most of them are easy to use – you can search by date, area, sort results in list format or view on a map, and some display reviews on the page and even an availability calendar.

Then of course there’s Couchsurfing, though I’m aware that as a pair we may find it difficult. New Zealand is a land of houses, but I know tiny apartments are the norm in lots of cities around the world. In scouting out potential hosts overseas, it became obvious that many, many hosts can only accommodate one guest. That said, we’re also open to staying further out in the suburbs – that’s just an opportunity for another experience entirely. (You can read about my experiences as a Couchsurfing host here.)

Finally, there’s volunteering. Hosts shelter and sometimes feed you in accommodation for your labour, which could range from helping out on a farm to cleaning or even more creative pursuits like graphic design or photography. Look on sites like HelpX, Workaway, WWOOF, GlobalHelpSwap and Staydu. To sign up as a member, you’ll usually be charged a fee that gives you access for a year, and freedom to contact as many hosts as you want.

There’s also always the option of teaching English overseas; travel blogger Nomadic Matt has a whole guide on teaching English abroad!

Budgeting for a RTW trip

I read a lot of RTW blogs and have looked at a lot of travel budgets (Legal Nomads has a large list of links to various bloggers’ travel budgets here).

I’ve also combed through Budget Your Trip, a super handy website that aggregates costs from real travellers. Obviously, any crowdsourced data is only as good as those who partake, so costs are likely to be more accurate in cities that are well trafficked. On Budget Your Trip, you can see budget, mid range and luxury budgets based on real data, in local or other currencies.

Costs are going to vary a lot by region. Asia will be the cheapest and Europe probably the most expensive. I’m hoping we can average out to $100 a day over the whole trip, though I’m also accepting of the fact we’re very probably going to blow through that at times.

Funding a RTW trip

There are two parts to this equation. (Depending where you live, there may be a third option – see Nomadic Matt’s e-book on travel hacking.)

Savings is pretty self-explanatory. You’re all grownups; you know how to save money (at least in theory, even if you’re not quite as good at it as you might like to think). Savings = income – expenses. To break that further down, you can cut costs, increase income (which I tend to be better at), or both, in order to maximise that gap.

Expenses so far have been about $10k. Thankfully, we got a killer discount on our backpacks and some other gear (nearly 50%) this month due to T’s staff discount at Fishing Camping Outdoors. There are probably more I haven’t included below (eg travel adapters and other bits and bobs).

expenses pre RTW trip

That should, more or less, be it for the initial outlay, though.

At this stage, there should be enough in the kitty to cover a $100/day budget, once I get my leave paid out, given that we’re spending a month volunteering. Odds are we’ll spend more than that in some places, so…

Income is the other half.  I’m aiming to keep some money flowing in while we’re on the road, which hopefully will have the added bonus of keeping my skills sharp. How?


Where print ads typically cost more than a month of my salary, online advertising is absolutely buggered. For all that digital offers (interactivity! measurement! mobile! targeting!) I don’t know if it will ever catch up. Ideally, ads would flow in and help fund this blog, with me only needing to worry about editorial and keeping you guys interested. Unfortunately, traditional advertising just isn’t working anymore. Advertisers want more integrated and sophisticated solutions. THEY WANT EDITORIAL. That means rather than being relegated to banners and sidebars, they want in content links, for example. Sometimes this is more lucrative than a plain ad but it’s a lot more work for us. At a company, you can generally leave that to the ad sales guys; as a blogger you have to be much more involved.

Er, my point? Online advertising is tough. That said, where possible, I will continue to try to monetise the blog – without selling out, that is.

I never wanted to make blogging a business. I have no desire to get to the point of bringing on staff writers – this is and always will be my personal blog – paid speaking gigs (shudder – I can’t think of anything worse than public speaking), or coaching (again, no desire to be a life coach). But I am grateful for the opportunities that it has brought. Which leads me to…


Yes, there really are jobs where you can travel the world and work from anywhere – the kinds of jobs where you can earn an income as long as you have a computer and internet connection. Technically, I can work remotely, but the reality of my particular workflow and daily local deadlines means keeping up my workload while constantly on the move would be, er, challenging. And I’m more than happy to take a bit of a break.

So I suppose I’ll be joining the hordes of digital nomads out there … to an extent. The plan is to do *some* work while on the road. Exactly how much I am not sure, but less than full time.

Want a piece of me? I’m available for select content-centric work, so if you’re in need of a kick-ass freelance blogger, freelance ghostwriter, or freelance editor, drop me a line.

One last note

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of things that make this possible:

  • No commitments. That means no mortgage, no kids – living in a crappy house with hand-me-down furniture (not that I care about that, but I’m MAKING A POINT here!)
  • No/minimal debt. That means no student loan, no car loan, etc.

I’m a big believer in keeping your fixed costs low and committing to as little as possible. That’s allowed us the flexibility to do this relatively painlessly. Figure out the puzzle pieces and set yourself up for success.

Whatever your goal – travel, buying a house, having kids, moving to another country – it’s doable if you truly want it and commit to making it happen.

26 thoughts on “How we travelled the world without going into debt

  1. Nice work! I like to use the ‘$100 a day’ metric but usually find I have money leftover (travelling alone usually in hostels with a little bit of staying with friends where possible). So usually that $100 a day also includes my shopping, which is usually a lot of clothes. I seem to have time and saved money to shop whilst away, so I do! Of course I’ve not technically done it for a year (I did move to France for a year, and travelled a bit in the holidays etc). Still, you’re right, whatever you want, you can commit to and achieve!

  2. Awesome round-up of how you guys are making this trip happen. I think it’s so great and I’m excited to read all about it. I don’t know if a 6-month RTW trip would ever be possible for us but it IS possible to go traveling even if you do have big commitments like pets and owning a house. We did Europe when we had a cat (not house owners yet but we were less than a year later) and we have done a couple of trips since then plus we’re saving for Ireland next year right now.

    I can’t WAIT to hear more about this trip!!

  3. Don’t forget the tip of shamelessly staying with friends when possible. When I was in college and want cross country, I stayed with my professor’s sister in San Fransisco. I had never met her but my professor was a big traveler and offered so I said yes. People with wanderlust understand the travel bug and there’s an unwritten rule that you open up your home to acquaintances who love to travel as long as they don’t overstay their welcome.

    I’m excited about your trip. I’m sure it’ll be lifechanging.

  4. I think FGA made a great point about some people understanding the travel bug and opening their home to acquaintances. I’ve done that a few times in the past and have never had a bad experience. Do take advantage of that as much as possible, and enjoy your travels!

  5. I carried a little saucepan and a tiny camping stove. Sometimes i’d eat pasta and red sauce if I could find a grocery store nearby the hostel – some hostels have kitchens, so you can make food if you are over budget for the day! (I used to buy bread and cheese and wine in france – it was quite the meal)

  6. Sounds like you’ve got an amazing trip planned. I’m working out a budget for my trip right now and it’s such a headache. You seem to be pretty on top of everything though. Btw, I live by Airbnb for long weekends away but had never heard of wimdu, 9flats or Thanks for sharing these great sites!

  7. I love it sometimes when I am laying on a cruise by the pool and making money doing animation on my laptop sometimes. You can definitely make money while traveling for sure like you said.

  8. ah, how I envy thee! It seems like you´ve figured it all out, and the rest you`ll figure out on the road:-)
    Hope you`ll be able to blog some during the trip, it`ll be fun following you around the world!:-) You`re going quite soon, right?

      1. Now that you’re at about the halfway point, how do you feel? Do you want to continue travelling or are you ready to go home? Can you, in theory, afford to go on travelling indefinitely?

        1. I’m ready to go home in November as planned, and plan to make the most of our adventures until then. T hasn’t been so taken with long term travel, and his comfort point is probably a month at most, as we’ve learned.

          Travelling indefinitely is not something I’m keen on (and I didn’t think it would be, which maybe makes me a rarity in the RTW blog world). It’s possible that we could set things up that way, but that would take a lot of planning and hustling (right now I’m not seeking out ways to bring in income, just accepting – or in some cases rejecting – opportunities that come my way, which might add up to a few hundred a month, or $1k plus. Another thing that maybe makes me a bit of a rarity online is I don’t dream of freelancing fulltime).

          1. Interesting. I’m actually finding many people online who keep their day jobs and travel only during vacations. Maybe the location-independent group online isn’t as big as I thought originally, just more vocal.

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