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Understanding World Tour Finances

The other night a friend was describing to me how when he describes what Tracy and I are doing to his friends, they invariably ask “How?”, usually within the first 30 seconds.

As in: how do we manage to take (what appears from the outside to be) a year+ long vacation when there bills to be paid, jobs to be worked, mortgages to be kept up with, and any other manner of life’s responsibilities1 that need to be regularly tended to during a typical sixteen months of American adulthood?

A reasonable question indeed.  Tracy and I get it regularly too, though to our faces I think people are a little more reserved and roundabout with what is, in essence, an inquiry into our personal finances.

I’m happy to share, and in the process hopefully demystify the whole thing.  Perhaps I can even convince a few that this sort of adventure is more widely attainable than it looks by making it clear that neither lucky lotto numbers nor trustafarian status are requisites.  More over, I’d love to remove at least some of the illusion that we’re “lucky” to be able to do this, and convey that this “privilege” is mostly the result of conscious choices guided by a clear intention (and, incidentally, not a whole lot of self-sacrifice)2.

There are a couple of pillars which collectively comprise the answer to “how”: a year’s worth of regular savings, elimination of carrying costs in the US, being able to work remotely, and traveling slow.

For Tracy and I a year’s worth of modest savings was relatively simple and painless: Tracy made a practice of squirreling away $200 each week into our travel fund.  We live regularly pretty well within our means, so this wasn’t hard to do.  Since we had conceived of World Tour nearly a year before it began we had a lot of weeks to rack up savings, leaving us with about $10K built up by go time.

The elimination of carrying costs in the US is probably the greatest hack that makes it all work.  I think the reason vacations feel so very expensive is that, while you’re enjoying the fruits of your plane ticket purchase and accommodations spending, you’re ALSO still paying rent, utilities, insurance, cell phone plans, and other manner of things back home which have little-to-no bearing on your vacated self.  Drop those expenses and then suddenly “vacation” (and other things that resemble it, ahem) come down massively in average daily cost.  Doing so is feasible and practical when you’ll be away for a good long while–this is an instance in which “go big or go home” is quite fitting, literally and otherwise.

A side note about eliminating carrying costs: mortgages.  If we had one, that would probably kill this step and take world tour down with it.  God I love that we don’t have a mortgage3.  No sir, in our case the end of our apartment lease marked the beginning of our adventure; no fuss, no muss.

Being able to work remotely takes the edge off the need to save.  With it, there exists the opportunity to lace out our savings, possibly indefinitely.  Here is one instance in which I grant I am blessed with a bit of luck to make a world tour happen: though they are becoming more common and will likely continue to do so, not every job can be performed with just a laptop and wi-fi connection.  Being self-employed helps too: my boss has no problem with my remote working arrangement.  Were I not self employed and without option to work remotely, it would have taken a willingness to leave a job, at least temporarily4.

Traveling slow is the last major piece of the puzzle: for many countries the cost of getting there WAY outweighs the cost of staying there.  By corollary, if we slow down and stay a while in some fun and interesting part of the world, our overall cost per day goes down relative to the pricy cost of transportation.  To wit, the accommodations for our stay in Guatemala cost $800 for the month, wi-fi and utilities included.  Contrast this with about $1100 that it would cost for round trip flights for two, and you get the picture.  (Our upcoming residence for that month in November is rather dope, by the by.)

This practice of traveling slow and settling in to the countries we visit will have the pleasant side effect of causing us to go deep into our experience of a given locale and culture, rather than quickly skim the surface and remain trapped in one tourist bubble after another.  To become a regular at some coffee shop, to cook in our kitchen with local foods bought in the market5, to discover the great little establishments beyond what is recommended in the pages of Lonely Planet.  These and more are the treats generally reserved for those with enough time to settle in.

Those are the four big aspects of World Tour’s affordability.

There are a lot of other little things that are part of the picture but don’t quite fall under those four umbrella concepts.  Here are the nuggets worth mentioning:

  1. We don’t have debt of any kind.  Again, living within our means has afforded a lot of perks.
  2. We don’t have kids yet.  Obviously that’s a huge leg up.  (For tips on how to travel the world with kids in a savvy and affordable way, check back in about thirteen years.)
  3. For the last 18 months we’ve been using a United Mileage Plus credit card for our normal expenses, and with miles accrued have redeemed about $2500 worth of flights6.  I don’t know if United’s card is the best possible one for travel miles, but that sort of rewards card is a very good fit for people traveling a lot with serious flexibility.
  4. Having people in town to store what possessions you do keep saves on the $50-$80/month storage fee.  Tracy’s parents were a boon on this one, though when I went to Argentina I had little problem striking a deal with a buddy who had a basement7.
  5. Together we possess one car and zero car payments.  This is a fine simplification, and working out a non-commercial arrangement to garage that saves around $200/month (thanks again to Tracy’s parents).
  6. Consistent with leaving our car behind, we’ve accordingly minimized our car insurance.
  7. For health insurance we’re using World Nomads, coverage at about $100/month for the both of us.  We’ll keep our plans here in tact so that we don’t risk getting screwed by a lapse in coverage, but with a way-high deductible.
  8. Our love of and savvy with cooking for ourselves is going to save us a ton relative to eating out 3 meals a day (which, travel experience shows us, gets super old quick) .
  9. VRBO and AirBNB are excellent venues to find fully furnished long term accommodations overseas.  Properties tend to give very steep discounts for longer stays (e.g. the aforementioned place in Guatemala: $120/night, $800/month), and there are even more and better deals to be found off of the well-tread path of these American-friendly listing sites.
  10. Though we haven’t landed a gig yet, house sitting opportunities listed in places like the Caretaker Gazette make it possible to live rent free for weeks if not months, provided you’re reliable for watering plants or caring for pets.  According to one woman in Panama, we represent very well on paper as candidates and would have made a great fit for her fab gig had it not already been filled a month prior8.

Our rule-of-thumb daily budget is $100/day.  For some countries we’ll be well under that.  I’ll need to do some work abroad to make our savings last, but it’s heartwarming to think that, even if I couldn’t, our setup would afford us over 3 months of slow travel.

So there you have it: that is how we’re affording a year long World Tour.  It is, I think, surprisingly affordable.  Even without the benefit of years of savings, a baller salary, or some chance windfall.


  1. Or, “shackles”, if you will.
  2. Why do I care?  Well, if it’s luck, then this sort of adventure is just for Tracy, myself, and other such “lucky” people.  If it’s a matter of conscious choices and deliberate lifestyle design, however, then there is room for many more to play in this fashion.  The latter is a recipe for a much more interesting world.
  3. Seeing as how most people and couples that we know of with mortgages seem to feel “meh” or worse about having one, plus the fact that statistically, on average, folks are only in them for 7 years (meaning folks pay mostly interest and build very little equity), mortgages seem like such a terrible idea and I can’t wait til our generation is collectively over the con that is “buying” a home that you cannot afford.
  4. I did this when I did a month-long tour of Europe back in ’04: my employers then were willing to let me take a month-long unpaid sabbatical.  It was a situation in which, while I would be missed, if I was going to go I would be welcomed back when I returned.  May it come as good news to people with a more conventional job that that sort of rapport can be cultivated more readily than full-blown self employment.
  5. Especially in countries not “developed enough” to have some bullshit like hard, mealy tomatoes shipped in in January: you know whatever you find is going to be good, seasonal and fresh.
  6. Plus a business class upgrade to Peru: I don’t count that value towards our $$ savings since we’d never have opted to pay for it, but it is a nice perk.
  7. In exchange for 12 square feet of squatter’s rights, I gave him my fish tank.  Both of us are certain we got the better end of the deal.
  8. The Caretaker Gazette erroneously re-ran her ad, the poor gal got 56 unneeded replies besides ours.  Darling of her to give us such encouraging feedback amid such a deluge.
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