There’s a flaw in the way that non-long term travelers calculate the potential cost of long term travel.
Short-term travelers tend to make an inherent assumption that their two-week vacation is how much it costs to travel for 2 weeks, and then conclude that spending at that level for an entire 3 months/6 months/year/lifetime is obviously impossible, therefore long term travel isn’t possible.
We should know: we used to be those people, back when we thought that our long term travel dreams would have to wait until wrinkles, gray hair, and ready-to-retire amounts of savings showed up in our lives.
But here’s the thing about long term travel: you can travel cheaper than you think–without sacrificing quality.
Far from costing as much as however many 2 week vacations strung together, long term travel is often cheaper than staying home!
And even better?
The longer you do it, the cheaper travel gets–especially if you start working some travel jobs along the way.
I initially published this blog post about the costs (or lack thereof) of traveling long-term when Jeremy and I were closing in on one year of living nomadically.
After writing this post, we went on to spend a total of more than 4 years without a permanent home base, before outside circumstances (read: 2020), caused us to finally settle into a home base again.
And after all that time, I can say with absolute certainty that the original thesis of my blog post remains true: long term travel is not only possible, but you can travel much cheaper than you think.
You have very few, if any, permanent bills.
On the road, our life/travel budget (because it’s all the same thing at that point) consisted of 4 basic categories: food, shelter, entertainment, and miscellaneous.
During our first year of travel as (theoretically) invincible 20-somethings, we maintained a travel insurance policy and had no other monthly bills.
Eventually, we added US health insurance back into our lives as an extra security blanket, though many American long term travelers (even those who are retirement age) opt not to.
Here’s a short, incomplete list of all the things that you don’t pay directly for when living nomadically: rent/mortgage, property taxes, HOA fees, utilities, internet, business clothes, some toiletries (toilet paper/soap etc.), gym memberships, car insurance, gas, and car registration.
The actual traveling is what makes travel expensive.
Planes, trains, buses–these are the things that cost the most money when traveling.
If you buy a $500 roundtrip plane ticket for a two week trip, that’s a large cost per day of traveling.
If you buy two $300 plane tickets four months apart, and you have significant flexibility in your schedule to seek out cheap flights?
Suddenly, the cost per day isn’t nearly as high, and your long term travel budget has more breathing room.
With long term travel, you control how much it costs to live.
If you have a job and a mortgage in one location, your cost of living is inherently tied to that place.
Even more dramatically? Programs similar to Workaway can be a great option.
This gets even more interesting when you start making money to travel while you’re already traveling–sustaining yourself on the road indefinitely often isn’t as far away as you think!
You won’t go on excursions every day.
You know all those cliches about wanting to go to Paris and sit in a cafe all afternoon sipping coffee, or wandering the streets of a city aimlessly until you find a favorite street food stall and return there every day, or spending a whole day just staring out at a beautiful sea while reading a book?
Here’s the thing: if you’re anything like our former, short-term traveling selves, or most other short term travelers we’ve met, those things don’t end up happening on a one or two week trip.
It’s hard to justify flying across the world to basically enjoy the art of nothingness when excursions and activities are calling from every direction.
You know when those things happen?
On long term trips, when you slow down, and get tired of going somewhere specific every day.
You know what else those activities are?
A way to travel cheaper.
You find cheaper travel deals.
When booking a one week trip, the idea of maybe losing 6-8 hours waiting on a slow bus that you can’t find the exact schedule for online would impact your trip dramatically–so you book a private airport transfer in advance and call it good.
It’s a completely justifiable decision… that is almost always exorbitantly expensive to the tune of a possible a 500% upcharge, and I’m not remotely exaggerating.
By being on the ground, you’ll not only have a chance to find transportation, lodging, and excursions at deep discounts compared to what you can book in advance.
You’ll also be less stressed about losing a few hours here or there: on a long term trip, waiting just becomes part of the experience.
Souvenir shopping is very limited during long term travel.
On a short term trip, it’s easy (and fun!) to pick up all kinds of odds and ends to take home.
But when traveling long term, the prospect of carrying around wood carvings, musical instruments, glass figurines, and more for months on end makes it very easy to turn down even the most persistent craft sellers, helping keep your travels cheap.
While even as full-time travelers we found ourselves wanting the occasional memento (and we savor every one of them), there’s no doubt that we buy more physical things on the road now that we have somewhere to put them!
You develop a system to travel cheaper.
When you book a place to stay 3 times a month instead of 3 times a year, it’s easy to develop an efficient system of booking hotels and apartments.
After a few dozen tries, you know what you’re looking for in an accommodation, what you can tolerate not having, and where your priorities lie.
Not only does this end up leaving you more satisfied with where you stay (or rent a car from, or fly with), it also means that you end up finding places much more efficiently.
You can even try out things like house-sitting to save money while traveling long term, which requires more flexibility than an average vacation can provide.
Delaying purchases becomes simple.
When reading about how to save money (on travel or otherwise), a common tip is to delay gratification on your purchases: when you want something, consider sleeping on it for a week, a month, or more before laying out the cash.
During long term travel, this becomes incredibly easy to do!
Good luck having anything impulsively shipped from Amazon to a random town in Spain, Cambodia, or Mexico (all places where we’ve considered having things shipped, but eventually changed our minds without spending a penny due to time and cost).
Your values change during long term travel.
It sounds trite, but it’s true: your list of “needs” drops dramatically during long term travel.
All of the general expenses of maintaining your life at home–such as that long list of bills at the beginning of this post–melt away when living out of a backpack on the road.
You need a place to sleep, some tasty food, and some adventure.
When that’s all you’re looking for in a long term adventure, it’s amazing how affordably you can find it.
It’s hard to quantify exactly how many more remarkable memories and fantastic adventures we have under our belts now as compared to what we would have if we didn’t leave decide to try our hand at long term travel more than 5 years ago–but money is easier to track.
Long term travel may be hard on a savings account, on an income, and on a planned pattern of life… but if you haven’t tried it before, I can virtually guarantee that long term travel is cheaper than you think.