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!
Some links in this post may be affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Please see our disclosure policy for more detail.
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.
When traveling, though, you have complete control over how much it costs to live: if France is getting pricey, go to Romania.
If you want to cut your budget dramatically, plan on a few months in Thailand or Guatemala.
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.
For Jeremy and me, our lodging search almost always starts with Airbnb or Booking.com depending on how long we’re staying somewhere and what our plans are for that destination.
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.
9 thoughts on “9 Ways Long Term Travel is Cheaper Than You Think”
Useful post explaining that travel does not have to be expensive. So true that all you need is a place to sleep, good food and an adventure, when you travel material things become less important. We look forward to long term travel all part of our retirement plan!
Thanks, guys! Sounds like you have the perfect retirement plan to me.
Great thoughts on this subject.
Having none or minimal bills and expenses is definitely a great way to save money. I guess most people will be concerned that they have money coming in too. Being able to work freelance or having a passive income stream is a good way to relieve some of that pressure.
What do you recommend for accommodation with long term travel, so as to keep costs minimal? I guess hostels are cheap but you’d want your own space after a while. Would Airbnb be a good option?
Hey Mike! Actually, we use Airbnb every chance we get. Otherwise, we stay in budget hotels/B&B’s or private rooms in hostels–we like our space and don’t care for hostel dorms. If you’re going to be in one location for a month or longer, looking into local short term rental options once you arrive can also be a good option, though we haven’t tried that out yet.
Somehow I found your blog thru Google and noticed you said San Antonio. I’m born and raised in San Antonio! Following your blog now. 😎
Aw thank you so much! Love to have you here. 🙂 We lived in San Antonio from the time we graduated college to when we left to travel full-time and I still miss the food like crazy! Luckily we’ve been based in Austin lately and we’ve been able to get down to San Antonio to enjoy it again.
Thanks for this post- I found your blog when I was searching out the best routes from England-France-Italy… my husband and I, along with our 2 boys (10 and 12) have made the decision to take this fall semester and do life abroad. I’m nervous as we’ve never done anything like this- but when I saw the boys do online school during Covid, I realized that they could do that from anywhere! (unfortunately, my job as a nurse isn’t so mobile). We start in the London area and hope to head to Paris, then to Florence. Using those places as home bases, we will do smaller travel stints from there (Scotland/Denmark, French countryside/Austria, Switzerland/Italy). Right now I’m just trying to research the best way to plan for rail vs plane, if we should add a week here and there in-between bases, etc. It’s all overwhelming!
It’s definitely overwhelming, but it’s worth it! A lot of the stress melts away once you’re on the road and putting one foot in front of the other. 🙂
Your trip sounds incredible, I’m sure it’ll be unforgettable! Lots of our favorite places are on that list!
As far as trains go, if you haven’t seen it yet, we do have a whole guide to traveling Europe by train, too: https://www.ourescapeclause.com/travel-europe-by-train/