In September 2018, I quit my job as a financial analyst in Toronto and decided to travel the world. It was by far the most life-changing decision I have ever made.
My original plan was to travel around Asia for six months before heading to Australia to do the working holiday there. However, I wanted to take advantage of the Mini RTW with Aeroplan before the foreseeable policy change which would make that trip no longer feasible. Therefore, I extended my trip and added more destinations–South America, Canada, and South Africa–to the mix. I adjusted my last leg of the trip again and decided to join Shelly, travelling to Japan and South Korea.
After having completed this journey, one of the most common questions I get asked is, how much did it cost? Probably a lot less than you think.
There are so many factors that determine how much you will spend: where you go, when you go, the types of accommodation you stay in, how slow/fast you travel, your mode of transportation, and the activities you do. In this hefty post, I will go over my world travel experience and the costs associated with it. Hopefully it will give you some inspiration to take your own travel gap year and what to expect in terms of budget.
Table of Contents
- Indonesia (Jakarta & Sumatra)
- Panama City, Panama (Layover)
- Mexico City, Mexico (Layover)
- Houston, USA (Layover)
- Toronto (Home)
When it comes to flying cheap, the easiest way to save money is by being flexible–travelling for a long period of time (such as a year), will make that possible. Another big part on how I was able to save money on flights is by using my airline points. I was able to redeem my Aeroplan points to book a mini RTW. I also booked an additional five flights using my British Airways Avios points.
I mostly used budget airlines for the flights I paid out of pocket. While they are often uncomfortable, often they give the best prices. Most of the time, the flights are short distances anyways.
Here are the budget airlines for each region that I visited:
- Southeast Asia: Air Asia (one of my favourite airlines), Scoot, Lion Air, Nok Air, Jetstar Asia, Vietjet Air
- South America: Norwegian Air Argentina, Sky Airline, Viva Air, GOL
- South Africa: FlySafair, Kulula, Mango
- East Asia: Peach, Jetstar Asia, Jeju Air
I used Skyscanner and Momondo to check for the best deal on prices. They are both aggregators that help search for the best deals online. They also have flight calendars and email notifications. You can see one flight’s prices for the entire month and get notified through email when prices go up or down.
I was able to save on airfare by packing a carry on rather than a big suitcase. I used an Osprey Porter 46L. This is one of the biggest bags that you can bring as carry on for most airlines. While I packed more than weight limit of 7 kg, I was only checked twice out of the 52 flights I went on. If you are curious what else I packed for my trip, click here to find out.
I will cover some more tips on saving money on airfares along with more on booking with airline points in a separate post. Stay tuned!
Most Expensive Flight
My most expensive flight was with Ethiopian Airlines from Johannesburg to Tokyo.
I originally booked this flight for $282 CAD/$214 USD. This was an amazing deal as the flight takes around a full day with minimal layover wait time, covering 13,580 km! But tempted with the idea of a business class flight, I paid an additional $350 USD for the Addis Ababa to Tokyo leg of the trip. It was great being able to get a good sleep on a flight this long, but I felt rest of the experience was lacking.
You can read about it here.
The cheapest flight I was able to book without using any points was with Air Asia from Phuket to Bangkok. I was able to get this flight for only $22.17 CAD or $17.34 USD! Since I travelled with just a carry on, I did not get any additional baggage fees that would probably cost more than the actual ticket price. This was crazy value and I got this price by booking about a week in advance. Moreover, the flight is not short either; it is about 1.5 hours which is the same length as Toronto to New York!
Food & Drinks
Being a massive foodie, this was an important category of my budget. This category was actually the biggest portion of my total cost, which came out to a total of $5,524 CAD or $4,196 USD!
My biggest tip on saving money is eating the local cuisine. For the most part, it will be your best bet for delicious and cheap food. Another tip is cooking your own meals. Most budget accommodation (hostels, Airbnbs) will have kitchen facilities available for you to use.
My favourite cuisines during my trip included Thai, Malaysian, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese. The countries in which I found the local cuisine to be lacking would be Colombian, Bolivian, and Cambodian.
Most Expensive Meal
During a walking tour in Osaka, our tour guide convinced us to skip on the tourist trap that is Kobe beef and instead to try Matsusaka beef. You probably haven’t heard of this before (I didn’t know either).
While Kobe beef is most famous amongst foreigners, Japanese natives tend to think that Matsusaka beef is the best in Japan. The latter is actually the most expensive beef out of all types in Japan. Like Kobe beef, it is known for its high fat content and its artistic marbling patterns.
Shelly and I made reservations at Matsusakagyu Yakiniku M in Osaka and treated ourselves to a premium set menu. It comprised of some appetizers such as salads, soups, grilled marbled beef sushi, and grilled short rib. Then a plate of different Matsusaka beef cuts appeared. There were four cuts varying in the fat content. After a quick sizzle on the grill, the first bite blew our taste buds away. The cuts of meat literally melt in your mouth like butter. Never have I had anything like it!
This was by far the most expensive meal I have had during my one year at $104 CAD/$78 USD per person but I definitely did not regret the experience.
Vietnam is heaven for cheap food! My definition of a meal in this case is something that satisfies your hunger.
I was able to get banh mi and bun thit nuong for only $1.14 CAD/$0.86 USD. For those new to Vietnamese food, banh mi is a typical Vietnamese sandwich consisting of a fusion of meats such as pork chops or pate and vegetables such as coriander, cucumber, pickled carrots, and lettuce in a French baguette. Bun thit nuong is noodle dish consisting of cold rice-vermicelli noodle topped with grilled pork and fresh herbs like basil and mint. It is dressed with fish sauce.
Both of these can be found all over Vietnam. What’s more, is that both can also be found on my Top 5 Eats in Vietnam!
Other Memorable Eats
- Steak with fries in Buenos Aires for $6.29 CAD/$4.73 USD
- Acai bowls in Brazil for $3.04 CAD/$2.28 USD
- Lobster poutine in Nova Scotia for $25 CAD/$19 USD
- Roast goose in Hong Kong for $53 CAD/$40 USD
- Toasties from the 7/11’s of Thailand for $1 CAD/$0.75 USD
- Char kway teow in Malaysia for $1.56 CAD/$1.17 USD
- Texas BBQ plate in Houston for $29 CAD/$22 USD
- Alpaca tenderloin in Peru for $14 CAD/$11 USD
In terms of travelling long term, you have the luxury of time. Adding additional hours or even a day between destinations can be worth the savings. I usually preferred the cheapest way of getting around, which mainly came to be buses. Here are what I found to be the best websites for booking them:
But there were also cases wherein renting a car was worth the extra cost. Travelling around South Africa and Atlantic Canada, I got a rental car which became the two biggest expenses in my transportation budget (more below). In terms of the best website to book rental cars, I have found Rentalcars.com to have the most rental companies and the best prices.
In terms of getting around within the cities, most of the time I used the local public transportation system. Riding the subway, metro, train, and bus is going to the cheapest way to get around 99% of the time. If those are not available, I use ride hailing apps. Here is what I recommend:
Most Expensive Transport
The most I paid for a mode of transport on my trip was sharing a car rental in Atlantic Canada.
The rental fee for 7 days was $1,276 CAD/$958 USD with Hertz. And this was not even including any gas expenses! Shared with two others, it came to $425 CAD/$319 USD. Not only car rentals are quite expensive in Atlantic Canada, but since we picked up the car in St. John’s, Newfoundland and dropped it off at Halifax, Nova Scotia, we incurred a hefty one way fee.
The car we got was a Ford Fusion Hybrid, so it helped offset the cost of fuel.
Due to the lack of public transportation in Atlantic Canada, having a car is a must if you want to properly travel the region. Having the flexibility to go wherever you want, whenever you want is ideal as the best sights are the natural landscapes.
This train ride from Nong Khai to Udon Thani only cost $0.44 CAD/$0.33 USD! Nong Khai is a town in Thailand bordering Vientiane, the capital of Laos.
What this got me is a seat (non reserved) in the third class. The seats were really basic and worse for wear. They also didn’t have AC, but with the available fans and with the breeze coming in through the windows open, it can still get cool in the cabins. It didn’t matter much either as the trip is about 60 km and just took approximately 45 minutes.
Some Other Ways I got Around
- Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto $158 CAD/$120 USD
- Ferry from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia $85 CAD/$65 USD
- 11 hr sleeper bus from Curitibia to Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil $89 CAD/$67 USD
- Slow boat from Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos $71 CAD/$54 USD
- Ferry from Hong Kong to Macau $31 CAD/$23 USD
- Bus from Cairo Airport to Tahrir Square (City Centre) $0.47 CAD/$0.36 USD
- Metro in Medellin $1.06 CAD/$0.80 USD
- Singapore MRT starting at $1.32 CAD/$1 USD
- Full day scooter rental in Phuket, Thailand $6 CAD/$4.50 USD
Accommodation will always be a big portion of a traveller’s expense. In total I spent $5,135 CAD or $3,851 USD.
While I stayed at hostels for the most part, I always chose a highly rated one. Unless I only need a place to crash for the night, I choose a hostel with a high rating on Hostelworld (at least 8.7) and/or Booking.com (at least 8.0). While I find Hostelworld’s reviews and ratings useful to find your hostel, I then went on Booking.com to make the actual reservation. They usually have the best prices and perks with their loyalty program (aka Genius Program). As a Genius Level 2, I was able to get an extra 15% off at a lot of hotels and hostels! If you have not signed up for a Booking.com profile yet, sign up using my link and you will get a welcome bonus of $25 CAD!
Wanting some privacy at times, I also used Airbnb for affordable private rooms/suites. Airbnb is also great if you are travelling with a partner or friends. It can be as much 50-60% the price of a hotel and can be cheaper than booking a dorm bed in a hostel. For those who have not tried Airbnb yet, sign up with my referral link and you will get $45 CAD off your booking!
If you are curious on how else I was able to save money on accommodation, I made a guide on it here!
Most Expensive Accommodation
The most I paid for a night was when I stayed in Tented Adventures Pilanesberg during my travels in South Africa. For the one night, I paid $99.91 CAD/$76 USD. This however, included breakfast, dinner, and unlimited coffee/snacks.
Situated just outside the Pilanesberg Nature Reserve, these tents are a perfect stay for your safaris. Each tent is equipped with comfortable beds, luxurious linen, camp chairs, electricity, fans and heaters. There is a tented lounge for coffee, snacks, and a fire pit. The English breakfast buffet and the braai (South African BBQ) buffet for dinner were quite tasty! Even though this came out as my most expensive accommodation, I still think this is quite a deal, especially for Western standards.
If you are planning an overnight stay in Pilanesberg, I highly recommend them!
On the opposite spectrum, I was able to only pay $4.41 CAD or $3.35 USD for a night stay in Bedgasm Hostel (now called Upstairs Hostel) in Hanoi, Vietnam.
For the price, I was quite surprised on how good the hostel was. I got their basic bed in a 12 bed dorm but because of the design of the beds and the privacy curtains, it felt like you weren’t staying with 11 other people. The location is fantastic with lots of restaurants near by and a 15 minute walk to Old Quarter. I didn’t find it dirty nor was anything in bad condition. What you pay even includes breakfast (toast and coffee)! I would definitely stay here again if I ever come back to Hanoi.
And Some Places I Recommend Staying:
- Feliz Hostel Cafe & Bar in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for $8.32 USD per night
- Cozy Nook Hostel in Da Lat, Vietnam for $10.30 CAD per night
- BaanBaan Phuket in Phuket Town, Thailand for $10.72 CAD per night
- Life is Good Cartagena Hostel in Cartagena, Colombia for $20.42 CAD per night
- MOY Guesthouse and Backpackers in Cape Town, South Africa for $12.96 CAD per night
- Zzzip Guesthouse in Seoul, South Korea for $28.86 CAD per night for a dorm bed
This spend can really vary based on people’s interests. This is the portion where a lot of people can blow their travel budget. Expensive activities, tourist traps, and constant partying can rack up costs.
For myself, I spent around 10% of my total budget on activities/entertainment. I cut back on spending by doing cheaper, and sometimes free activities such as hiking, walking tours, and visiting museums and art galleries. I am not a big alcoholic drinker, only drinking in social settings. Plus being Asian makes me a lightweight, which really cuts down on the spend on alcohol.
There are a lot of tourist traps that I think are not worth the entrance fees. I decided to skip out of them such as the Skytree in Tokyo and the Royal Palace in Bangkok. However, there are expensive activities that are worth the experience. The once in a lifetime moments such as taking safari in Africa, trekking to Machu Picchu, or skydiving in New Zealand are some of the reasons why we travel.
Most Expensive Activity
Another entry from Vietnam, but this time in the most expensive side! While travelling around Central Vietnam, Shelly and I took part in a two-day tour of Ma Da Valley Jungle Camping with Jungle Boss in Phong Nha–Ke Bang National Park.
We started by exploring Elephant Cave and taking in the unique formations whilst the guide gave us information as to how the caves were formed. We trekked portions of the famed Ho Chi Minh Trail, a network of roads the Vietcong used during the Vietnam War. Then we carried on to through the lush tropical jungle to reach the Ma-Da Crystal lake. Our camp was set up right here where we spent the rest of the day relaxing, swimming and playing card games.
The trek then follows the Ma Da Valley, where you wade knee-deep and take log bridges to criss-cross a clear-water river to reach a cliff-backed swimming hole for a dip and lunch. Then the trek toughens on a steep ascent and descent over a jumble of incredible limestone boulders to reach the “wet cave” of Tra Ang, where you put on life jackets and head torch and swim several hundred meters in the dark, as bats occasionally squeak above you.
All in all, the whole tour was an unforgettable experience in which we did a combination of climbing massive rocks, swimming in dark caves, and trekking through the jungle. Our guide spoke great English and we were able to have great conversations; the porters were friendly and so helpful.
The price was quite steep at $258 CAD/$195 USD per person but included:
- a tour guide
- a porter team to bring and set up all the tents + prep meals
- all entrance fees
- all necessary equipment including hiking boots and camping gear
- all food (4 meals), drinks and snacks
- one night’s accommodation in tents
There are so many things you can do for FREE! My highlights include:
- Walking on coal in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
- Visiting the Loy Krathong festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Watching horse racing in Happy Valley Racetrack in Hong Kong
- Partying on the streets of Rio for Carnival
- Watching the night show at the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore
Places of Worship
- Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- Sensōji Temple in Tokyo
- Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine in Kyoto, Japan
- Yonggungsa Temple in Busan, South Korea
- Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires
- Views at Jericoacoara National Park in Brazil
- Icebergs at Cape Bonavista Lighthouse Provincial Historic Site in Newfoundland, Canada
- City skylines from:
- Tokyo, Japan: Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
- Santiago, Chile: Cerro San Cristóbal
- Seoul, South Korea: Namsan Mountain
- Cape Town, South Africa: Lion’s Head
- Hong Kong: Victoria’s Peak
- Sao Paulo, Brazil: Matarazzo Building
- Views from driving on
- Hai Van Pass in Vietnam
- The Cabot Trail in Atlantic Canada
- Garden Route in South Africa
Some of my Other Memorable Activities
- Tour of Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia $255 CAD/$193 USD
- Riding down Death Road in Bolivia $73 CAD/$55 USD
- Valle de la Luna tour in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile $30 CAD/$23 USD
- A chartered flight tour over Lençóis Maranhenses National Park $125 CAD/$95 USD
- Angkor Wat one day ticket $49 CAD/$37 USD
- Renting a buggy to ride in Vang Vieng, Laos $39 CAD/$30 USD shared with a friend
- Two game drives in Pilanesberg Nature Reserve $46 CAD/$35 USD
- Entrance to the Iguazu Falls from both the Brazil and Argentina side $49 CAD/$37 USD
- Entrance to the Great Pyramids of Giza $13 CAD/$10 USD
- Tubing in Vang Vieng $10 CAD/$8 USD
- Sliding down dunes of Mui Ne in Vietnam $1.3 CAD/$1 USD
- Seeing the Acropolis of Athens in Greece $14.71 CAD/$11.13 USD for the student price
- Watching ships go by in the Panama Canal $26.8 CAD/$20.27 USD
- White Water rafting near Chiang Mai, Thailand $71.46 CAD/$54.05 USD
- Gazing at the fjords of Gros Morne National Park on a boat tour $65 CAD/$50 USD
- If you love museums like me, I recommend:
- Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 Prison) and The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek $16.46 CAD/$12.5 USD
- Malaysian National Museum in Kuala Lumpur $1.56 CAD/$1.18 USD
- Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa $9.12 CAD/$6.90 USD
- Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum $2.42 CAD/$1.83 USD
- Advertising Museum Tokyo FREE
- Hong Kong Museum of History FREE
- National War Memorial in Seoul, South Korea FREE
I am blessed to come from a “first world country” with a strong passport. The Canadian passport is ranked tied for 6th by Henley Passport Index allowing holders to visit 183 countries and territories without a visa or with a visa on arrival. These are the countries that I had to obtain a visa (eVisa or Visa on arrival) for:
- Laos Visa on arrival $42 USD for just Canadians
- Vietnam eVisa $25 USD
- Cambodia Visa on arrival $30 USD
- Australia Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) $20 AUD for my layover in Perth
- Brazil eVisa $45 USD. Brazil just announced that as of June 17th, 2019, Canadians along with Americans, Japanese, and Australians will no longer require visas to visit the country
- Egypt eVisa $25 USD
While I did not use it, I think it’s important to get some sort of travel insurance.
After researching many companies such as Manulife, World Nomads, RBC, I bought emergency travel insurance with Travelcuts as it was the cheapest. I got six months coverage for $279 CAD/$209 USD. I extended the insurance for another six months as my travels continued.
Random things like these will happen in your trip and you should have a buffer in your budget. These are what happened to me:
- During my trip, I lost my glasses twice. And because I did not own a second pair (probably a good idea to have), I had to buy glasses immediately after I lost it.
- in Medan, Indonesia for $93 CAD/$71 USD
- in Florianopolis, Brazil for $143 CAD/$108 USD
- A visit to the ear clinic in Tokyo as I had a water blockage in one of my ears and basically couldn’t hear. 0/10 would not recommend. $130 CAD/$99 USD
Whenever possible, I use my credit card for any purchase because 1) it is a great way to reduce any loss if you are robbed as you carry less cash and 2) you can potentially earn travel points on every dollar spent. However, most credit cards charge a 2% to 3% foreign transaction fee when you use your card overseas. This might not seem a lot but it does add up overtime. This is why you should use one without any foreign transaction fees. My favourites from Canada include the HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard or the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card. You can find out more about them here. When paying with a credit card, always select the local currency on the machine, not your own currency. The reason being your credit card’s rate will always be better than the local bank’s exchange rate.
Unfortunately, not every purchase can be made with a credit card. In many countries, cash is still king! The less developed the country, the more the society is dependent on cash. Surprisingly, Japan is also a society which still uses a lot of cash. There are also lots of instances where paying with cash will get you a significant discount. Only for emergencies should you withdraw cash from your credit card as this will count as a cash advance and will incur massive fees and interest charges. Therefore, make sure you get a debit card that doesn’t charge you for any foreign transaction fees or foreign ATM fees. If you are from Canada, I recommend using STACK! If you are from the US, I suggest you look into the Charles Schwab account. And for Europeans, take a look at Revolut!
Here are some the local ATM fees I incurred:
- Cambodia $5 USD
- Vietnam $2.40 USD
- Thailand $6.65 USD
- Laos $2.35 USD
- Japan $2 USD
- South Korea $3 USD
- South Africa $3.45 USD
- Brazil: Banco do Brasil does not charge any ATM fees
- Argentina $10 USD! It is better exchanging USD to ARS as the exchange rate offered are so much better than the ATM fees you will have to pay!
So, How Much Does it All Cost?
✨ $23,282.65 CAD / $17,700 USD ✨
You might not think this is doable. From what I have read in other blogs and heard from other backpackers, the common spend for a year of travels is approximately $15,000 to $25,000 USD. I have also met others who have spent less.
Travelling long term costs a lot less per day than what you typically spend on a two week vacation. You don’t need to fill each day with activities or spend more money on a faster mode of transportation.
Here is the breakdown of what I spent by each category:
It came out to $73 CAD or $54 USD per day for the 319 days I was on the road. While my gap year was 345 days, I spent 319 days of that actually travelling. The rest I spent at home (Toronto) or in Jakarta with family where I did not spend any money. Below is the detailed breakdown by category.
Above is a table showing the total spend, number of days, and average daily spend in each country. It is ranked from most to least in terms of spend per day. It might look different than the ones in my previous budget breakdowns as I took out any flight costs in and out of the country. I also did not include places I felt I did not get a true picture of the costs there, such as my time in Indonesia and Singapore and the multiple layovers I had.
While my time in each country varied, I believe that they depict the true cost of travelling in each country.
There are some exceptions:
- South Africa is overstated because I rented a car for most of the trip. If I were to split the costs with someone else, it would have greatly reduced my travel costs.
- I chose to split Vietnam in two parts because of the way I travelled between them. In South Vietnam, I backpacked solo and that paints a more reasonable picture of the cost of backpacking in Vietnam. While North Vietnam was more like an expensive vacation as Shelly joined in. We spent more on activities such as the jungle camping and Ha Long Bay cruise.
- While the cost of food, travel and accommodation in Bolivia is relatively cheap, the cost of the Uyuni Slat Flats Tour and the Death Road Tour greatly increased my spend in the country.
- Uruguay is understated due to the fact I cooked most of my meals in my AirBnb and didn’t really do anything significant in terms of activities.
- While I think Malaysia is a great budget destination, my costs travelling there was understated because of my Workaway experience in Cameron Highlands. I was able to save on accommodation and food for the ten days that I was there.
Before I get to my final thoughts, here is a highlight reel of my round the world trip:
Most people automatically assume traveling the world is expensive, but hopefully I have shown you that it does not cost as much as you think! While many might not be able to stomach paying over $20k for a whole year, just consider that this is lower than most of cost of living back at home (assuming you are from a developed country). Lots of people won’t even think twice before buying the latest phones, expensive purses, and luxurious cars.
I planned and saved up for this trip years in advance. I moved back to my parent’s house to save money on rent. I cut back on other things such as clothes and electronics. I realize that saving up for this kind of trip might not be for everyone. If you have any debt such as student loans, I suggest paying that off first. And while one year might be a long time to travel, I recommend some sort of long term travel (at least a couple of months) to really enjoy the benefits of long term travel.
This trip was something I looked forward to for a very long time. It also has done wonders for my personal growth and well-being. Most of my close friends know that I had FOBA (Fear of Being Alone), but having embarked on a solo journey of this length gave the chance to get comfortable with myself. I have learned to enjoy eating, watch movies, and hike alone. It has forced me to become more independent and step out of my comfort zone on a regular basis. Travelling solo doesn’t mean you are always alone either. On the contrary, I met countless people and was able to develop meaningful friendships from those around the world.
I believe that if you are ready to truly prioritize travel, then it is possible to plan and embark on a round-the-world trip!