Long Term Travel Planning: Save, Book, Go!
12 August, 2016
Hello from Scotland! For the past 17 months, my husband, Craig, and I (Gemma) have been backpacking our way around the Americas and Europe. We downed tools as teacher and tradesman to hike, party, and chill in 16 different countries. If you are considering long term travel planning but don’t know where to start – this article is for you. Included is a run down of our long term travel itinerary, our daily average budget, and practical tips on how to travel long term.
Step 1 – Long Term Travel Destinations
Long term travel routes have to be considered with a sensible head. Yes, it would sexy to drive along Route 66 in Cadillac or fun to sing karaoke with the kids in Tokyo but both activities are expensive. Setting (and sticking to) a long term travel budget is far more challenging than a quick three week trip island hopping in Thailand then going home to comfortable wage at the end of the month to pay off the credit card bills. There is no home and there is no pay at the end of the month!
Write down where you want to go and what you want to do. Then it is time to do some research – this is all part of the long term travel experience! Use Lonely Planet, travel blogs, tourist board websites, and Pinterest to get a feel for backpacking prices, visa instructions (and costs), itineraries, public transport information, and ideas of things to do.
Check Prices Online
You’ll swiftly work out that some countries are more expensive than others. For example – a dorm bed in Sydney, Australia starts at $19 whereas you’ll find one in Bogota, Colombia for $6. Some continents / areas are cheaper than others but countries within those continents / areas vary wildly. Let’s take South East Asia for instance. Hanoi, Vietnam is super cheap, you can get a bed for $2.50 (in a 6.5 rated hostel) compare that to Singapore where dorm beds start at $11 for 5/10 hostel. Beers in Hanoi are $1.50, Singapore? $8.37! I’ll cover our strategy for booking cheap accommodation below. It would make sense to investigate flight prices, more on that to come. If you are travelling long term on a budget, I would strongly suggest avoiding the following countries, North America, Nordic countries in Europe, and Australia (have I missed any?) But I want to see Niagara Falls! I know, you can – just be prepared to burn through cash like Harry Styles does ladies.
Talk To People
Don’t be afraid to chat to bloggers on social media or join Trip Advisor forums to ask for advice. There are two excellent Facebook groups for female travel lovers where as non-biased travellers of all ages, shapes, and sizes give advice about their home countries and places they’ve visited – Girls V Globe and Girls Love Travel. These groups are especially useful for ladies looking to long term travel alone.
Step 2 – Saving for Travel
My name is Gemma and I am a super saver. My best tips for saving is to set up three bank accounts. The first account is where your pay goes, a second account for savings which cannot be touched, and a third for savings which can be tapped into for a wedding gift or new car tires (safety first!) Next tip is to write down how much you spend (every single detail) for one week and then work out how much you can realistically live off. Each pay day, move your savings over into the mentioned accounts. Avoid window shopping, if there is no temptation, you won’t splurge! Sell your stuff at car boot sales. Complain! Speaking to companies can reduce your monthly payments, for example, your phone provider. Go sober, not drinking every weekend was one of our biggest saving techniques. We managed to save £20K to travel, and you can too.
Step 3 – Cheap Flights and Other Transport
Craig lives on the Skyscanner app! He claims that it is one of the long term travel must – haves, due to its ‘go anywhere’ function. If you are flexible with dates and destinations – you will find cheap flights. When searching for flights via computer, always set your computer to ‘incognito’ or ‘private browsing’ so websites do not remember your previous searches and hike up their prices.
Another travel tip is to Google the local airlines, bus companies, and train lines for your desired countries then go directly to their sites. For example, Air Asia is a popular low budget airline which covers South East Asia and beyond. Sign up for the newsletters of these airlines for deals.
Don’t be scared of buses! We bussed all around Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia – some of the overnight buses have bad boy lazy chairs! Go local! Do what the natives do – chicken buses in Central America are a thrifty traveller’s dream. Always be cautious of your belongings, opportunists roam in every country. Overnight trains in Vietnam have beds!
Car rental is sometimes a cheaper option in the long run and Bla Bla Car is a new car sharing option for you to consider. Have you tried Über or Lyft in your home city? It’s a cheaper taxi service which runs from an app – find out more about these alternatives to taxis.
Important note: on entry, countries (bar those in the European Union) may request evidence of an outbound ticket. Immigration wants proof that you are leaving their country. This restricts the ‘footloose and fancy – free’ hippy lifestyle, a little planning ahead is always required. We were asked by every country for this proof – do not take this warning lightly. Long term travel visas can also be tricky – be prepared for each country to have different rules regarding visas. For example in Cuba, you must have a Cuba Tourist Card before arriving.
Step 4 – Travel Accommodation Search
While searching for cheap accommodation do consider the reviews of places too, we managed to avoid bed bugs and I hope you do. Each continent / country favours different search engines for hotels – for example, Booking.com for North America, Agonda for Asia. Hostelworld is still my go to for hostels. In Nicaragua, many hostels, hotels, and guest houses advertise via Airbnb, even though they are not private houses. I read lots of blogs before I get to a destination to hunt down the unique travel accommodation in that area, or if I need to be online, the WiFi strength! Not on Airbnb yet? Sign up using our start up code and get money off, we’ll get credit too – thank you!
We’ve stayed in an airstream in Austin, a prison in Slovenia, and a time capsule in Portland! Word of mouth! Backpackers love to chat and pass on their experiences. Read about our good and bad hostel experiences.
Couchsurfing is not something that we have used during this trip. This website connects travellers with people who can offer a sofa or bed. Both set up profiles and can leave reviews, like Airbnb but without paying. Naturally, your safety is paramount, so be sure that you are comfortable from the beginning (solo females – check out this post on couchsurfing with male hosts). We did swap our skills for a bed in WWOOFing style voluntary work (no fruit picking!) through the website Workaway. Check out our review of Workaway and HelpX for more details.
You will need this variety of long term travel accommodation, especially if travelling in a couple – often you will want private space but other times you will want / need to converse with other human beings!
Step 5 – Pills, Bills, and Travel Insurance
Do not get caught out by medical charges. Long term travel insurance should be up there with Havaiana flip-flops in the priority list. During your research ensure that companies cover the types of travel (high altitude hiking?) and activities (skiing at Whistler?) that you plan to do. I did have to visit the doctor in Vancouver which cost $100 CAD and then the physiotherapist (twice $100 CAD) for ear crystals (dizziness), and our insurer (True Traveller) refunded half of the balance.
Malaria and Zika exist and they can floor you. Cover up, avoid dusk and stagnant water, use protection, and take malaria tablets. The more countries you visit, the higher the chance of long term travel malaria being an issue. Check out if your desirable destinations require malaria treatment. Ladies, for those of us doing long term travel in your 30s, Zika can cause defects in babies for up to two years, get tested as soon as you return. Check with your local travel clinic what vaccinations you require. If you don’t have them, your insurer has a reason not to pay out.
Long term travel birth control can be a dodgy one. My GP prescribed one year of the pill, I sneakily had a few packs left over from other trips to the doctors – luckily I am healthy and my blood pressure did not change. Probably not wise advice to give as deep vein thrombosis can be linked to the combined contraceptive pill (and long haul flights).
Help! I am a fast fat, and Craig is a speedy skinny. Neither of us liked the way our bodies looked after four months of travel, long term travel weight gain can happen. Regardless of how many hikes you are doing, if you are eating churros every day it won’t keep them at bay! The solution? Slow travel. I wrote a post on this while spending two months of the summer in British Columbia, by stopping we could move more. Ironic.
Ladies! Pack like a boss with my travel packing list for women (men, I’ll get back to you soon!) Here is a quick overview of what we recommend
- Long term travel backpacks – we have 80 litres Vango packs which have a 20 litre zip on / off day packs, very useful for 2/3 day trips like hiking the Colca Canyon and a long term travel carry on
- Lightweight foldaway raincoats – I love my Marmot (it’s electric blue!)
- Invest in a purifying / filter water bottle, save money and the environment – check out our unbiased review of DrinkSafe Travel Tap
- Portable charger – we use Anker lipstick sized charger for phones
- Digital nomads – I never travel without Mac, a must for a long term travel laptop
- I was never robbed, I used my trusty PacSafe which ties around your daypack and hooks up to a radiator or bed frame then you clip a padlock to it (Craig was mugged in Vancouver at 3am in Hastings… His own fault)
Long Term Travel Hacks
Here’re five travel hacks to save your sanity and keep long term travel expenses down
- Large scarves or flags make great dens in dorm rooms
- Avoid long term travel cell phone bills by closing your account and switching phone to ‘airplane mode’ then pick up WiFi in cafes, accommodation, etc
- Take an external hard drive and swap films with other travellers
- Tweet your bank, then DM them with a contact, ours called us all over the world!
- Craig maintains that Wednesday is the cheapest day to book flights
Long Term Travel Mistakes We Made
Learn from our mishaps
- Cheap flights don’t always work out cheap! Price how to get from the airport, how expensive the airport hotels are, is the time waiting between flights worth what you will spend in the airport shops?
- Write down information in a diary – it’s easy to forget what day it is when travelling and this can cause havoc when you are supposed to check in, start a trip, etc. We turned up at one hostel two days early in Cusco!
- Back up images – don’t overwrite SD cards, transfer to an external hard drive, and save online
- Slow down, you don’t have to see EVERYTHING and you will experience more stopping in an area for longer than one or two nights, avoid burn out
- Solo travellers – be wise, read this guide on how to travel safely flying solo
Avoid Blowing Long Term Travel Budget
Readers always ask – how do we organise our monthly budget posts? In a nutshell – persistence. Craig takes note of how much we spend every day. He jots down what the item was and the cost. At the end of each week he tallies up the items under categories – accommodation, food, transport, trips, socialising, miscellaneous/ luxury and sends the numbers to me, ta – da, we have monthly budget post! Not going to lie, it takes commitment, patience, and an attention to detail – the last two characteristics I do not possess. However, I personally think it’s the only way to travel long term on a small (ish) budget. At the end of the week / month, you can work out what is costing too much and cut back (ice cream anyone?…) Another tip to help stretch your travel budget is signing up for Workaway or Help X (mentioned above), researching jobs abroad, or starting a travel blog… How do you keep control of your budget?
We have worked out that our daily average long term travel expenses are £34.50 each. That covers 17 months on the road with 20 weeks volunteering (in hotels, hostels, family homes) for our keep and 5 nights staying with friends. We estimated how much we saved through working with partners via the blog and added that to the total for a realistic long term travel budget.
Romance on the Road
Couples that rave together, stay together. So what about those who live in each other’s pockets, on limited money, with no GPS for a number of months? Long term travel in relationships is a test, whether that be a friend, parent, sibling, or significant other. My best advice for long term travel as a couple is to test the water first. We endured a 5 – week trip to South East Asia two years before this long term travel trip. We didn’t kill each other so started saving for the future. Get hobbies – whether that is reading, blogging, or DJing (Craig makes music on his phone!) learning new skills is a great way to avoid getting on each other’s nerves. Oh, and get used to going to the toilet in close proximately of each other! These long term travel relationship tips worked for us – I left Scotland with my boyfriend, and came home with a husband (the same man!) We got hitched in Austin!
Long Term Travel Planning Itinerary
Still with me? If you find this article useful, don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter and never miss a post – there will be much more to come. This section outlines where we went and what we did over the past 17 months. There were three countries that we were pretty set on seeing. Peru for Machu Picchu, Vancouver, Canada to suss out future living arrangements, and Cuba, to drink rum and dive (not at the same time). The trip had to start in March as we were keen to attend the music festival South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. Any plans after that were a bonus (and financially motivated!)
I’ve calculated the average daily budget for each country for two people including accommodation, transport, trips, food, socialising, and luxuries. I’ve identified some of the big things we spent money on in brackets. I’ve added the price of trips / stays when we worked with partners to give you a true reflection of the prices in these countries. They do not include flights in between countries.
After a stopover at a JFK airport, we touched down in New Orleans where we spent the next three days listening to jazz, drinking hand grenades and eating Po Boys! Next up, one week in Austin, Texas for the popular music festival South By Southwest. We watched new and old bands, drank beer, and ate tacos all without putting our hands in our pockets! Love free stuff? Check out how to do SXSW for free.
- Duration: 9 nights
- Average daily budget: $100 (based on a private room in Airbnb and hostel)
- Currency: American Dollar
March / April
We temporarily said goodbye to the United States of America (pausing our ESTA visa waver) and headed to Peru in South America for one month. In Peru we hiked, biked, and attended Spanish school. Our Spanish is still muy malo!
- Duration: One Month
- Average daily budget: $76 (2 treks, Peru Hop pass, Spanish school, dorm beds)
- Currency: Peruvian Nuevo Sol
- Thinking of Peru? It is so much more than Machu Pichu
Three weeks in Bolivia was spent between the capital, La Paz, the Bolivian Salt Flats – Salar de Uyuni, and the warmer city – Sucre. One of Craig’s highlights was cycling Death Road. For the first time since leaving, we actually stopped! Feeling a tad burnt out we booked into an Airbnb in the suburbs of La Paz, and breathed.
- Duration: 3 weeks
- Average daily budget: $35 (Bolivia Hop pass, dorms, Salt Flats, Death Road cycle)
- Currency: Bolivian Boliviano
- Don’t bypass this in Bolivia
May / June
A late addition to the long term itinerary was Colombia. Every backpacker that we met raved about the country, our only background information about Colombia was cocaine and cartels. Craig found cheap flights via Skyscanner so off we went to the Caribbean coast! Highlights include the friendly Colombian people, Tayrona National Park, and empanadas.
- Duration: 3.5 weeks
- Average Daily Budget: $53 (Bikes, Volcan El Totumo, Tayrona National Park, dorms)
- Currency: Colombian Peso
- Colombia – no cocaine in sight
Hello Havana! We touched down in the land of cigars and salsa with grand plans of backpacking our way around the island (which is possible in three weeks) however we ran out of money, and patience. Cuba is hard work. I can’t sugar coat it! Yes the rum is super cheap and tasty, and the beaches are paradise but it is hot, some locals see you as a walking dollar sign, and the lack of free information made transit tough work. We were suffering from long term travel fatigue after four months of crazy backpacking. After two weeks of travel (Havana – Viñales – Playa Larga – Trinidad) we booked ourselves into all – inclusive resort in Varadero – a holiday within a holiday. This was the cheapest option for saving our long term travel budget!
- Duration: 3 weeks
- Average Daily Spend: $52 (Havana Walking Tour, diving, all inclusive, casas)
- Currency: CUC / CUP
- Dreaming of Cuba? Check out our Cuba Travel Guide
July – January
The summer months of July and August were spent on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, Canada. This hidden gem is only a 40 minute ferry ride from Vancouver and boasts of lakes, hikes, and craft beer.
- Duration: 2 months
- Currency: Canadian Dollar
- This is where we want to live: the Sunshine Coast, BC
For the autumn and winter months, we moved to the bright lights of Vancouver! Renting two apartments over the four months, catching the end of summer in Kitsilano then the rainy months in hipster Main Street. We were luckily enough to review West Trek’s tour of the Canadian Rockies. For four days we gawked at those blue lakes, hiked around beautiful Banff, and made friends for life with the tour guides.
I left Craig for 5 days and flew West to Toronto! My best friend, Helen, met me. We ate our way around the city, cycled through Toronto Island, and felt the mist of Niagara Falls. We were very lucky in Canada, not only did we make good friends, our family and friends from Scotland came to visit! Everyone wants a bit of B.C! Craig also proposed under the fake stars of the Macmillan Space Center on my favourite day of the year…. Hallowe’en!
- Duration: 4 months
- Average Daily Budget: $85 (apartment, hikes, lots of nice food)
- Currency: Canadian Dollar
- I loved it so much I got it inked on my arm! Canadian Rockies
Rested and ready to put the rucksack back on, we skipped over the border to America where we spent two nights in Washington state, filling our stomachs in Seattle. The next four days we partied in Portland. Oregon’s capital city, Portland, is a very cool place. Full of food carts, cycle routes, and craft beer – it’s easy to lose a long weekend there.
- Duration: 6 nights
- Average Daily Budget: $128 (based on two dorm beds at $32 each)
- Currency: American Dollar
- America’s hipster city?
- Duration: 6 nights
- Average Daily Budget: $334 (tickets to theme parks, hotel $89 per night)
- Currency: American Dollar
- Fancy going to Orlando? Orlando: Time and Money Saving Tips
By February that backpacking burn out was looming, the solution? Five weeks living in paradise! We moved into a hotel in Las Peñitas and worked for a bed and one meal. These type of Workaway programmes have stretched our £20K budget and made travelling for longer possible. In total, we have completed five work / stay programmes. During our time in Las Peñitas we visited León at the weekends and even boarded down an active volcano! For the final three weeks in Nicaragua, we backpacked around Ometepe (island with volcanoes), Somoto (a beautiful canyon), Granada (a very well developed city) and Managua (the capital and transport hub).
- Duration: 8 weeks
- Average Daily Budget: $35 (scooter hire, hikes, tattoos, private room in hostel)
- Currency: Nicaraguan Córdoba
- We lived in paradise
In March we returned to Austin, Texas, after a one night stopover in the ridiculously expensive San Jose, Costa Rica. I arrived in Texas an Orrock and left as an Armit – Craig and I eloped in Austin! We got hitched after SXSW at the lush Lady Bird Lake then partied at the DJs Junior Boys in the evening. A perfect day!
- Duration: 8 nights
- Currency: American Dollar
- For the romantic readers – More wedding photos
By April we had said goodbye to America, after one night in New York, we touched down in Oslo, Norway then met our true destination, Budapest, Hungary. We spent the next five weeks in Hungary, 3.5 weeks of that was spent living with a family helping out around the house and garden. The rest of the time we soaked in spas and socialised in Budapest (cheapest place in Europe to drink) with family and friends who visited us. We also hired a car and took a Hungarian road trip to explore Budapest’s day trips.
- Duration: 5 weeks
- Average Daily Budget: $37 (baths, car rental, private room Airbnb $17)
- Currency: Hungarian Forint
- Budapest: The cheapest place to party in the Europe?
May was pretty manic! First stop was the laid back Ljubljana, Europe’s cutest city! We also visited Bled and Kolpa River in Slovenia (eight nights) before moving on to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BiH) Sarajevo (six nights). That is a damn cool city, rich in history and culture. If heading to BiH, Mostar is not to be missed!
Next up was Serbia’s Belgrade (three nights) then the buzzing capital city of Romania, Bucharest! Belgrade bypassed me but Bucharest blew me away. We left Bucharest with a stopover in Bergamo, Italy on our way to the sun.
- Duration: 20 nights
- Average Daily Budget: $56 (private room in Airbnbs)
- Currency: Slovenia (Euro), BiH (Bosnia and Herzegovina convertible mark), Serbia (Serbian dinar), Romania (Romanian leu) and Italy (Euro)
- Further Reading: See city names!
Welcome to warmer climates! Hello Espanol! The summer month of June was divided up between Marbella with Craig’s family, our final Workaway in Granada, and Malaga with my friends Shelley and Jen G.
- Duration: 34 nights
- Average Daily Budget: $65 (based on $32 private room with Airbnb)
- Currency: Euros
- I wouldn’t say Granada is my favourite city, what’s yours?
Last stop – Portugal! We spent the next ten days using the capital, Lisbon, as a base. We attended the music festival NOS Alive, watched Portugal win the European Championships, and devoured custard tarts in Belem.
- Duration: 11 nights
- Average budget: $160 (based on $49 private room in guesthouse)
- Currency: Euros
- 15 Lisbon activities for under €15
How To Apply For A Career Break
So why a sabbatical? I had always regretted not taking a gap year between university and work so when I found out that after three years of working with my council that I could apply for a sabbatical that was me ready. When Craig and I met, he was planning on moving to Holland but put that on hold and we tested the wayfaring waters with a five week trip to South East Asia. We did not kill each other, so the long term planning began.
I verbalised my plans with my line manager and head manager, they were both supportive so I put in my application with a supporting statement which identified what benefits me taking a career break would bring to my job. I’m a politics and current affairs teacher so the justification was pretty straight forward – I wanted to bring the textbook to life! Craig is a self – employed gas engineer, he passed his business to his brother. Waiting for it to happen or making it happen fellow travel lovers?
Have we missed work? Yes, I miss the routine, constant chat, and the banter with the students, but I have still worked every day – blogging!
If you are thinking of taking a career break to travel, read my step by step guide on how to apply for a sabbatical.
Long Term Travel Checklist
To finish off this ridiculously big guide of long term travel advice, here is a quick to do list for you to check off and remember – long term travel is not for everyone. I had an incredible time but I’m looking forward to the shorter trips that the future holds!
- Work out your budget
- Investigate countries which meet budget
- Price flights
- Start selling and saving
- Advise work / apply for career break
- Get vaccinations / buy travel insurance
- Organise visas, credit cards, and currency
- Stop dreaming, start living!
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