The Value of Nothing

It’s a common misconception that people must be rich to travel around the world. We’re not.

How we do it

  • We work as we travel, between 15 and 30 hours every week. Working from the RoadYes, that means that there are days that we don’t see any sights or experience anything cooler than looking out the window. That can mean entire days of working from the moment we wake up until we fall asleep, or sightseeing for a few hours, and then running home to get online for a work call or meeting. Some weeks we work more and others less, but this isn’t a never-ending vacation: every week involves the same kind of work we did back home.
  • We saved before the trip. I’m just a little obsessive on the topic of putting aside money every month. That included when I lived in NYC, and my salary barely covered rent and basic food; it’s a very good thing that my job fed me most days.
  • We make trade-offs on the road. Sometimes, that means changing country order or staying out in the burbs or cooking at home or taking a motion-sickness-inducing bus or getting haircuts only once a year. We made trade-offs at home too, but that didn’t end when we started traveling.

Cost comparison

So, where does that leave us? How much do we actually spend?


About $2/day less than at home:

  • At Home: Our small one-bedroom in Oakland was $1,520/month—about $50/night for the both of us. For those from other parts of the US who are alarmed by that amount, that is actually quite cheap for the Bay. And buying is rarely a better deal in that particular area. Factoring in required rental insurance and utilities, and you’re looking at $52/night.
  • On the Road: Warsaw ApartmentOver 5 months+ of bookings, we’ve spent $51/night. That meant $18/night in Warsaw and $107/night in Cinque Terre, but the average is $51. Except that several of the places have provided breakfast for us, from the lavish to the basic. Assuming that breakfast is worth $3 for each of us, and subtracting out those $6 only for places that fed us, our average per night is exactly $50/night.
  • How would we spend less? Hostels and hotels are not cheaper, and camping isn’t always, either (plus, no tent). Couch surfing or house sitting would likely make a difference.
  • Does it make sense to spend less? Given everything we’ve looked at, it doesn’t seem realistic to spend less without being significantly less happy. We avoid couch surfing because:
    • It’s not always reliable, and I don’t want to have anxiety about having nowhere to sleep, and
    • We always book a private room—and sometimes a private apartment or house; that’s important to us, and often impossible when couch surfing.

    As for house sitting, the market is so competitive and limited that it would completely change our plans; and we prefer to meet up with people, rather than being a bit of a slave to availability—and to e-mail, to spot the opportunities.


Almost double what we spend at home:

  • At Home: We have our car paid off, so monthly costs were approximately:
    • 2 tanks of gas ($95)
    • bridge tolls ($25)
    • our public transit cards ($75 each)
    • car insurance ($30)
    • car registration ($25)
    That’s $250/month, or $8/day for transit within the city and surroundings. For plane tickets and hotels, my estimate is more inexact because of the variation. I’m assuming 3-4 trips per year – at least 1 of which is to visit family (so no hotel cost), plus the use of frequent flyer miles, discount sites, and the like. Let’s say $9/day for that, for a total of $17/day.
  • On the Road: For transit within Rental Carcities, on public transit and parking, we spend $5/day. When you add in car rentals, trains between cities, and plane trips, though, we’re looking at $27/day, and that’s with online coupons and significant deal-hunting. Plus the cost of the big trips: US to Europe and Europe to Asia. So, total transit costs are likely close to $32/day, if you amortize the big costs.
  • How would we spend less? Hitchhike? Maybe ride sharing, though that would require more research and likely increase time spent and inconvenience. We could focus more on getting frequent flyer miles, especially by buying the things we would already through a portal that gives out miles. We could choose not to visit smaller towns or go to fewer cities overall.
  • Does it make sense to spend less? Not without significantly changing our plans, like deciding not to meet up with friends or taking a train across Siberia to Asia (which is likely illegal anyway, since we don’t have a visa to enter Russia). I am also trying to remember to use those miles-giving portals more.


About 1/3 more than at home:

  • At Home: I cook a decent bit, so we were averaging $5-$25/day on groceries for the two of us. We don’t buy organic, and I use coupons and buy whatever is on sale. But I also have a tendency to stock up: when we left, I gave away ~$500 worth of remaining groceries. Also, remember that groceries are significantly more expensive in California than in much of the rest of the US – even at the Grocery Outlet. Our eating out cost per day was a similar amount in the months before we left; however, I wouldn’t call it typical, because we were taking lots of trips (e.g. Yosemite, San Luis Obispo) that made cooking difficult. That averages out to about $30/day spent on food.
  • On the Road: Budapest MealSo far, we’re spending $5-$20/day on groceries, just a bit lower than at home. On eating out, we’ve been spending $21-$31/day, which is higher than I would like. That’s about $40/day on food: about $10 more.
  • How would we spend less? We could order more appetizers instead of entrees, especially since portion sizes around the world are creeping up to match American standards. We could drink a bit less, but I don’t think B would much like that, and we don’t drink that much anyway. (Plus, beer was cheaper than water in Poland, and wine was cheaper than water in Italy!) We could go to less expensive places. We could also spend less on eating out by bringing the grocery cost up. In August, we were only in places for a few nights at a time, which limited my chance to cook; September and October should be a bit better on that front.
  • Does it make sense to spend less? I think so, and I’m working on it. Smaller portions, less expensive restaurants, and more cooking are in the plans. This is an especially good idea because, though we like trying local foods, many of them don’t agree with us long term. For example, though they are plentiful in Italy, vegetables don’t figure prominently on restaurant menus. I felt sluggish and sick from a lack of veggies and a surfeit of pasta and pizza whenever I wasn’t able to cook.


Around $10/day more than at home:

  • At Home: We don’t have cable or Netflix, and we’re old, so we don’t go out very much. B plays poker for fun – which at least breaks even, and I stroll or go out to eat with friends for fun, so that’s factored in above. We don’t have gym memberships (arguably, in the health category anyway), but we occasionally go bowling or to see a show. We also do random things like trapeze classes, plays, or stand-up paddleboarding – but almost always with a Groupon. So, on average, we’re looking at $4/day for various types of fun.
  • On the Road: Florentine ArtWe’re averaging $14/day on entertainment. Almost all of that is museum entry fees and massages/spas; after all, carrying a heavy backpack can wear on us.
  • How would we spend less? We already try to go to museums on free days and walk around for entertainment. We could pick cheaper cities in which to have massages or spa days though, like Budapest versus Acqui Terme (Italy).
  • Does it make sense to spend less?  Likely not, since then we wouldn’t see a whole lot. It’s kind of the point of the trip, no?

Other costs

Gifts, Donations, Clothing, Cell Phones, Toiletries, Medical Insurance, and Prescriptions are all about the same as at home.

Our thoughts

So, in the big four categories, how much more are we spending compared to at home? About $30-35 more per day. That seems like a lot.

But are we spending less on anything? Yes! B was paying off student loans and credit card debt while at home, but he finished right before we left, so that expense is gone. (Good job, B!) Also, because we’re making less and because we’re abroad, our taxes are a bit lower. And instead of paying to do laundry at a laundromat—like we do at home—many places we stayed allowed us to use their washer for free. It’s a very rough estimate, but that’s about $10-$15 less per day.

Using these approximations, we’re getting to travel the world on about $20 more per day than we would to stay at home. We think that’s worth it.

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6 thoughts on “The Value of Nothing

  1. If I closed my eyes (and had someone read this to me, cuz it’s hard to read a blog post with eyes closed), I could have sworn this was an article in some amazing travel magazine!

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