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  • Total days on the road: 586
  • Currently in: USA
  • Miles Driven: 36821
  • Countries Visited: 17
  • Days Camping: 389
  • Days Indoors: 202

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How Much Will All This Cost?

Written by Jared on November 9, 2011

A bag of money.One of the most common questions we are asked is, "How can you afford to spend so much time traveling?" People tend to confuse what we are doing with what most Americans do two or three weeks a year - go on vacation. Long-term travel is more like daily life than a vacation. It can even be cheaper than living at home.

We spent a year and a half planning and saving for this 16-month adventure. There's no magic involved, just a lot of research, spreadsheets and number crunching. This article explains what we think the trip will cost, how we broke down the different expenses, and what we spent before leaving home.

The Bottom Line

Expense Total Per Person
Start Up Costs $17,224 $5,741.33
One-Time Costs $21,424 $7,141.33
Food & Lodging $23,446 $7,815.33
Gas $7,004 $2,334.67
Personal Spending $14,490 $4,830
Group Spending $6,762 $2,254

Total Cost: $90,350
Per Person: $30,116
Per Person Per Month: $1,882
Average Group Per Diem (Food, Lodging & Gas): $71

Start Up Costs

The two lists below include the money we have spent prior to the start of the trip. This does not include personal expenses like new clothes, cameras, camping gear and toiletries. We weren't very religious about keeping track of the small stuff, but all of the big items are included below.

Vehicle Expenses
Vehicle $7,000
Vehicle Paperwork/Taxes $600
Alarm System Upgrade $415
Dual-battery system $943
Tools/Jack $465
Fridge Mount & Lockbox $120
Fridge $425
Car Storage Modifications $120
Maintenance (120K Service) $580
Stereo $175
New Tires $620
Upgraded Shocks & New Tie Rod $540
Spark Plugs $33
Air Con Recharge $32
Other Expenses
Guide Books $200
Maps $180
GPS $200
Phone $200
3G Dongle & Router $125
SteriPen $65
Central/South America Car Insurance $1,848
Mexico Car Insurance $184
Health Insurance (for all of us) $2,154
Vehicle Total: $12,068 Other Expenses Total: $5,156

Total Start Up Costs: $17,224

One-Time Trip Expenses

This list list includes all of the expected expenses we will have on the road, excluding food, lodging and gas. These numbers are the totals for three people. The cruise to Antarctica is by far the biggest item in our budget.

Vehicle Maintenance $1,500
Machu Picchu $1,350
Flight Home $1,800
Antarctica $13,500
Darien Gap Shipping Fees $1,200
Cartagena Flight $900
Baja Ferry $400
Extra Car Insurance $150
Mexico Border $45
Honduras Border $40
Guatemala Border $10
Belize Exit Fee $40
Nicaragua Border $20
Costa Rica Border $12
Panama Border $12
Colombia Border $45
Visas $1,427

Total One-Time Trip Expenses: $21,424

Food & Lodging

Lodging costs were calculated based on the percentage of camping we planned to do. In the U.S. we hoped to camp 80% of the time. For all other countries we figured on camping half of the time. These are very rough estimates, reliable camping availability and prices has been hard to come by for some countries. The 'Guatemala - Volunteering' row includes $15 per person for a homestay, and $15 per person for Spanish language school.

Food costs were kept low since we planned to cook for ourselves most of the time.

Country Days Food Camping Hotel Total
USA 30 $40 $20 $100 $2,280
Mexico 60 $25 $15 $25 $2,700
Belize 7 $25 $10 $25 $297.50
Guatemala 7 $20 $10 $15 $227.50
Guatemala - Volunteering 53 $45   $45 $4,770
Honduras 7 $25 $10 $20 $280
Nicaragua 21 $25 $10 $25 $892.50
Costa Rica 21 $25 $12 $30 $966
Panama 28 $25 $10 $15 $1,050
Colombia 28 $25 $10 $15 $1,050
Ecuador 21 $25 $10 $15 $787.50
Peru 45 $25 $10 $25 $1,912.50
Bolivia 21 $25 $5 $10 $682.50
Chile 60 $25 $15 $25 $2,700
Argentina 60 $25 $15 $30 $2,850

Total Food & Lodging: $23,446


Gas costs were calculated given a rate of 13 miles per gallon for our 4Runner. At home it's closer to 19, but given our uncertainty about road conditions, the number of miles we'd be driving and fluctuating gas prices, we picked a low number to be safe.

Given the difficulty of generalizing gas costs across an entire country, we averaged several numbers and erred on the side of higher prices. Prices for the U.S. were intentionally left low because we could count on gas mileage much better than 13 MPG.

Country Cost/G Miles Total
USA $3.50 3,500 $942.31
Mexico $3.25 4,000 $1,000
Belize $3.50 200 $53.85
Guatemala $3.50 1000 $269.24
Honduras $3.50 500 $215.38
Nicaragua $3.50 800 $225
Costa Rica $5.00 900 $288.46
Panama $2.50 400 $76.92
Colombia $4.25 1,200 $392.31
Ecuador $2.25 1,400 $242.31
Peru $5.00 2,500 $961.54
Bolivia $3.00 1,500 $346.15
Chile $4.25 3,000 $980.77
Argentina $3.75 3,500 $1,009.62

Total Gas: $7,003.85

Spending Money

Personal spending money is $10 per day, per person. Each person manages their spending money separately. It can be used for anything from fishing licenses, to ATV tours, to chocolate bars. It also exists as another buffer for when we really need a hotel, but already blew our normal per diem on a steak dinner.

We also added $14 per day for "group spending money". This is to pay for things like park fees, phone and internet use, and to give our budget a bit more flexibility.

Total Personal Spending Money: $14,490
Total Group Spending Money: $6762


Jessica  M
#2 Jessica M 2011-11-11 22:16
Thanks Eric,
So far, Mexico gas is actually right on budget, but that could be the exchange rate working in our favor. Our trusty 4Runner is also getting about 5 more miles to the gallon than we had estimated. Let's hope that keeps up.

Also, thanks for the updated gas estimates. It's so hard to find reliable info online. Knowing someone in the country is really the only way to get good estimates. And even then, it seems subject to change overnight! Hope you're having fun in El Sal!
Eric @ Trans-America
#1 Eric @ Trans-America 2011-11-09 22:14
very impressed by your breakdown, way more organized that we can ever be. Don't want to be a buzz-kill, and it probably won't effect the bottom line all that much but fuel prices have been changing dramatically down here over the past year. We are currently in El Sal and gas is about $4.05, it was about $4.15 in Honduras and $3,90 in Guatemala. Belize is well over $4 and I'm sure you are finding Mexico by now should be well over $3.25, but we haven't been there in over a year.

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