I’m ready to answer the ‘Million Dollar’ question that everyone had been asking us:-travel costs ‘How much does a year of travel cost?’ and I’m happy to say its not a million dollars! I kept a meticulous spreadsheet that tracked every penny of our spending over our year abroad. I’ll share it with you but first I have to tell you about how our plan came to fruition. I think its an inspirational story about the universe providing! If you only want the numbers and want to skip my long winded, thought provoking story then scroll down to the bottom.
I had people ask ‘did you win the lotto?, ‘how can you afford this?’, ’taking a year off, are you crazy’, ’what about your jobs’, ‘did you rob a bank’?….Well, non of the above but it was a lot of pre-planning, saving, luck and the universe lining up alllllllllll the stars for us.
We started planning about a year and a half in advance. Janet was in Palm Springs with her bestie, taking a mental health break after a year long battle with new management at her company that had plans to completely replace and change their sales force. They eventually laid off over 20 salespeople (all but one) and Janet had managed to negotiate a decent exit package after 15 years of service. It was emotional, a very difficult and tedious process, but it provided enough money to completely pay off any debt we had. At the same time, I was battling some strong headwinds at my company, the recent oil and gas downturn was having detrimental effects on the company I had been with for over 15 years. I knew my days were numbered, my salary and all the other reps was 100% commissioned and not heading in the right direction. I figured I could squeeze out one more year and then I’d be faced with unemployment also.
While Janet was away I had quiet time to do some sole searching and figuring out what our future was looking like. Facing unemployment was stressful but put into perspective by much more serious life battles. We had just gone through a period where we had lost a number of friends and had others recently diagnosed with cancer. This insidious disease had taken away all their life plans and dreams, friends we had talked with about retirement and dreams of travel, freedom 95! It was heartbreaking to lose them and made our own struggles look trivial and minor.
Just before Janet left for Palm Springs she got a call requesting an interview for a job she had been referred to and they wanted to meet her when she got back. It was a one-year contract job covering a maternity leave. It would be great, but I was thinking we were probably both going to end up unemployed at the same time.
And that’s when my mind went all Jimmy Neutron and I came up with the idea to take this as an opportunity, we didn’t need to wait for a long-term retirement plan that might not ever come. The universe was speaking to me and I was super excited, ‘lets spend a year in Italy’! If Janet landed this job we would have a year to plan and save, we could make it happen.
A week later my buddy and I flew out to join the girls in Palm Springs and I couldn’t wait to spring the idea on Janet. Floating in the pool with Pina Colada’s in hand I asked her ‘Want to spend a year in Italy’? I knew that by telling her I wouldn’t be able to take it back, she’d hold me accountable and it would be out there in the universe. But first a number of things had to line up to make it possible.
Well low and behold she landed that job and the wheels were in motion. We figured we could save her income and live off mine, our target savings was $50,000 and we started to build a budget for the trip and make plans. The day we booked our plane ticket was the day we were committed, followed by Airbnb reservations, event tickets and bookings that couldn’t easily be undone without a big cost. There would be no looking back! September was our go date and I had planned to leave my job by the end of May which was the end of our annual sales cycle.
Well plans are one thing, but reality can be vastly different. Had things gone to plan we might have had a bit of difficulty but everything worked out better than hoped! It was unbelievable how things came to fruition and I really felt our friends pulling strings for us from up in the heavens.
A few months before planning to quit my job of 15 years I realized management had got themselves in a pickle. Thinking they could sell themselves out of this recession they went and hired a bunch of reps, took territory from tenured reps with already stressed territories to build new ones and now had double the sales team than the business could support. The writing was on the wall and I expressed this to my Manager, half the team had to go and if so, I’d like to put myself forward.
I thought there was a remote chance, no one had ever received a package before in the history of the company. We were 100% commissioned and that just wasn’t something they did. My jumping off the cliff date was quickly approaching and I had hoped but wasn’t banking on an offer. Well once again the stars aligned, and my boss came to me asking if I was still interested in leaving. After some difficult negotiations during which they recanted their offer and asked me to stay, they told me they couldn’t make a package happen. But I eventually got the package I wanted. I received the settlement 2 weeks before I was planning on quitting with squat and had I not gotten it our budget would have been strained significantly. Janet was asked to stay at her new company after the contract expired which gave us a few more months of saving and she resigned a few weeks before our trip.
The universe provided in so many ways that I can’t explain the uncanniness, I guess you put it out there and it might be provided. I’m certain we had cheerleaders from beyond. We were (are) so blessed, feeling very grateful that it all came to fruition and we had been so lucky! So many domino’s had to line up and they just did.
So, we had planned on about $50,000 for travel costs and some additional monies to pay for our household expenses back home (heat, utilities, property tax, repairs and things that might come up). We canceled our cell phones, cable and anything else we wouldn’t need while away. A few years prior we had managed to pay off our mortgage, the kids moved back to look after the dogs and paid a little bit of rent to help with keeping the house running.
We achieved our savings goal, plans were made and the first three months of our travels were booked. Before we knew it, September was upon us and it became hard to wrap our heads around the adventure we were about to partake on. Our friends threw the best ever surprise ‘going away party’ for us a few weeks before our departure, suddenly we were tearfully saying goodbye to the kids and the dogs and on an airplane to Glasgow, Scotland.
So now the budget! I made one but as with all great plans I was having to adjust it regularly. We did spend a little more than we thought and came back a little broker than we had hoped but it was the most amazing times of our lives and so glad we did it. It was a risky move and we knew it might take us a year to land jobs after our return and it is turning out that way so far. It’s a bit stressful, we were a little depressed after returning to everyday life but with determination we are working it out.
Here is the breakdown of our spending in summary, if anyone wants the actual month by month/ day by day spreadsheet send me an email through the blog (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll forward it to you.
- Accommodations: $11694
- Food: $11178
- Transportation: $9617
- Tourism: $1138
Total Travel Costs: $46104
Here’s an explanation of our expenses; We were very careful with our spending, did most of our own cooking, found mostly free tourist things to do and see, traveled mostly by train and stayed in decent but not luxurious Airbnb’s with kitchens:
Accommodations– we stayed almost exclusively in Airbnb’s and spent a lot of time and effort to find the best places at the best prices. We were happy with all the accommodations, some more than others but non-were bad and some were outright amazing. As expected this was the largest expense and would have been a lot bigger if we didn’t get free accommodations for almost four months. How did we get free accommodations you ask? Well we spent three months in Wales and England doing housesits, we moved into other people’s homes while they went on holidays. We loved and looked after their pets and kept their homes while they were away enjoying their own vacations. I’ll blog about housesitting and how to do it yourselves at a later time but it’s the best thing ever and how we’ll travel when we retire. We stayed in beautiful homes that we couldn’t have afforded to rent, they wined and dined us before they left, often gave us their cars, we had dogs to walk and cats to snuggle (and horses, chickens, turtles and even a snake) which helped us with the home sickness we experienced from leaving our own furries behind. We got to live like locals in a typical home in a typical neighborhood; a farm in Broxburn, an old stone home near Edinburgh, a flat in London, a brownstone in Liverpool, and two large homes that were also B&B’s in the welsh countryside). The best of all, we met the most amazing people and made friendships that are the true value of travel. We also spent a few weeks with family in Slovenia, hospitality beyond what anyone could imagine and came home with many extra pounds from the incredible food they prepared everyday for us. If it weren’t for the housesits and family accommodations our budget would have been blown and we’d have had to come home earlier.
Food- We did most of our own cooking and specifically booked Airbnb’s with kitchens. Shopping for groceries was a cultural experience every time and provided some of our entertainment. Finding fresh produce, picking up a bottle of wine, some fresh pastries, cheese or the local delicacy was a source of much enjoyment. We splurged occasionally on a quality dinner out and had plenty of restaurant meals, but we mostly searched for cost effective options like pizza, pasta and in Turin the famous aperitivo happy hour buffets! We stopped often for snacks while touring, a glass of prosecco or the popular spritzer, we didn’t sacrifice much and enjoyed ourselves to the max but within reason. Having a simple glass of prosecco StreetSide in Piazza Navona, Rome while people watching in front of the Bernini fountain was life changing, enjoying a chocolata calda at an outdoor café, wrapped in blankets, perched high on the cliffs of Bergamo while looking out to the winter scenery below, views all the way to Milan was ethereal…. The simplest moments were the most memorable.
Transportation- this total is all in; all our flights, trains, buses, ferries and car rentals. We mostly took trains between moves and would stay in an area for a number of days using it as a base to explore with day trips on foot and by train or bus. Public transportation in Europe is so cost effective and efficient, especially the train systems. We rented a car for part of our time in Scotland, for two weeks in Ireland and six weeks in Sicily when it was necessary for travel to the areas we wanted to go. Our budget got blown in the end when we couldn’t get standby flights and had to cough up $2918 for last minute flights home.
Tourism- We spent very little here, a few entrances to parks, shows or special events we felt were worth the fee. Otherwise we were pretty misery on this budget, we aren’t much into touristy things anyways.
Misc- This covered things like clothes, toiletries, gifts, souvenirs, insurance, medical and dental, petty cash items I didn’t bother tracking, mailing stuff home, xmas gifts…..anything that didn’t fall in the regular categories.
On average it cost us about $5000 a month to travel, not including our household costs back home. Scotland and Ireland were particularly expensive, the UK a close second. Italy and the other countries we found reasonable to travel, especially if you stay outside of the tourist areas. It also helped our budget immensely to be mostly traveling off season: September to July. Things started to get much more expensive in the summer as rates went up and so did the crowds.
Hope this helps inspire you to plan your own long sojourn. Send me a note on the blog or through our email if you have any questions I might be able to help with. Buon Viaggio!