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Let’s talk money. The cost of a mini-retirement

Story published on

 March 4, 2019

If you want to travel longterm and see the world that we are increasingly connected to, money is not the main thing keeping you from doing it. That’s what I told you. Easier said when you have it, right? Perhaps, but the thing is I didn’t have this amount of money. So how much do you really need to travel the world?

Well, travel gurus say that you can do it on an average of $50 per day. When you travel as a couple or with one or more friends, perhaps that figure goes down, since you can split the housing costs. There are plenty of bloggers and digital nomads who documented their expenses and it would seem that the $50 is on the lower end of things. If hostels and street food are not your cup of tea, then that daily cost will go up.

That being said, let me show you my version. Have a look at the picture of my fridge.

Consider it a journalist’s Excel spreadsheet. This is where we rounded up all the flights and the accommodation that we paid for. Bear in mind that the prices are for two travellers. Also, in the background of the second picture, you can witness, covered in post-its, the pantry. It was converted into a meeting board of sorts. Don’t worry, you don’t have to zoom the picture to understand what I’m trying to show you. I will narrow it down for you.

Grand total so far: 4.114 

Here’s the grand total at the moment: so far, we are at 4.114 € for, I think, 79 days of travel throughout Asia. For 2 people! This includes all the flights and about two months of the accommodations (we’re doing the Philipines on the spot and we will be booking some places in Japan in the coming weeks). It also covers the really expensive train passes in Japan, the visa costs (the bulk goes to China, with around 200 € for two visas) and the travel insurance. The 4k do not include the pre-travel shopping we did.

What everything cost

€/pers. - Flights and Japan Train

Let’s break this down to the essentials:

First, transportation. The 8 flights that we have booked cost us 2.335 € – tickets for two, all taxes and a checked bag included. More simply said, with 1.168 €, I’ll get from Bucharest to Colombo to Siem Reap (Cambodia) to Pnom Penh (Cambodia) to Singapore to Cebu Island (Philippines) to Tokyo (Japan), from Osaka (Japan) to Tianjing (China), ending with the trip from Shanghai to Bucharest.

€/pers. - Accommodation for about 2 months

Perhaps surprisingly, the second most expensive single thing in our first three-month journey are the famous train passes for Japan: 473 € for two 7-day passes! It’s surpassed by just the return flight from China to Romania.

Before discussing the acommodation cost, do bear in mind here how much your rent or house loan is per day where you live. At approximately 978 € for the things we booked or already paid, we have around three weeks of accommodation left to take care of and pay. That means we have about two months of the accommodation taken care of.

€/pers. - Visas

Again, the 978 € total is for two people and, in a lot of places, has breakfast included. Yes, Japan will be a significant added expense, but the Philippines, where we’ll be spending much more time, won’t. So far, I think there’s only one hostel on our list. Also, we splurged a bit in Cambodia, went the average way in Sri Lanka and the cheap way in Singapore. As a sidenote here, Singapore really breaks a budget traveller’s bank!

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Words of wisdom

COSTS RECAP
  • TOTAL SO FAR: 4.114 € for 2 people or 2.057 €/pers

 

  • FLIGHTS: 2.335 € – 2 passengers, 8 flights each, 1 checked bag

 

  • ACCOMMODATION: 978 € for 2, for about 2 months, with about 3 weeks (2/3 in the Philipines and the rest in Japan) not booked yet

 

  • VISAS: 328 € for 2
MOST EXPENSIVE

The two most expensive single items so far:

 

  • the plane ticket from China to Bucharest: 335 €/pers.

 

  • the 7-day train passes in Japan: approx. 236 €/pers.

This is what the average rate per day is, based on the places we’ve chosen to stay:

– Sri Lanka – 16 €/double room/night

– Cambodia – 20 €/double room/night

– Singapore – 40 €/double room/night

– China – 28 €/double room/night (including a hostel for 2 nights)

Some words of wisdom at this point. First, these are all costs that I spent a lot of time optimizing. I checked multiple websites, I followed airfares very closely. It also helped that I had a very good exchange rate, thanks to the Revolut cards.

We did go the budget way, but it’s not really a backpacker’s way of doing things. It’s somewhere in between, rather. I don’t know if just booking everything on the spot makes things cheaper – perhaps it does, but, this being our first longterm travel, we only felt confortable doing this in a couple of places – hence the blank space under the Philipines on my fridge.

Obviously, many other costs will follow: food, trains and busses, to name a few. Phones and data plans, entertainment and sightseeing and the three weeks of accommodation unaccounted for are also going to add up. What I wanted was to show you is a big picture of what such a travel would entail financially. That’s because, ever since I started telling friends about the mini-retirement plans, the recurring question has been about the expenses.

1.168 €: Bucharest → Colombo → Siem Reap → Pnom Penh →  Cebu Island → Tokyo → Osaka → Tianjing → Shanghai → Bucharest

Find your Greece, expand your Germany 🙂

My expectation, hope rather, is that we’ll keep the first 3 months of this mini-retirement at 8.000 € for both of us, which would mean around 50 €/day/person.

If you don’t have big loans, children or other people to support and if you have an average income, I suggest an experiment. Keep a record on your phone of absolutely all your expenses (and I really mean all) in a 3-month span. Pay attention to how much you spend and on what. I did that in order to see where my biggest costs were and where I could cut them. Basically, finding your unbalanced budget-y ‘Greek parts’ and expanding your austerity loving ‘German bits’ 😀  

Looking back, that was an important part leading to our long term travels. It made us more disciplined, more aware of the not very important things we spent lots of money on (clothes, makeup, more expensive bars or restaurants and so on). I think this already serves us well now that we are away, since we didn’t have that adjustment period where we acted as Western tourists in a cheap Asian country and went straight for the fancy places.

What really keeps us from leaving

All this being said, since I keep blabbing that there are bigger obstacles to long term travel than saving money for it, let me give you my two cents on why I think going away for a long time is so hard. These are things I’ve struggled with and I’ll make sure to revisit them in a couple of months and see if my views have changed.

First of all, I think that the uncertainty and unknown, the fear that you will not be able to get back to the same lifestyle and the same kind of job when you come back home play a big part.

Next, the fact that travelling for so long and living out of a backpack can be stresful is also and important factor. Finally, planning it all, even loosely, takes a lot of hard work. Preparing the China visas took me one week of non stop planning and filling in forms, for example. And when you get to these places, if you’re not filthy rich, it will most often mean that you will downgrade your lifestyle. At the end of the day, it is a very personal decision, based on all the tiny little things that make up your life and your happiness.

But just imagine this for one second: wouldn’t you see the world for just a couple of months instead of doing two or three fancier weeklong trips every year? Isn’t this bet worth taking if, at the other end of the bargain, you may hope for a tiny bit of a life-changing, routine-breaking, awe-inducing experience that will reset the way you see the world? I, for one, am taking my chances.

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