“We choose to live like monks, rooting ourselves to a home or a career using the future as a phony ritual to justify the present. And by doing this, we end up spending the best part of our life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it. Thus, given an unlimited amount of choices, we make none. Settling into our lives, we hold onto our domestic certainties that we forget why we even desired them in the first place”
– Henry David Thoreau
Have you ever noticed that we tend to ask people what they do for a living, where they went to school, what kind of car they drive, how many kids they have, how the weather is, or how their job is going, but we never ask people if they are happy? The phrase genki desu ka? in Japanese means “how are you”, but one of the literal translations actually means “are you happy?”
After my first international travels to Europe and Asia with my family at age 19, my first few jobs as a real “adult”, getting my certification as a yoga instructor, moving from O’ahu to Seattle, finding love, and building a career in sales & tourism, on paper, it would appear that I had it all. Yet I felt unsettled. I was determined to find the answer to this very question: was I happy? I repeated it to myself. I danced with the question as if it would unlock a vault filled with butterflies and seahorses and somehow provide the secret answer to all of life’s most challenging and ethereal questions. And the conclusion I came to?…
Yes, I was happy, but I was not content. I was seeking more fulfillment from the life I was living in Seattle. I would come home from work and look at photos of beautiful places in the world, feeling an extreme sense of wanderlust. I yearned to climb to the top of a mountain peak far away in another country; to feel the wind against my face and grasp the feeling of true freedom. I bought a giant map of the world and hung it up in our living room, every day looking at where I wanted to go next and what the life, the food, the people, the music and the culture might be like there. I would close my eyes and see the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean, feel the ocean breeze from the Caribbean Sea in South America, taste the pesto Genovese in Italy, and hear the roosters in rural Greece. Something…something was calling me…and not just calling, but pulling me.
And who was I kidding, I wasn’t going to accomplish any of that by staying put, continuing to merely gaze longingly at photos on my computer screen and feeling my heart ache looking at a map, just sitting there, its one-dimensional etches and lines mocking me. I almost heard it speak to me: Come to me…explore me…the world is waiting…you must go. Okay, now I was crazy; was I really listening to an inanimate object? Was I really being spoken to by a map? I was beyond eager to experience all the contours of the world, and thankfully, my then boyfriend (now husband), Sasha felt the same way.
So, in April of 2017, we made the biggest decision of our lives to-date…we left our corporate careers to travel the world indefinitely.
Yep…that’s kind of the reaction we received in America, but to Europeans it was more like…
In Europe and Australia, taking a gap year between high school and University is essentially a rite of passage. In fact, if you don’t take that time away, people wonder why you didn’t choose to travel. The gap year is an opportunity for young people to learn how to deal with challenging situations, thrive outside of their comfort zones, interact with people from different cultures, adapt to new environments, and learn responsibility, humility, how to live on a budget and be accountable for themselves. This concept doesn’t just apply to young people, so we thought to ourselves, why can’t we take an “adult gap year”? Call it what you wish: escaping the newly elected President in America, adult gap year, mini retirement, long-term travel abroad, indefinite departure…
So we donated many of our “things” to Goodwill, put our furniture in storage in Seattle, gave up our apartment and waved goodbye to the April gloom. Elated and free, we set off on our journey with the whole world ahead of us. We had no more timelines, no more deadlines, no more obligations, no more bills, no more paychecks, and nobody to please but ourselves. We were finally free. And I’m happy to report that through this six months of travel with the love of my life, I did in fact, discover my true happiness…and so much more.
Here is a recap of the last six months of our lives in a nutshell with some data that I collected along the way (the cover photo of this blog post is a snapshot of where we have traveled to (in orange). The grey is where we have yet to visit!:
10 countries visited:
– United States national parks
– The Vatican, (technically its own country!)
(and Sasha had a three-day solo stint in Latvia due to an unnoticed Russian passport expiration…oops!)
22 flights (only one missed due to incorrect dates, but we were able to re-book…lesson learned: don’t take 12:00 AM flights. Also, Alaska Airlines is the best.)
3 of those flights (the long, expensive ones across the Atlantic) were booked for free using Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card miles (which Sasha opened three months prior to our departure from the U.S.)
41 accommodations slept in
Got engaged in Greece!!
Lost: 1 pair of sunglasses (Sasha’s in an Uber in Kazan, Russia), a razor (disappeared in a shared Airbnb in Rome), a headband (somewhere in the bowels of my suitcase), 7 pounds of weight (over the course of six months), and several negative stigmas about common world dogmas
Gained: new friendships, new life perspectives, muscle, confidence, humility, independence, understanding that the world is much smaller than it appears to be, appreciation for different world cultures, affirmation that we can live out of a 65-liter backpack each and that embracing minimalism is a much less stressful lifestyle. Love, a tan, the ability to view the world from an unfiltered and non-judgmental lens, and restoration of faith in humanity
Broke: Waterpick flosser, electric toothbrush, Nikon D3100 DSLR camera (don’t go intense trail running with it bouncing up and down in your backpack), & Seagate backup drive (unplug the USB cable from the backup drive before packing it to avoid it bending inside the portal during transport)
Besides our lap tops and cell phones, I can’t think of more expensive items to have been broken, but alas, they’re just things, they’re replaceable, and life goes on.
Money spent: on average, less per month traveling than we would have, had we stayed in Seattle (and also a full $15,000 under what I had set for a six-month budget)
10+ times people told us not to go somewhere because it was dangerous
0 accidents, injuries, times we felt in danger, thefts or break-ins (stop believing everything you hear and allowing the media to scare you)
17 museums & historic sites visited
9 free walking tours
7 rental cars driven
9,000 approximate number of miles (14,481 kilometers) driven (this only includes what we drove in our rental cars and does not include Uber and taxi rides). This means that in the last six months, we have driven one-third around the Earth (it is 24,901 miles around the circumference of the Earth)
14 UNESCO World Heritage sites visited
50 gelato eaten (between the two of us)
We drove a LOT, which means endless time in the car. To pass the time intelligently and interestingly, we read and/or listened to several books through Audible. Here is our reading list (most have a common thread of travel or entrepreneurship.)
– The $100 Startup
– Pitch Anything
– The Biography of Elon Musk
– Shoe Dog: Autobiography of Phil Knight, Founder of Nike
– The Obstacle is the Way
– Zero to One
– Ego is the Enemy
– Vagabonding – An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel
– Tales of a Female Nomad
– The Good Mom
– On the Road
– The Alchemist
– The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k
HOW MUCH MONEY WE SPENT IN EACH COUNTRY
Before I get into our spending analysis, I’d like to note a few things. Because we did this trip on a budget, I tracked every single transaction between the two of us (even as small as 50 cents). This meant either saving receipts until I documented them, or writing the cost in the notes section of my phone. In each country I had to do the conversion to calculate the prices in U.S. dollars. Yes, I realize that this is a dinosaur method. No, I haven’t found a good app for this yet that has all the features I want. (Please let me know if you have!) I used good ole-fashioned Excel to compute our expenses and created a category table which you will see below. To figure out the average per diem spending in each category, I divided the total amount spent in each category by the number of days spent in that country.
Now that we are back in the states and use credit cards for everything, I used Mint to track our expenses, but Mint obviously cannot track cash, which is why I used excel for the international portion.
Sasha and I would consider ourselves to be mid-range travelers. This means that we prefer the comforts of an Airbnb over a shared hostel dorm, a rental car to have the freedom of exploration over taking public transportation (with the exception of staying in large cities where a vehicle is not necessary), and we are foodies, so the Eating Out category is almost always the highest. However, to save money, we cooked several meals at home since we always had a kitchen. This same trip could easily be recreated by a budget traveler and come out to half the cost of what we spent. It could also be recreated by a luxury traveler and be more than double what we spent. The point is, travel can be affordable and doable on any budget.
TRANSPORTATION: Includes rental cars, gas, Uber, public transportation, tolls and parking (and there are a LOT of tolls in Europe!)
CELL PHONE: We selected the T-Mobile International Plus Plan, which gives us unlimited free texting and calls for $.20 per minute, including unlimited data in each country. The cost is $104 per month for the two of us. We figured this would be easier than getting a SIM card in each country, but it ended up being excessive, and the data was too slow. While it was nice to have Internet and be connected anywhere we had service from Ecuador to Russia, I would recommend simply getting a SIM card in each country once you arrive to the airport, as that is a much cheaper option. To figure out what portion of the cell phone category we spent in each country, I calculated the portion we paid while we were in that particular country.
ENTERTAINMENT/LEISURE: Includes museum admissions, jet ski rentals, bungee jumping, entrance fees, etc. Any expense for having fun!
ACCOMMODATION: With the exception of a few hostels in South America and Mom and Pop hotels in Greece, we used Airbnb for our entire travels. With Airbnb filters, you can easily select the criteria you’d like in a home. We set our nightly accommodation budget not to exceed $50 USD (inclusive of taxes and service fees – be careful of those fees, they can add up!) and we miraculously were able to stay under this budget for every single night in every single country.
In mainland Greece, we traveled quickly (only 2 – 3 days in each village) and because we had a rental car, we wanted the flexibility to be able to change our plans at the last minute (or go without a plan and wing it based on how we enjoyed the place.) Because of this, we used Booking.com to check the availability in a hotel sometimes as last-minute as 15 minutes prior to arriving. Once we saw that there were rooms available, we simply showed up and asked for a discounted price if we paid in cash (which was honored 100% of the time, because hoteliers don’t want to pay the fees through Booking.com.) Even though we visited in peak tourist season (July), we were able to find some great deals this way (still within our budget) and also had the freedom to add on nights if we wished. (This is usually easier than cancelling and expecting a refund, assuming they have the availability, which is always the toss-up.)
*Note about Booking.com* – we used a “refer a friend” once (I referred Sasha and he booked our next accommodation) and received $20 off our next stay. Also, many times on their site it will show a listing with the text, “hurry! Only two rooms left at this price!” or something to that nature. This is a sales ploy and is typically not true, because you will arrive to the hotel and find that nearly every room is available.
You will notice that our accommodation for some countries will be either $0.00 or extremely low (London, Greece, France and Russia). This is because we stayed with family or friends for either part of the time or the whole time. I will list this in the notes.
TOILETRIES: We tried to bring as much as we could with us from the states, but that can make your backpack get heavy quickly! Sasha and I use all natural and/or organic products such as deodorant, shampoo, soap, sunscreen, etc. This was generally very difficult to find in other countries (especially South America). In Europe they were available, but at a very high price. Inevitably we ran out of things like soap and toothpaste, so we had to brave not being familiar with a brand and trust its labeling.
*NOTE* In Europe and many other parts of the world, the term for natural is “biological“.
AIRFARE: Because airfare is not indicative of how much money we spent in each country itself, I will list it separately. Three flights were booked using Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card points miles including Denver to London, St. Petersburg to Athens, and Munich to Denver. The total amount we spent on airfare for our entire trip was $3,916.39. We flew a total of 22 flights, bringing the average cost per flight to $178.
*Countries are listed in alphabetical order, not in the order in which we visited them*
Time Spent in country: 22 days
|CATEGORY||TOTAL COST IN 22 DAYS||AVERAGE PER DIEM|
|Clothing, Accessories & Gifts||$8.00||$0.36|
|COLOMBIA TOTALS (22 DAYS)||$2,305.09||$104.78|
Time Spent in Country: 10 days
|CATEGORY||TOTAL COST IN 10 DAYS||AVERAGE PER DIEM|
|Clothing, Accessories & Gifts||$5.90||$0.59|
|CROATIA TOTALS (10 DAYS)||$3,116.04||$311.60|
Time Spent in Country: 16 days
|CATEGORY||TOTAL COST IN 16 DAYS||AVERAGE PER DIEM|
|Clothing, Accessories & Gifts||$112.00||$7.00|
|ECUADOR TOTALS (16 DAYS)||$3,828.27||$239.27|
Time Spent in Country: 8 days
|CATEGORY||TOTAL COST IN 8 DAYS||AVERAGE PER DIEM|
|Clothing, Accessories & Gifts (NOTE: My Nikon D3100 DSLR camera broke, and I had to purchase a new one, which was $507, which is why this category is abnormally high)||$569.81||$71.23|
|Accommodation **we stayed with Sasha’s friend for our entire stay**||$0.00||$0.00|
|FRANCE TOTALS (8 DAYS)||$1,178.27||$147.28|
Time Spent in Country: 27 days
|CATEGORY||TOTAL COST IN 27 DAYS||AVERAGE PER DIEM|
|Clothing, Accessories & Gifts||$302.67||$11.21|
|Accommodation **We had free accommodation from Sasha’s friend during our entire 11-night stay on Crete Island. On Mainland Greece, we paid for the rest of our accommodation**||$475.84||$17.62|
|GREECE TOTALS (27 DAYS)||$4,358.15||$161.41|
Time Spent in Country: 32 days
|CATEGORY||TOTAL COST IN 32 DAYS||AVERAGE PER DIEM|
|Clothing, Accessories & Gifts||$105.22||$3.29|
|ITALY TOTALS (32 DAYS)||$6,826.90||$213.34|
Time Spent in City: 8 days
|CATEGORY||TOTAL COST IN 8 DAYS||AVERAGE PER DIEM|
|Clothing, Accessories & Gifts||$0.00||$0.00|
|Accommodation **We stayed with Sasha’s friend for our entire stay**||$0.00||$0.00|
|LONDON TOTALS (8 DAYS)||$723.27||$90.41|
Time Spent in Country: 30 days
**Note about Russian Visas**
If you are visiting Russia and are you are not a Russian citizen, you will need a Visa. I obtained a re-entry Visa, valid for three years, which cost $390 (this is included in the Transportation category below.) You may also get a Visa for only a one-time entry, which was significantly cheaper. However, since my Fiance’s family is from there, we figured we would likely visit again sometime in the next three years. I obtained my Visa two months before departing the country.
|CATEGORY||TOTAL COST IN 30 DAYS||AVERAGE PER DIEM|
|Clothing, Accessories & Gifts||$59.31||$1.98|
|Accommodation **We stayed with Sasha’s family in St. Petersburg & Moscow. The only accommodation we paid for was our five nights in Kazan and chipping in for the electric bill for our 2.5 weeks in St. Petersburg**||$208.72||$6.96|
|RUSSIA TOTALS (30 DAYS)||$3,188.12||$106.27|
U.S. NATIONAL PARKS (UTAH)
Time Spent in City: 5 days
|CATEGORY||TOTAL COST IN 5 DAYS||AVERAGE PER DIEM|
|Clothing, Accessories & Gifts||$0.00||$0.00|
|UTAH TOTALS (5 DAYS)||$800.50||$160.10|
If you have specific questions about saving, budgeting, documenting expenses, etc., please feel free to contact me or leave a comment below!