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How far will $20,000 take you?

The World

How much does a round-the-world trip cost?

I have no idea. Traveling around the world is a very vague and very personal objective. For me, I had my five reasons to travel around the world, a rough RTW itinerary and some cash when I set out on my RTW trip in May 2010. I did some rough estimates before leaving of how much I’d need to travel in certain countries and came up with a rather rudimentary budget of $1,500/month.

I told everyone I’d be back in America or working in Australia within a year. The $1,500 was just a number; the goal of getting a job in Australia was just an objective to give me a purpose. With my timeline, my published itinerary, my secret itinerary in my head and my budget, none of the math actually added up. But it didn’t matter.

When I originally decided to travel around the world, I decided I wouldn’t go until I’d saved up X amount of dollars. After doing a little bit of research online, I eventually settled on $20,000 as my pre-RTW trip savings goal.

Luckily with the budget I’d already been living on in Boston, reaching the $20,000 mark was nicely timed with my 3-year anniversary at my job. So when I quit my job in April 2010, with a plane ticket to Madrid for May 5, 2010, I had $20,000 in my bank account and I was ready to move.

How far will $20,000 take you?

So the big question: exactly how far can $20,000 take you?

Twenty thousand dollars is a big number. I realize that. It took me years of saving, a few lucky breaks, living in cheap apartments and a well-paid career for a kid just out of college.

It helped that my favorite beer was also one of the cheapest. But when I left to travel around the world, I honestly didn’t know or have too many expectations on where $20,000 would take me.

With my $20,000, I was able to travel from May 2010 to mid-June 2011.

Actually, it was almost exactly 13.5 months of RTW travel. I spent the very last of my $20,000 on a flight from Vietnam to Berlin a few months ago. The $600 plane ticket could have been used to get me from Vietnam to my parents’ house in Texas, but I decided to take a risk, a gamble.

I decided to have a last bit of fun on my favorite continent (that’s Europe) before heading back to America. But more importantly, I wanted to give myself a chance at pursuing my dream of living & working in Europe. So I flew to Europe instead of home.

But back to the money. My $20,000 for traveling around the world lasted 13.5 months, 10 countries. It bought me a new camera in Cambodia and a custom-made jacket in Vietnam.

It gave me weeks on quiet beaches in India and Cambodia, a month “break” from traveling in Jerusalem, the chance to learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a day trip to an elephant reserve in northern Thailand.

It gave me the chance to let loose and have fun, to have a boyfriend for the first time, to learn to speak with strangers, to sometimes trust people and to sometimes not.

It gave me the chance to learn and to experience. To cook. To take care of myself. To get lost.

Twenty thousand dollars gave me the chance to see the world, to experience the world. To do what I wanted when I wanted, for whatever reasons I wanted. It was the best money I ever spent on myself.

$20,000 took me to these places:

Twenty thousand dollars gave me the best time of my life. It brought me around the world and a million priceless experiences. People always want to know how much it cost me to get here to this point.

“You’ve been travelling for how long? Wow! How much did it cost you?” It cost me $20,000 to get from Boston to Berlin, with a hell of lot in between.


In the past 16 months or so, there were three places that turned out to have the biggest impact on my life: Israel, India and Cambodia. Bangkok, travelling in Vietnam and my month as a hipster in Berlin were also important places to me, but on a smaller scale.

If you’re interested in reading up on my travels up to today, check out my post One year abroad, and then up to the point where my $20,000 disappeared: Going on a Eurotrip!

And if you want the most honest depiction of what $20,000 provided for me, read my post Thank you to all the people. That post covers every experience from May 2010 to mid-June 2011—the 13.5 months I spent travelling with $20,000.

  1. SHABL says:

    Wooooha, we’re roughly in the same league good sir. Around $1500 a month is a good budget unless you’re a vanilla dork who just sits on twitter or has the idea of “2 beers and in bed by 10” as a crazy night.

    P.S: I hate your disgus ;)

    • Adam says:

      Completely agree! No point in traveling if you stay in and cook pasta all the time…

      I’m starting to dislike the disqus myself but it’s easier to manage at the moment…because I’m lazy and don’t want to bother fixing my WP theme…

  2. Tom Stockwell says:

    $20,000 – you rich man, you! Then again, by the time I finally go around the world (spring 2013) I hope to have a similar amount saved up!

    The experiences you’ve had during this time sound awesome, too! Can’t wait to see what you get up to next.

    p.s. is India really as cheap as everyone says it is? I’m intrigued by the country anyway!

    • Adam says:

      Thanks Tom!

      And yep, India is really very cheap. It was way more affordable than I was expecting and I absolutely loved it.

  3. Susan says:

    Awesome post! It seems like only yesterday you just quit your job and were about to leave…

  4. Anonymous says:

    Congratumalations, Adam. This was a great post, reminding me the most valuable lesson I learned while traveling: you can’t put a price on the experience.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Congratumalations, Adam. This was a great post, reminding me the most valuable lesson I learned while traveling: you can’t put a price on the experience.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Congratumalations, Adam. This was a great post, reminding me the most valuable lesson I learned while traveling: you can’t put a price on the experience.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Congratumalations, Adam. This was a great post, reminding me the most valuable lesson I learned while traveling: you can’t put a price on the experience.

  8. Liz says:

    Love love love LOVE this post. $20,000 only took for me 10 months, but through 6 continents and 22 countries (as we know, I have a shockingly small attention span). People spend $20k on a handbag, on a fancy dress, on a portion of a car. I am SO glad that I got to spend it following MY dreams. And, of course, forever thankful to you for taking that Iceland trip with me, and for having the same idea at the same time so that we could support each other and make the whole thing seem so much more do-able. You’re awesome.

    • Adam says:

      Thank YOU, Liz. You’re right. $20,000 goes toward a year of grad school, a new car, all sorts of things. I’ve never been more proud of a decision than when I decided to quit & travel!

      And Iceland….I can’t even imagine where we’d be if we hadn’t gone. And I definitely needed your support while we were planning to travel and once we were on the road. You’ve been incredible! 

  9. nod 'n' smile says:

    I was really happy to find this post. My boyfriend and I are taking a similar approach to budgeting for our rtw trip- about $1500/pp/month. I’ve read a lot of posts, articles, etc. with complex details and calculations, but I think ultimately there will be unexpected variations and this seems like a fair number. It seems you were able to do a lot with it, too!

    • Adam says:

      Hey guys!

      First of all, that’s very exciting to hear you’re going to take a trip yourselves. It’s honestly been the best thing I’ve done with my life. I honestly just wanted to plan on spending a rough amount per month, though I knew some countries would be much less, and others a bit more. It all worked out wonderfully for me!

  10. Emily Groffman says:

    Great post, Adam. Gives me encouragement that you really don’t have to have a lot of money to live a dream life. You can make a lot of good things happen within your own budget, you just have to know what you want and go for it. I guess it’s the American dream at work, sort of… too bad so many people get tangled up in their current lives or just do not have the means to live their dreams.

  11. good post and good use of the money

  12. Heather says:

    Bummer for me you didn’t make it to Oz, but I’m so glad you deviated from the original plan and made it YOUR year.

    I think we all need more of this in our lives. –> “To do what I wanted when I wanted, for whatever reasons I wanted.”

    • Adam says:

      Thanks Heather! Yeah, it’s amazing how many times my plans and my goals changed. But I definitely have done what I wanted, and that was a good thing.

  13. An_aussie says:

    Adam, you should really travel more … I can can help you with that  :-)
    Come back to work, the design world is missing you!

    • Adam says:

      Aw thanks! I’ve been missing the design world as well. I downloaded a trial verison of CS5 last month and I definitely miss it!

      Currently in Berlin working in online marketing, but hope to eventually get back into design. Soonish!

  14. It’s nice to see an actual number attached to a year (plus 1.5 months!) of RTW travel – helpful for others who might be considering the same thing! We work online as we travel, so we’ve been very lucky to not live off savings.  Still have to watch that budget, though! =)

    Also, how are you liking Berlin? We’re thinking of heading there in October, but haven’t made any plans yet.

    • Adam says:

      Hey Christy & Kali,
      I did some freelance design work while abroad as well, plus made some cash with some online marketing & got a nice tax refund. All that helped me keep going, hence the reason I’m still abroad!

      But, basically, my plan all along was to see how far $20,000 would get me on a RTW trip. It definitely got me farther than I’d expected!

  15. Anonymous says:

    I’m going to read more. There’s no better investment than yourself.

  16. Friday Finds: Pre-Fall Roundup | Other | Diary of The Purple Passport says:

    […] roundup: How $20,000 will take you from Spain to Israel to Cambodia [Travels of Adam] Did you like this? Share it:Tweet Tags: Barneys , CNN Go , Conde Nast Traveller , Fall , Friday […]

  17. Amy Schiele says:

    Thanks for posting an actual number, so many people beat around the bush. This just goes to show that one year can totally change your life!

    —Amy Schiele

    • Adam says:

      One year can definitely change your life! Facts are facts. I think you’ll find most people travelling are travelling with a set amount of money they saved up beforehand. No sense in hiding it or feeling ashamed. I’ve met people travelling longer with less, and also those travelling less with more.

  18. And people claim that you have to be old and rich to travel. Whatever! You’ve just proved that you can travel long-term on what is really a pretty manageable amount of money. I mean, I paid more (okay, almost double) than that amount for one year of college study at a private university. When you think of it in those terms, it’s totally feasible. Sure, it may take a few years to save up $20,000, but it’s definitely not out of reach for most people! Thanks for sharing this!

    • Adam says:

      It’s so true! It took me a few years of savings after my undergraduate studies to get the money, but I’m so happy I decided to spend it on this rather than anything else. Kind of wrote something on that topic last year:

  19. Claire says:

    Awesome and inspiring. I did read your thank you post a while back and if that doesn’t give someone a boost who is considering a RTW, then I don’t know what will!

    • Adam says:

      thanks so much Claire! People like to know all the boring details of traveling (how to get to places, what to do, how much) but often you don’t necessarily think of the people you meet until you’re actually on the trip. 

    • Adam says:

      thanks so much Claire! People like to know all the boring details of traveling (how to get to places, what to do, how much) but often you don’t necessarily think of the people you meet until you’re actually on the trip. 

  20. Excellent post Adam. You’ve done a lot on that 20k! Imagine some people spend that on one spin of the roulette wheel… ;)

  21. Brock G says:

    Truly, Truly an epic adventure. It’s tricky to quote exactly how much a long term trip will cost but I think you explained it effectively. Well done Adam.

    And here’s to the next stage of your adventure!

    • Adam says:

      Thanks Brock! I remember when you set out while I was still planning this trip. It’s hard to put a number to something so vague..

  22. Michelle Lin says:

    Wow, that’s so impressive! Good to see that the $20,000 got you to everywhere you want to go! I’m in the process of saving up for my next trip for next year. :)

    • Adam says:

      Thanks Michelle! It took me to way more places than I’d expected and really was more than worth it. Good luck with your travel planning!

  23. Thanks for that! One of my bffs was wondering how much she needed (she has $6k so far, plans to leave summer 2012). These are some good pointers I’ll def. forward her. Great post man!

    • Adam says:

      Feel free to share! I’m almost always happy to give tips or recommendations. or to just talk about myself :P

  24. Abby says:

    So rare to read a post on finances that turns out to be so beautiful! Just amazing. I am very careful with money and budgets, but I did the same thing as you when I started traveling. It just didn’t add up; it didn’t look possible. But I took a chance and found ways to earn income in unexpected ways. 

    • Adam says:

      Wow, Abby, that’s so sweet! Everyone likes numbers posts, but I didn’t really have many numbers to share. Just experiences :)

  25. wow adam!!! i remember i think, the first post i read of yours about travel being your grad school. looks like your $20k paid for the best priced and richest experienced masters degree ever!!! good for you for following your instincts. i know it’s incredibly inspirational to read about what happened when you did! :)

    • Adam says:

      Lorna – yep, that’s still one of my favorite posts I’ve written. Thanks so much for following along on my adventure!

  26. Erin says:

    Congratulations Adam -looks like you got a lot for your money. I’m interested to see what you get up to next.

  27. Inspiring is right! I need to read more about your time in Cambodia and India – both are high on our list for future travel.

    • Adam says:

      Thanks Caanan! Cambodia was absolutely incredible, and India….India was…well…hard to put into words. Even still!

  28. Captain and Clark says:

    13.5 months of travel is a dream.  $20,000 is more than worth it and it seems like you have a barrel full of memories to last a lifetime.  Like Amanda said, I’ll be paying off way more in the form of student loans.  This is a great post to inspire those to travel and that it can be done without millions of dollars. 

  29. On my budget I probably wont have too much more saved up then that, the only differences is that I will be in South America and there will be two of us living on that budget. Luckily, we figured we would aimless travel for 3 months then land in Peru where we would work and if not save at least not spend any more savings till Asia. Both continents being cheaper than Europe we are hoping to get a little more bang for our buck, but this post gives me hopes. Thanks for sharing.

    • Adam says:

      I’d say three months wandering aimlessly is a great way to start. After about that much time, it’s nice to slow down and that’s how you end up spending less.

  30. Raymond Walsh says:

    Wow — you’ve had some awesome experiences!  20 G’s really well spent I say. :)

  31. Bobm says:

    Traveling can be done economically if people learn to adjust to the local environment.  Eating Thai local food for just a few baht per day compared to Burger King with upsized fries can certainly eat into your budget.

  32. Awesome post man! I like that you set a monetary savings goal, stuck to it and then went on your adventure. Not only that, but you are sharing it with people. I’m new to your blog having noticed you won photo roulette before. Definitely a new subscriber. 

    • Adam says:

      Hey thanks!!

      Glad you found me. Also, though I had the $20000 travel savings goal, once I was on the road, any semblance of a plan or budget went out the window. And, in turn, it ended up not mattering because it lasted longer thatn I originally expected!

      • I Hart Travel says:

        That’s the way to do it man! I do the same thing. Try to budget for every little thing and then you get to a place like Vietnam or Thailand and say to yourself, “Where else can I buy a tailor made suit that looks right out of the pages of GQ for less than $200?” LOL 

  33. I loved this post! Yeeha! Just the inspiration I needed, especially the paragraph ending “It was the best money I ever spent on myself.” You moved me! Thanks and I look forward to getting to know your blog better. I think we’re gonna be friends:)

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