There are few things in life I enjoy more than travelling. The feeling when I look around and new horizons lay before my eyes makes life truly wonderful.
My parents weren’t keen on travelling. Their idea of a vacation was visiting relatives in the countryside, staying there for a week or two, and then come back to the cosiness of their home. For my entire childhood, I only knew the mountains around my home, train stations and a few villages in Romania. I knew the world was bigger than that, but I could only dream of seeing it.
As I grew up, my world also grew bigger. At first, nearby cities and mountains, in small weekend trips. Then, with the rise of low-budget airlines, other European cities. When weekend trips were not enough anymore, I’ve complemented them with weeks spent in Iceland, Portugal, Slovakia or the UK.
Deciding to go on a sabbatical
When you find an alike soul, as I did, it’s always easy to get a partner in crime. 2 years ago, we spent the Christmas holidays booking flights to Europe for the entire year ahead of us. We booked around 10 different destinations. So, when I talked to her about taking a few months off and flying to some further away destination, she just said yes.
I was thinking about a full year off, she was thinking about only 3 months. We ended up being on the road for 6 months. Compromise is the key to a happy relationship.
6 months is not nearly enough to roam the entire Earth. But it was enough for us to get a sense of its scale. In some ways it became smaller, while in many other ways it became a lot larger.
Having a 6 months’ vacation makes flying for 24 hours to get to a place a lot more bearable. You’re losing just one day out of many still available. For the first 3 months, we felt as if we had infinite vacation time. Whatever we did, we still had a lot more time in our hands.
We made a list of countries and places we’d like to visit the most. New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Japan, India, Canada, Singapore, Grand Canyon, the Great Wall of China. The list went on and it was large enough to keep us busy for years. Since we didn’t have years, we compromised again.
Our final travel path
One major impediment to our unlimited travel plans was that every 3 months I need to be at home and get a new drugs prescription. 7 years ago, I went into surgery and swapped body parts with my father (a euphemism for organ transplant). Since then, I take meds twice a day, so my immune system doesn’t rebel against me. I don’t complain, although I always need to make extra plans around this. My away from home time is limited to the meds reserves I have with me.
This strained a bit our budget, as we had to take an extra flight home. It also helped ease our parents’ minds, as they saw we’re still in one piece after 3 months away.
Our first big stop was New Zealand. Since we had all the time in the world, it took us a week to get there. We spent 3 days in Istanbul, enjoying their great food and seeing vestiges of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. 2 days in Beijing, just so we can go to the Great Wall.
New Zealand was not like the one I’ve seen in Lord of the Rings, but a lot more spectacular. We travelled for a month from one end of the country to the other and wondered at the earthquake wrinkled mountains, Maori culture and generally laid-back attitude of kiwis. No predators, no snakes, no spiders, New Zealand sure seemed like a paradise.
Next on the list was Australia, although we only went to Melbourne and Sidney. After a month in New Zealand, I was happy to be back in a big city smelling of piss, with graffiti on the walls and congested traffic. It felt a bit like coming back to reality.
We flew then to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. I put them all together as they’re all so much different than what I knew about the world. The people, the food, the scale of everything was unlike anything I’ve seen before. After 3 weeks near Osaka and Tokyo, New York seemed like a small village.
By now we had to fly back home and refill my drugs stock, and we did it with 2 stops in Shanghai and Frankfurt. Because it was the cheapest to fly back home through them. And we also got the chance to travel on a maglev train.
After a week home visiting parents and catching up with friends, we flew to Malmo and then to California. I’ve been to L.A. before and worked there for more than a month, so it wasn’t that new to me. But going further inside the country is what made me think how beautiful the US is. The Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite, they’re all out of this world. Most of the places on the road were just breathtaking. We had to stop every few hours and just watch.
Of course, we had to visit also more worldly attractions and we went to Las Vegas and San Francisco. Then, we flew to Vancouver, which is another piece of heaven. No heat waves, no extreme cold, lots of parks, mountains and seaside close to each other. I believe it’s one of the world’s best cities to live in.
We flew to Toronto, mostly just to get to Niagara Falls. And then Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, New York. It felt like coming back to real cities: we didn’t need a car to travel anymore and we could use public transport to get anywhere. Finally, after a few days in Dublin, we arrived back home, and our adventure ended.
How much did we spend in 6 months?
When we planned our trip, we estimated we’d spend an average of 50 EUR per day each. For 6 months, this would amount to 18.000 EUR for both of us. That was my estimate, and I’m always an optimist and I’m setting unachievable goals.
We managed to spend a bit less than 18.000 EUR, but we also had 20 days less than planned on the road. On average, our daily cost was 56 EUR per person.
112 EUR per day also includes our biggest expense, the flights. We took 18 flights (not considering layovers) and spent 5000 EUR on them. For more than 4 days in total, we were on a plane flying from somewhere to somewhere else.
Since we didn’t have specific dates or even destinations, we took advantage of this flexibility and booked the cheapest flights we could find. For example, we wanted to fly from Sydney to Singapore, but the cheapest ticket price was way over 300 EUR per person. Instead, we paid 150 EUR for a ticket to Kuala Lumpur and another 20 EUR from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. Again, from Singapore to Osaka, the cheapest ticket was over 300 EUR. We paid instead 150 EUR for 2 flights from Singapore to Hong Kong, and from Hong Kong to Osaka.
This was mainly thanks to Skyscanner. You can tweak destinations, layovers, view how much a ticket costs in each day of the month, and many other things. Unfortunately for them, we were ungrateful and booked our tickets directly with each airline, instead of doing it through their website and earn them a commission. We didn’t know the agencies that were selling tickets through Skyscanner and didn’t want to risk missing flights.
|Istanbul to Beijing||825.45||Southern China Airlines||27h 55 min|
|Shanghai to Frankfurt||640.55||China Eastern Airlines||12h|
|Copenhagen to Los Angeles||514.77||Norwegian Air||11h 10 min|
|New York to Dublin||384.97||Norwegian Air||6h 30 min|
|Dublin to Cluj||317.18||BlueAir||3h 45 min|
|Sydney to Kuala Lumpur||315.5||Air Asia||8h 50 min|
|Toronto to Washington||276.65||Porter Airlines||1h 27 min|
|Vancouver to Toronto||265.93||Air Transat||4h 35 min|
|Cluj Napoca to Istanbul||245.6||Turkish Airlines||1h 40 min|
|San Francisco to Vancouver||239.91||Westjet||2h 19 min|
|Christchurch to Melbourne||202||Jetstar||3h 45 min|
|Singapore to Hong Kong||173.93||Jetstar||3h 50 min|
|Hong Kong to Osaka||157.18||Jetstar||3h 40 min|
|Tokyo to Shanghai||147.83||Jetstar||3h 25 min|
|Cluj to Malmo||129.89||WizzAir||2h 10 min|
|Wellington to Queenstown||120||Air New Zealand||1h 20 min|
|Frankfurt to Cluj||57||WizzAir||2h 10 min|
|Kuala Lumpur to Singapore||48.81||Air Asia||1h 15 min|
|Total||5063.15||4 days 5h 46 min|
Our next big expense was accommodation, adding 4300 EUR to the total. That amounts to around 27 EUR per day or 13.5 EUR per person. The weird thing is that I would spend the same amount in Cluj for renting a studio apartment, maybe even more than that.
Most of our stays were booked through Airbnb, with a few days booked through Booking.com, in Istanbul, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. We also spent around 3 weeks hiking and sleeping in a tent, either for free or at around 15 EUR per night. For another 3 weeks, we stayed at friends, in Sydney and Los Angeles.
Our most expensive stays were in Dublin (57 EUR per day), Malmo (38 EUR for 1 day) and China (36 EUR per day). Even though in Shanghai we slept 1 night at the airport (free), we couldn’t find our hotel in Beijing and after 2 hours of searching, at 3 AM, we entered in the first hotel we could find and booked a room there.
Our cheapest stays were in Istanbul (terrible room for 12 EUR per day), Australia (13 EUR per day, because more than half the time we spent at friends’ home) and Kuala Lumpur (15 EUR per day).
Food was the next big expense on our list, amounting to 3300 EUR. Around 21 EUR per day, or 10.5 EUR per person each day. More than half of the time we cooked our food. That was one of the main reasons we wanted to stay in an Airbnb – we were looking for places that had at least these 3 things: kitchen, internet and a washing machine.
The cheapest food was in New Zealand (13.5 EUR per day), where we did cook almost every day. As we moved into Asia, it was harder to cook, as we knew almost nothing about the ingredients. And also their food was so great and so cheap, we couldn’t just walk by. And again in the US, while we did cook most of the time, we couldn’t miss on the decadent pancake breakfasts at IHOP, Mexican food or New York pizza.
We spent on local transport a bit over 3100 EUR. This includes airport shuttles, local buses and trains, a Shinkansen trip in Japan from Osaka to Tokyo, car rental for a month on the US West Coast and a New Zealand bus pass to travel all around the country.
The most expensive locations were
- Japan (23 EUR per day) thanks to our Shinkansen trip
- New Zealand (22.8 EUR per day), because using public transport in New Zealand is more expensive than owning your own car
- the US (22.6 EUR per day) thanks to renting a small Ford Fiesta for one month
The cheapest public transport was in Istanbul (3.9 EUR per day) and Singapore (4.5 EUR per day). Istanbul was cheap because Turkey’s Lira lost a lot of value in the past year. But Singapore transport was cheap and cool. We only needed to use our bank card to pay for our trips, and whenever we reached 15 EUR or 5 days passed since the last payment, they would charge the card. They also had a nice mobile app where I could see my expenses to the smallest detail.
We logged here museum entries, boat trips, souvenirs, alcohol and cigarettes (when we started smoking again). They amounted only to 900 EUR, a lot less than we would have spent if we stayed at home.
We also tried to do as much free stuff as we could. For example, while boat trips are expensive, Istanbul or New York has these as part of their public transport system, at much lower prices. While most museum entries start from 20 EUR, Washington has the largest network of museums in the world, the Smithsonian, for free. Getting into a warship in San Diego was expensive, but getting into USS Constitution in Boston was for free. And so on.
Soap, toothpaste, camping gas canisters, and a few other things, added up 500 EUR to the total cost. Most of it was spent in New Zealand and in the US, where we also did lots of camping.
We spent 526 EUR on travel insurance from SafetyWing. Unfortunately (or not) we didn’t get sick so we never had to use it. We only liked it because they charged the same price per day even if you had insurance for a week or for 6 months. And since US insurance is double the price than in the rest of the world, we bought separate insurance for the time we were in the US.
Flights were a big part of our expenses, and in the above chart, I’ve added to the total expenses in one country also the cost of the flight to get there.
Removing the flights from the expenses, the cheapest destinations were Istanbul (32 EUR per day), Australia (49 EUR per day) and Kuala Lumpur (50 EUR per day). The most expensive was Malmo (131 EUR in 1 day) and Dublin (119 EUR per day), where we only spent a few days and just spent money.
I was expecting that New Zealand, Japan and the US would be the most expensive destinations we’d stay. They ended up costing around 80 EUR per day for both of us for a place to stay, food, local transport and essentials. Not the cheapest locations, but also not that expensive.
Some tricks we used when spending money
We’re both big savers and when we decided to take this trip, we already had the money for it. However, since we didn’t want to feel like our accounts are getting empty at an alarming speed, we did use some small tricks.
We booked half of our flights before the trip started.
In general, flights are cheaper when you book them in advance. When they didn’t feel cheap, we used Hopper, which has a nice mobile app sending notifications when prices get lower for a specific date. Besides being cheaper to book in advance, it also spreads the costs over a larger period of time. By the time we actually travelled, we got used to the fact that we spent 3000 EUR on flights 3 months ago.
I also got plenty of time to turn Skyscanner on all its sides until I found the cheapest flights available.
We booked our accommodation in advance.
Partially. Since Airbnb only asked us for half the money in advance, and we could cancel any booking if we changed our plans, we also spent some of our funds before the trip started. We were only using funds from our current accounts, so we didn’t have to tap into our savings.
We put aside some funds in advance.
This was really just a mind trick. My Revolut account held for half a year New Zealand Dollars, Australian Dollars, Singapore Dollars, Hong Kong Dollars, US Dollars, Canadian Dollars, Turkish Liras, Japanese Yens. Small amounts every month, until each balance reached a decent level and we knew we wouldn’t spend more. We also bought them when they were at a low level, so I didn’t care if later their value spiked.
We never used our current bank accounts while abroad
I have mostly neutral feelings about my bank, except when I have to use my cards and pay in a different currency. My bank turns into a money-grubbing monster charging me a few extra percents each time I use my card. Do I spend something in EUR? Then it’s just 2% extra for my bank. Is it some other distant currency? Then it’s 4% for my bank. All these masked under a small 0.00000something currency conversion fee plus a special exchange rate, just because I’m their most valuable customer.
So, whenever I’m outside of Romania, I never use my bank’s card. Instead, I use one of the following:
- Revolut card – for most of the operations
- Transferwise card – for ATM withdrawals where I can’t use Revolut because that specific bank asks for a 3-6 EUR withdrawal fee
- Curve card – only recently acquired, I can link even my current bank account to it and make purchases with no extra fees
All these 3 have similar advantages:
- free 200 EUR (or equivalent) per month ATM withdrawals
- ability to pay in any currency at the interbank exchange rate (a lot cheaper than what the bank is offering me)
They worked everywhere we went on this trip, and they managed to save us around 500 EUR in fees.
Would we do it again?
Hell yes! I hope we’ll do at least a 3 months trip to Latin America in the next few years. And a few months in South-East Asia. Maybe someday take another 6 months off and do the Appalachian Trail.