Dinero, Dinero, Dinero. Budgeting South America

Well you guys did an awesome job on the Straw Poll (and please, continue to add in your estimates/experiences, we’ll keep a running tally). Since I’ve been analyzing data nonstop for the past few weeks, I ran some statistics on what you’re responses, looking at our “collective wisdom.” The theory goes that all of our collective knowledge should produce the most accurate results. We’ll see how that works out. Here’s what you all collectively said:

Total responses: 12

Median budget: $41,000, $34,250-50,000 (25-75%)

Mean budget: $41,171, $34,835-47,507 (95% confidence interval)

So there you go, a nice normal distribution tells us it will cost $41,000 give or take $7000 for us (or two of you) to travel the world for a year.


Now, that said, Theresa and I get our own say =). We are going to detail for you in as much detail as possible what we expect to spend, but we are going to do it in three parts. One for each continent. This will provide us with nice benchmarks by which to keep tabs on how we are doing with our budget and all of you with a continent by continent breakdown (since that’s where the greatest variance in costs are). We’ll update the finances to see how well we actually did at the end of each continent. So hopefully this will work out.

I’m going to start today with South America. We will be spending approximately 5 months in South America (with a brief stop in Nicaragua). There are two kinds of costs that go into any trip like this one, the first being your mundane, every day existence costs, mainly food, lodging, and transportation between places. The second is all the entertainment and adventure we want to do … which is the real reason to do a trip like this. So that’s obviously going to be a substantial chunk of change. So that’s the gist of how I’m going to sum our planned expenses up.

Every Day Costs:

In our research, we’ve come to the conclusion that private two person rooms at budget hotels/hostels are going to cost us around $30-40 a night. With the nose dive the dollar has been taking these days, we’re going to assume closer to the latter. Now obviously, we have no direct experience with this, but that’s what we’re going to budget. As far as food goes, nice restaurants tend to average ~$5 each for a meal. We also plan on eating some street food and cooking on our own relatively regularly. Using that as a vague basis on which to make estimates, we’ll budget $20 a day for food. This hopefully will be a little on the high end, and will help a little with the “sticker shock” from how little our dollars will buy anymore =). Travel by bus is relatively inexpensive, but by plane is relatively expensive, and neither will be an every day occurrence. Plus, we’ll try to keep our plane travel expenses controlled with frequent flier mile trips (there’s still a lot of work to do on that part of the trip). We do plan on using buses or trains for much of our travel, which seem to be quite cheap. I’d say budgeting $10 a day will cover us for the variety of transportation needs we are going to have. This leaves us at a conservative $70 a day between the two of us. You multiply that by the ~150 days we will be there and we’re looking to spend around $10000 on regular expenses.


First of all, we’ll want to do plenty of things like go to museums, go into national parks, rent bikes, things of that nature. I’d say if we budget $10 a day we should cover an activity or two a day for ourselves, and I’m sure we won’t want to do a whole activity or two a day after a very short while. At least not activities beyond lie on the beach or walk around town. A number of the specific activities we want to do in South America are going to be relatively expensive. This is because they are pretty darn cool and lots of other people with plenty of money want to do them too. This isn’t a be and and end all list, but here are most of the specific things we will want to do that we have to specifically hire guides/pay for services:

Galapagos Islands – $1500 per person

Trek to Roraima – $200 per person

Machu Picchu – $400-500 per person

Nicaraguan language school – not more than our food and lodging budget

Amazon Jungle Trip – not clear as our approach is not settled (be sure to vote for your favorite), but likely not more than $200 more than food and lodging.

So when you combine all of this up, we’re looking at around $10000 for both of us to get around, keep ourselves fed and have beds to sleep in. This assumes any flights we take use frequent flier miles or do not gouge our expenses too greatly as they can get expensive in a hurry. It will cost us another $5000-6000 to do all of the things we want to do in South America, leaving us at a total of around $16,000. So there you go, our budget for two people for five months in South America is $16,000.  We’ll evaluate how we did after that leg of the trip.  Next up, Southeast Asia.