Long Term Travel Planning: Save, Book, Go!

Long term travel planning guide

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Looking for advice on long-term travel planning but not sure where to start? You’ve come to the right place. My husband, Craig, and I (Gemma) took an 18-month career break to travel the Americas and Europe and have detailed every movement from saving to packing, planning to staying alive on the road. We visited 16 countries in 17 months from Cuba to Canada, Spain to the States and here is our long term travel itinerary, our daily average budget, and practical tips on how to travel long term.

1. Long Term Travel Destinations

Long-term travel routes have to be considered with a sensible head. Yes, it would be sexy to drive along Route 66 in a Cadillac or fun to sing karaoke with the locals in Tokyo, but both activities are expensive.

Setting (and sticking to) a long term travel budget is far more challenging than a quick three-week trip island hopping in Thailand then going home to comfortable wage at the end of the month to pay off the credit card bills. There is no home or pay at the end of the month!


Write down where you want to go and what you want to do. Then it is time to research – this is all part of the long-term travel experience! Use social media, travel blogs, tourist board websites, and Pinterest to get a feel for backpacking prices, visa instructions (and costs), itineraries, public transport information, and ideas of things to do.

Check Prices Online

You’ll swiftly work out that some countries are more expensive than others. For example – a dorm bed in Sydney, Australia costs $19 whereas you’ll find one in Bogota, Colombia for $6.

Some continents/areas are cheaper than others, but countries within those continents/areas vary wildly.

Let’s take Southeast Asia, for instance. Hanoi, Vietnam is super cheap, you can get a bed for $2.50 (in a 6.5 rated hostel) compared to Singapore where dorm beds start at $11 for 5/10 hostel.

Beers in Hanoi are $1.50, Singapore? $8.37!

I’ll cover our strategy for booking cheap accommodation below as it makes sense to investigate flight prices; more on that later.

If you are travelling long-term on a budget, I would strongly suggest avoiding the following countries:

  • USA and Canada
  • Europe’s Nordic countries
  • Australia and New Zealand
  • Japan

But I want to see Niagara Falls! You can – just be prepared to burn through cash like Harry Styles does, ladies.

Japanese yen in front of Kyoto gate

Facebook Groups for Travel Planning 

Don’t be afraid to chat with bloggers on social media or join Facebook groups to ask for advice.

There are two excellent Facebook groups for female travel lovers where non-biased travellers of all ages, shapes, and sizes advise about their home countries and places they’ve visited – Girls V Globe and Girls Love Travel.

These groups are especially useful for ladies looking to travel alone long-term.

Every destination has a Facebook group now. Just use the search function to find them.

Airport I Long Term Travel Planning

2. Saving for Travel

My name is Gemma, and I am a super saver.

My best saving tip is to set up three bank accounts.

The first account is where your pay goes, a second account for savings which cannot be touched, and a third for savings which can be tapped into for a wedding gift or new car tires (safety first!)

The next tip is to write down how much you spend (every detail) for one week and then work out how much you can realistically live off. Each payday, move your savings over into the mentioned accounts.

Avoid window shopping; without temptation, you won’t splurge!

Sell your stuff at car boot sales. Complain! Speaking to companies can reduce your monthly payments, for example, your phone provider. Go sober; not drinking every weekend was one of our biggest saving techniques.

 Read more | We managed to save £20K to travel, and you can too.

Long Term Travel Saving Advice

3. Cheap Flights and Other Transport

Craig lives on the Skyscanner app!

He claims it is a long term travel must-haves, due to its ‘go anywhere’ function.

You will find cheap flights if you are flexible with dates and destinations.

When searching for flights via computer, always set your computer to ‘incognito’ or ‘private browsing’ so websites do not remember your previous searches and hike up their prices.

Another travel tip is to Google the local airlines, bus companies, and train lines for your desired countries, then go directly to their sites.

For example, Air Asia is a popular low-budget airline that covers Southeast Asia and beyond. Sign up for these airlines’ newsletters for deals.

Don’t be scared of buses! We bussed all around Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia – some overnight buses have bad-boy lazy chairs! Go local!

Do what the natives do – chicken buses in Central America are a thrifty traveller’s dream. Always be cautious of your belongings; opportunists roam in every country. Overnight trains in Vietnam have beds!

Car rental is sometimes cheaper in the long run, and Bla Bla Car is a new car-sharing option for you to consider. Have you tried Über or Lyft in your home city? It’s a cheaper taxi service which runs from an app.

Important note: countries (bar those in the European Union) may request evidence of an outbound ticket on entry. Immigration wants proof that you are leaving their country.

This restricts the ‘footloose and fancy-free’ hippy lifestyle; a little planning ahead is always required.

Every country asked us for this proof – do not take this warning lightly.

Long-term travel visas can also be tricky – be prepared for each country to have different visa rules.

For example, in Cuba, you must have a Cuba Tourist Card before arriving and going to Cuba. Here’s our planning guide.

Currency for Travel

4. Travel Accommodation Search

While searching for cheap accommodation do consider the reviews of places too, we managed to avoid bed bugs and I hope you do.

Each continent/country favours different search engines for hotels – for example, Booking.com for North America, Agonda for Asia.

Hostelworld is still my go-to for hostels.

In Nicaragua, many hostels, hotels, and guest houses advertise via Airbnb, even though they are not private houses.

We’ve stayed in an airstream in Austin, a prison in Slovenia, and a time capsule in Portland!

Word of mouth! Backpackers love to chat and pass on their experiences. Read about our good and bad hostel experiences.

Couchsurfing is not something that we have used during this trip. This website connects travellers with people who can offer a sofa or bed.

Both set up profiles and can leave reviews, like Airbnb, without paying.

Naturally, your safety is paramount, so ensure you are comfortable.

We did swap our skills for a bed in WWOOFing style voluntary work (no fruit picking!) through the website Workaway.

» Read more | Check out our review of Workaway and HelpX for more details

You will need this variety of long term travel accommodation, especially if travelling in a couple – often you will want private space but other times you will want/need to converse with other human beings!

Stay in a Prison in Ljubljana I Chicken Bus I Passports and Currency I Long Term Travel Planning

5. Pills, Bills, and Travel Insurance

Do not get caught out by medical charges. Long term travel insurance should be up there with Havaiana flip-flops in the priority list.

During your research, ensure that companies cover the types of travel (high altitude hiking?) and activities (skiing at Whistler?) that you plan to do.

I had to visit the doctor in Vancouver, which cost $100 CAD.

Then the physiotherapist (twice $100 CAD) for ear crystals (dizziness), and our insurer (True Traveller) refunded half of the balance.

Malaria and Zika exist, and they can floor you.

Cover up, avoid dusk and stagnant water, use protection, and take malaria tablets.

The more countries you visit, the higher the chance of long-term travel malaria being an issue.

Check out if your desirable destinations require malaria treatment. Ladies, for those of us doing long term travel in your 30s, Zika can cause defects in babies for up to two years, get tested as soon as you return. Check with your local travel clinic about what vaccinations you require. If you don’t have them, your insurer has a reason not to pay out.

Long-term travel birth control can be a dodgy one.

My GP prescribed one year of the pill, I sneakily had a few packs left from other trips to the doctors – luckily I am healthy and my blood pressure did not change.

Probably not wise advice to give as deep vein thrombosis can be linked to the combined contraceptive pill and long haul flights.

Help! I am a fast fat, and Craig is a speedy skinny.

We neither liked how our bodies looked after four months of travel; long-term travel weight gain can happen.

No matter how many hikes you are doing, eating churros daily won’t keep them at bay!

The solution?

Slow travel. By stopping, you could move more as you have a base to exercise, join hikes, and cook healthier food. 

Churros so good I Long Term Travel Planning

6. Longterm Travel Packing List?

 Here is a quick overview of what we recommend

Long-term travel backpacks – we have 80-litre packs which have a 20-litre zip on/off day packs, very useful for 2/3 day trips like hiking the Colca Canyon and long-term travel carry on

Lightweight foldaway raincoats – I love my Marmot Precip US / UK. It’s electric blue!

Portable charger – we use Anker chargers US / UK for phones

Digital nomads – I never travel without a Mac but not everyone is a fan of Apple, so here is a review of the best laptops to take travelling

I was never robbed, I used my trusty PacSafe which ties around your daypack and hooks up to a radiator or bed frame then you clip a padlock to it.

You may also like

Benarty Hill hike, Fife Scotland. Gemma wearing blue Marmot Precip jacket, bag, hat. Bowie the dog in background. Trees, loch._

7. Long-Term Travel Hacks

Here are five travel hacks to save your sanity and keep long-term travel expenses down

  • Large scarves or flags make great dens in dorm rooms
  • Avoid long-term travel cell phone bills by closing your account and switching your phone to ‘aeroplane mode’, then pick up WiFi in cafes, accommodations, etc
  • Take an external hard drive and swap films with other travellers
  • Message your bank on socials with a contact; ours called us worldwide!
  • Craig maintains that Wednesday is the cheapest day to book flights

8. Long-Term Travel Mistakes We Made

Learn from our mishaps

  • Cheap flights don’t always work out cheap! Price how to get from the airport, how expensive the airport hotels are, is the time waiting between flights worth what you will spend in the airport shops?
  • Write down information in a diary – it’s easy to forget what day it is when travelling, which can cause havoc when you are supposed to check in, start a trip, etc. We turned up at one hostel two days early in Cusco!
  • Back up images – don’t overwrite SD cards, transfer to an external hard drive, and save online
  • Slow down, you don’t have to see EVERYTHING, and you will experience more stopping in an area for longer than one or two nights; avoid burn out
  • Solo travellers – be wise read this guide on how to travel safely flying solo

Filter and Purifying Water Bottle_

9. Avoid Blowing Long Term Travel Budget

Readers always ask – how do we organise our monthly budget posts?

In a nutshell – persistence. Craig takes note of how much we spend every day.

He jots down what the item was and the cost.

At the end of each week he tallies up the items under categories – accommodation, food, transport, trips, socialising, miscellaneous/ luxury and sends the numbers to me, ta-da, we have a monthly budget post!

Not going to lie, it takes commitment, patience, and attention to detail – the last two characteristics I do not possess.

However, I think it’s the only way to travel long-term on a small (ish) budget. At the end of the week/month, you can work out what is costing too much and cut back. Ice cream, anyone?…

Another tip to help stretch your travel budget is signing up for Workaway or Help X (mentioned above), researching jobs abroad, or starting a travel blog

→ How do you keep control of your budget? Tell us in the comments below.

We have determined that our daily average long-term travel expenses are £34.50 each.

That covers 17 months on the road with 20 weeks volunteering (in hotels, hostels, family homes) for our keep and five nights staying with friends.

We estimated how much we saved through working with partners via the blog and added that to the total for a realistic long-term travel budget.

Dog Sitting in Granada I Long Term Travel Planning

10. Romance on the Road

Couples that rave together stay together.

So what about those who live in each other’s pockets, on limited money, with no GPS for several months?

Long-term travel in relationships is a test, whether that be a friend, parent, sibling, or significant other.

My best advice for long-term travel as a couple is to test the water first. We endured a 5 – week trip to South East Asia two years before this long term travel trip.

We didn’t kill each other so started saving for the future.

Get hobbies – reading, blogging, or DJing (Craig makes music on his phone!)

Learning new skills is a great way to avoid getting on each other’s nerves.

Oh, and get used to going to the toilet near each other!

These long term travel relationship tips worked for us – I left Scotland with my boyfriend, and came home with a husband (the same man!)

We got hitched in Austin!

An Austin Elopement - Lou Neff Point, Ladybird Lake - Corey Mendez Photography I Long Term Travel Planning

11. Long-Term Travel Planning Itinerary

Still with me?

If you find this article useful, don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter and never miss a post – there will be much more to come.

This section outlines where we went and what we did over the past 17 months.

There were three countries that we were pretty set on seeing.

Peru for Machu Picchu, Vancouver, Canada to check out future living arrangements, and Cuba, to drink rum and dive (not at the same time).

The trip had to start in March as we were keen to attend the music festival South By Southwest in Austin, Texas.

Any plans after that were a bonus (and financially motivated!)

I’ve calculated the average daily budget for each country for two people, including accommodation, transport, trips, food, socialising, and luxuries.

I’ve identified some of the big things we spent money on in brackets. I’ve added the price of trips/stays when we worked with partners to give you a true reflection of the prices in these countries.

They do not include flights between countries.


After a stopover at a JFK airport, we touched down in New Orleans where we spent the next three days listening to jazz, drinking hand grenades and eating Po Boys!

Next up, one week in Austin, Texas, for the music festival South By Southwest. We watched new and old bands, drank beer, and ate tacos all without putting our hands in our pockets! Love free stuff? Check out how to do SXSW for free.

  • Duration: 9 nights
  • Average daily budget: $100 (based on a private room and hostel)
  • Currency: American Dollar

Lafette's Blacksmith Shop Bar I Long Term Travel Planning


We temporarily said goodbye to the United States of America (pausing our ESTA visa waiver) and headed to Peru in South America for one month.

In Peru, we hiked, biked, and attended Spanish school. Our Spanish is still muy malo!

  • Duration: One Month
  • Average daily budget: $76 (2 treks, Peru Hop pass, Spanish school, dorm beds)
  • Currency: Peruvian Nuevo Sol
  • Thinking of Peru? It is so much more than just Machu Picchu
  • Here are 14 ways to get to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu I Long Term Travel Planning

Three weeks in Bolivia were spent between the capital, La Paz, the Bolivian Salt Flats – Salar de Uyuni, and the warmer city – Sucre.

One of Craig’s highlights was cycling Death Road. For the first time since leaving, we stopped! Feeling a tad burnt out, we booked into an apartment in the suburbs of La Paz and breathed.

  • Duration: 3 weeks
  • Average daily budget: $35 (Bolivia Hop pass, dorms, Salt Flats, Death Road cycle)
  • Currency: Bolivian Boliviano
  • Don’t bypass this in Bolivia

Bolivia's Salar de Uyuni, Salt Flats, Sunset Shots


A late addition to the long-term itinerary was Colombia. Every backpacker that we met raved about the country; our only background information about Colombia was cocaine and cartels.

Craig found cheap flights via Skyscanner, so off we went to the Caribbean coast! Highlights include the friendly Colombian people, Tayrona National Park, and empanadas.

  • Duration: 3.5 weeks
  • Average Daily Budget: $53 (Bikes, Volcan El Totumo, Tayrona National Park, dorms)
  • Currency: Colombian Peso
  • Colombia – no cocaine in sight

Piscina Beach Tayrona National Park Colombia I Long Term Travel Planning


Hello Havana! We touched down in the land of cigars and salsa with grand plans of backpacking our way around the island (which is possible in three weeks) however we ran out of money, and patience.

Cuba is hard work.

I can’t sugarcoat it!

Yes the rum is super cheap and tasty, and the beaches are paradise but it is hot, some locals see you as a walking dollar sign, and the lack of accessible information made transit tough work.

We suffered from long-term travel fatigue after four months of crazy backpacking.

After two weeks of travel (Havana – Viñales – Playa Larga – Trinidad), we booked ourselves into an all-inclusive resort in Varadero – a holiday within a holiday.

This was the cheapest option for saving our long-term travel budget!

  • Duration: 3 weeks
  • Average Daily Spend: $90 (Havana Walking Tour, diving, all-inclusive, casas)
  • Currency: CUP
  • Dreaming of Cuba? Check out our Cuba Travel Guide

Havana I Long Term Travel Planning

July – January

The summer months of July and August were spent on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, Canada.

This hidden gem is only a 40-minute ferry ride from Vancouver and boasts lakes, hikes, and craft beer.

  • Duration: 2 months
  • Currency: Canadian Dollar
  • This is where we want to live: the Sunshine Coast, BC
  • All our Canada content starts here

Sechelt Inlet | Sunshine Coast BC

For the autumn and winter months, we moved to the bright lights of Vancouver!

Renting two apartments over the four months, catching the end of summer in Kitsilano and then the rainy months in hipster Main Street. We were lucky enough to review West Trek’s tour of the Canadian Rockies.

For four days, we gawked at those blue lakes, hiked around beautiful Banff, and made friends for life with the tour guides.

I left Craig for five days and flew West to Toronto! My best friend, Helen, met me. We ate our way around the city, cycled through Toronto Island, and felt the mist of Niagara Falls.

We were very lucky in Canada; we made good friends, and our family and friends from Scotland came to visit! Everyone wants a bit of B.C!

Craig also proposed under the fake stars of the Macmillan Space Center on my favourite day of the year… Hallowe’en!

  • Duration: 4 months
  • Average Daily Budget: $85 (apartment, hikes, lots of nice food)
  • Currency: Canadian Dollar

Peyto Lake Rockies | Two Scots Abroad


Rested and ready to put the rucksack back on, we skipped over the border to America, where we spent two nights in Washington state, filling our stomachs in Seattle.

We partied in Portland for the next four days. Oregon’s capital city, Portland, is a very cool place.

Full of food carts, cycle routes, and craft beer – it’s easy to lose a long weekend there.

  • Duration: 6 nights
  • Average Daily Budget: $128 (based on two dorm beds at $32 each)
  • Currency: American Dollar
  • USA’s hipster city?

Portland Food | Two Scots Abroad

On our way to Nicaragua in Central America, we took an extended stopover in… Orlando!

For five days, we unleashed our inner kid at Disney World, Universal Studios, and iDrive!

  • Duration: 6 nights
  • Average Daily Budget: $334 (tickets to theme parks, hotel $89 per night)
  • Currency: American Dollar


By February backpacking burn out was looming, the solution?

Five weeks of living in paradise! We moved into a hotel in Las Peñitas and worked for a bed and one meal.

These types of Workaway programmes have stretched our £20K budget and made travelling for longer possible.

In total, we have completed five work/stay programmes.

During our time in Las Peñitas, we visited León on weekends and even boarded down an active volcano!

For the final three weeks in Nicaragua, we backpacked around Ometepe (an island with volcanoes), Somoto (a beautiful canyon), Granada (a very well-developed city) and Managua (the capital and transport hub).

  • Duration: 8 weeks
  • Average Daily Budget: $35 (scooter hire, hikes, tattoos, private room in hostel)
  • Currency: Nicaraguan Córdoba
  • Our guide to backpacking around Nicaragua

Las Penitas, Nicaragua Sunset


In March, we returned to Austin, Texas, after a one-night stopover in the ridiculously expensive San Jose, Costa Rica.

I arrived in Texas as an Orrock and left as an Armit. Craig and I eloped in Austin!

We got hitched after SXSW at the lush Lady Bird Lake and then partied at the DJ’s Junior Boys in the evening. A perfect day!

Junior Boys Mohawk, An Austin Elopement - Corey Mendez Photography


By April we had said goodbye to USA, after one night in New York, we touched down in Oslo, Norway then met our actual destination, Budapest, Hungary.

We spent the next five weeks in Hungary, 3.5 weeks living with a family, helping around the house and garden. The rest of the time we soaked in spas and socialised in Budapest (cheapest place in Europe to drink) with family and friends who visited us. We also hired a car and took a Hungarian road trip to explore Budapest’s day trips.

  • Duration: 5 weeks
  • Average Daily Budget: $37 (baths, car rental, private room $17)
  • Currency: Hungarian Forint

Tasting Table Budapest I Long Term Travel Planning


May was pretty manic!

First stop was the laid back Ljubljana, Europe’s cutest city! We also visited Bled and Kolpa Rivers in Slovenia (eight nights) before moving on to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BiH) Sarajevo (six nights). That is a damn cool city, rich in history and culture. If heading to BiH, Mostar is not to be missed!

Next up was Serbia’s Belgrade (three nights), then the buzzing capital city of Romania, Bucharest!

Belgrade bypassed me, but Bucharest blew me away.

We left Bucharest with a stopover in Bergamo, Italy, on our way to the sun.

  • Duration: 20 nights
  • Average Daily Budget: $56 (private room)
  • Currency: Slovenia (Euro), BiH (Bosnia and Herzegovina convertible mark), Serbia (Serbian dinar), Romania (Romanian leu) and Italy (Euro)
  • Further Reading: See city names!

Mostar Stari Most Bridge I Long Term Travel Planning


Welcome to warmer climates! Hello Espanol!

The summer of June was divided between Marbella and Craig’s family, our final Workaway in Granada, and Malaga with my friends Shelley and Jen G.

  • Duration: 34 nights
  • Average Daily Budget: $65 (based on $32 private room)
  • Currency: Euros
  • I wouldn’t say Granada is my favourite city, what’s yours?

Malaga Spain


Last stop – Portugal! We spent the next ten days using the capital, Lisbon, as a base.

We attended the music festival NOS Alive, watched Portugal win the European Championships, and devoured custard tarts in Belem.

  • Duration: 11 nights
  • Average budget: $160 (based on a $49 private room in a guesthouse)
  • Currency: Euros
  • Guide: Things to do in Lisbon 
Wine Portugal I Long Term Travel Planning

12. How To Apply For A Career Break

So why a sabbatical?

I had always regretted not taking a gap year between university and work, so when I found out that after three years of working with my council, I could apply for a sabbatical, that was me ready.

When Craig and I met, he planned on moving to Holland but put that on hold, and we tested the wayfaring waters with a five-week trip to South East Asia. We did not kill each other, so the long-term planning began.

I verbalised my plans with my line manager and head manager, they were both supportive so I put in my application with a supporting statement which identified what benefits me taking a career break would bring to my job.

I was a politics and current affairs teacher so the justification was pretty straight forward – I wanted to bring the textbook to life!

Craig is a self – employed gas engineer, he passed his business to his brother.

Waiting for it to happen or making it happen, fellow travel lovers?

Have we missed work? Yes, I miss the routine, constant chat, and the banter with the students, but I have still worked every day – blogging, which I now do full time.

» Read my step-by-step guide on how to apply for a sabbatical

13. Long-Term Travel Checklist

To finish this ridiculously long guide of long term travel advice here is a quick to-do list for you to check off and remember – long term travel is not for everyone.

I had an incredible time, but I’m looking forward to shorter trips in the future!

  • Work out your budget
  • Investigate countries which meet the budget
  • Price flights
  • Start selling and saving
  • Advise work/apply for a career break
  • Get vaccinations/buy travel insurance (research travel quotes here)
  • Organise visas, credit cards, and currency
  • Stop dreaming, start living!

Here is our advice to Scottish mum/daughter duo who are about to take the trip of a lifetime
~ featured on STV2

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Considering long term travel planning but don't know where to start? Practical tips on how to plan, save, budget, and wander safely!

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46 thoughts on “Long Term Travel Planning: Save, Book, Go!

  1. Monica Sharma says:

    Hey Gemma, thanks for sharing wonderful pictures and experience with us.I agree with all the points and tips mentioned in the article, will recommend my friend who is going for 9months travel to Portugal, Morocco, Canada and some of the Asian countries, this article will be really helpful for him.Great job!

  2. Tim Wood says:

    Thanks for sharing your valuable experience with us, Planning and preparing your trip in advance may save you money and avoid bad surprises. I used to have a list of things to pack for each trip type : hiking, beach, winter/snow, with family…

  3. Adam says:

    Thanks for sharing your ideas and thoughts. Traveling always seems like the best thing on earth when doing it. I just need to escape this 9-5 job and go traveling long-term. I have been lucky to go Thailand for 4 weeks before but would like to go for much longer.

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