A Jet-Set Life on a Backpacker Budget

Back in 2011, our sons having flown the nest, my husband Duncan and I were rattling around in our family home with a mortgage hanging heavy over our heads and the freedom of retirement a long way off.

Duncan was worn out from his job in sales which involved working international time zones and meeting ever-increasing targets. I was juggling my job in retail with a consultancy business and the long hours were grinding me down too.

We downsized from our family home to a two-bedroom rental apartment but the spiralling cost of living in Sydney and relentless pace of working life just kept on going and it felt like there was no end in sight. Duncan wouldn’t be eligible for the Age Pension until 2022, for myself it was a year later, 2023!

Duncan and I have always loved to travel and our one reprieve from the rat race was our overseas trips. In 2012, we found ourselves on Greece’s Santorini island. We were there to recharge our batteries and to catch up with our son who was enjoying a gap year. We’d followed his travels on Facebook for months, watching him trek Machu Picchu, Peru, party in Brazil at Rio’s Carnivale and sail the high seas in Croatia.

On Santorini we listened to his stories of adventure feeling in awe and a little bit jealous… Okay, really jealous! But it led to a lightbulb moment. Why couldn’t we take our own ‘senior’ gap year…?

Excited by the possibilities that lay before us, we set about doing our sums. We soon worked out that we could travel the world for less than day-to-day life was costing us in Sydney. With the numbers stacking up, there was nothing stopping us…

With the lease expiring on our apartment, we set a date, told our family and friends and organised our goods to go into storage. Were we nervous? Hell yeah! Twelve months was a long time to be on the road together and away from our family and friends. We were also nervous about whether we had estimated our budget of $165 a day correctly…especially as we’d be hitting Europe in the height of summer, although we knew the great value in South America and Asia would help to keep our costs down.

We had previously lived in Europe and Asia but South America was a challenge to both of us…but an exciting one. So, we boldly booked our Machu Picchu trek and time visiting Iguazu Falls, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Paraty in Brazil, Buenos Aires and Mendoza in Argentina and Santiago in Chile. Feeling more adventurous, we added sunrise treks to Mayan Ruins in Mexico and Tikal in Guatemala, swimming with sharks in Belize and climbing volcanoes in Antigua in Guatemala.

Our time spent in Europe was divided between Croatia, Spain, France, Italy, Greece and we added a month in Turkey where we soared high above the eerie landforms of Cappadocia in our first-ever hot air balloon ride.

From there we moved on to Asia… We were blown away by the beauty of Petra in Jordan and only wished we could stay longer. But from there it was on to Myanmar where we journeyed in local buses from Yangon, to Pyay, Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay and enjoyed a misty sunrise hot air balloon ride over the ancient temples of Bagan and a boat trip down the Irrawaddy River.

With our gap year adventure drawing to a close, we spent Christmas in Chiang Mai, New Year in Laos and a month on the Thai island of Koh Phangan before returning home.

Touching down in Sydney we could scarcely believe we had done it all…and come in on budget. But our time on the road had shown us that we could actually have done it for a lot less…and that got us thinking once more…

After so much excitement and adventure we weren’t ready to settle back into our old lives in Australia. So we sat down again, reworked our numbers once more and came up with a new figure of $92 per day. (Actually, that figure rang a bell—it was the same number as the Age Pension including supplements!)

So, in 2015 we set off once more and we’ve been living our dream, travelling the world on $92 a day ever since…

Get Your Global Rankings Report

Sign up here for IL Australia’s e-letter and we’ll send you five free postcard e-letters weekly. We’ll also send you a FREE report on the International Living Australia 2018 Global Retirement Rankings.

Each week in these postcards you’ll learn about the best places to retire, travel, buy real estate and enjoy life overseas.