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Europe Is Cheaper Than South America For Travelers… And We Have The Numbers To Back It Up

by Tony · 35 comments

Saving money on travel Budgets are boring. Projections are always wrong.

Both of these statements are true, but ignore the bigger picture.

Without a proper budget, you will spend too much on the little things and have no money left for food or a bed. Without a projection, you will have no idea how much to save for your travels and if you’re budget is on track.

For the pair of us, we projected that paying for insurance, food, places to sleep, activities, transportation, and whatever else might come our way would cost us $100 per day.

Many people do not include insurance in their travel budget, but it comprises a large portion of our total expenses and it felt like cheating to ignore it here. Due to my pre-existing condition, it is a MUST that I maintain coverage in the US and COBRA is expensive! Hopefully for you, this part of your budget will be much less!

100 dollar travel budget

We felt that some countries might cost more, some might cost less, but on average, $100 per day seemed like a great target.

We are proud to say that after 8 months, we our still working our way through our travel savings and are on track to hit our average.

So let me share what we have learned about the costs of travel and then show you exactly how our expenses break down.

6 Money Lessons Learned From Travel

  1. HOW you travel is much more important than WHERE you travel.
  2. Apartment rentals are often cheaper for couples than hostels.
  3. Traveling during the shoulders of the off-season (right before or after high season) gets you a first class experience for second class prices.
  4. Staying longer in one place makes overall expenses less, as your transportation costs are fewer and spread out over a larger period of time.
  5. Having access to a kitchen can save BIG BUCKS on your dining expenses.
  6. In exchange for work, many people will give you food and shelter for free (we have house-sat and done WWOOFing so far).

So how did we learn these lessons? We kept a ridiculous record of every penny spent and I breakdown some of the details below.

The Breakdown

South america vs europe travel expenses

Yes. You are reading that right. We spent 23 more days in Europe and averaged almost $50 less per day in expenses.

Don’t people say that Europe is way more expensive than South America?

Not us… not now!

Take a look at our top 5 expenses in South America vs Europe and the percentage they each comprised of our costs:

top 5 expenses in europe vs south america

There were two big activities in South America that we just couldn’t ignore. We knew we  just had to hike the Inca Trail to reach Machu Picchu and that we wanted to do the 3-day tour of the Bolivian Salt Flats. These two tours make up almost all of our expenses in this category.

While we did fewer tours in Europe (which helped with the costs), we also had a couple other things working in our favor:

  1. Used Meg’s frequent flyer miles to book two tickets from Lima, Peru to Paris, France.
  2. Attended Travel Blogger’s Unite conference in Italy that allowed us to attend expensive tours as part of a sponsored trip.
  3. Tried WWOOFing in Italy and did not have to pay for food or lodging for 2 weeks.
  4. Spent one week traveling with my parents in Turkey with them paying for much of our experience.

Now before you say: “Oh I get it now… the difference in prices is that you didn’t have to pay for an expensive flight to Europe like you did to South America.” Let me point out that if we allocate our South American flight to our European expenses (a little more than $1,500), we still spent $30 less per day in Europe.

The true difference that actually drove the reduction in our costs was that we changed the way we traveled.

Instead of bouncing around between different cities every few days, we took it much slower in Europe. Over a month was spent in Croatia and another month in Berlin. By living like a local, we drastically reduced our costs.

First, check out our expenses in South America by country:

South American Country Expenses

Yikes! Way over our $100 per day budget…

Now take a look at what we spent in each European country:

European expenses by country

If you notice, we spent 60 days in Croatia and Italy and averaged less than $80 per day. That should not be possible based on how expensive everyone says Europe is!

In Croatia, we stayed in a tiny one-bed apartment during the off-season (May) for only $23 per night while buying groceries and making our own dinners. It was the perfect place for us to recharge our batteries and save a little money in the process.

However, if you are paying extra close attention, you will notice that we are still over our $100 per day budget – even with Europe averaging less than $100 per day.

But fear not!

Southeast Asia is ridiculously cheap and we are reducing costs even further by house-sitting for a month in Thailand. In addition, we will be spending over half the month of December with Meg’s parents in Hawaii, which should help us squeak by on our last few remaining dollars.

Fingers crossed!

Your Turn: Do you keep track of your expenses when traveling? How do you do it? Can anyone top our 35 category spreadsheet?

About Tony
Quit his job to try actually following his dreams for once... and is currently loving it. He is working hard to to make this life-style permanent by writing about his adventures and brainstorming money making opportunities with his partner-in-crime, Meg.

Caroline @ Traveling 9 to 5 September 11, 2012 at 9:46 pm

We have been surprised at how expensive Buenos Aires and Rio have been – hoping for our budget Ecuador and Peru help bring down the costs!

Tony September 11, 2012 at 9:54 pm

Everyone told us how expensive Europe is but it really was incredibly cheaper than South America. I never would have guessed that the way we traveled had such a big effect on cost.

Buenos Aires still has a reputation for being super cheap, but it really earned that title in 2001 when the country went bankrupt. It is still cheaper than parts of Europe, but a lot more expensive than some other South American cities…

Adventurous Kate September 12, 2012 at 7:25 am

What a GREAT post — and kudos for keeping such meticulous financial records. People always ask me for information like that, but it scares me too much…

This is a valuable post for almost anyone — it’s all about HOW you travel!

Tony September 12, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Thanks, Kate!

We actually keep a ridiculous spreadsheet of all of our costs… I write down expenses in my moleskin as they happen and then add them to the spreadsheet once per week. Now that we’re so far into our trip it is amazing to look back and compare different months and countries!

We have a lot more info to share about how it all breaks down, but thought this was one of the more interesting ideas that the numbers showed. The HOW is way more important than the WHERE!

Bethany ~ twoOregonians September 12, 2012 at 8:36 am

I love that you keep track of numbers! I’m such a nerd; my spreadsheet is my (*second-to-Ted-of-course-)best friend. If it’s updated and happy, I’m updated and happy. You’re spot on about How you travel being the biggest factor. We’ve spent more in “budget” places because we preferred nicer meals or cushier accommodations. We’re also sleeping in Zanzibar for $16/night, bucking “expensive” stereotypes. Keeping track of spending is so important: being clear on how much money we have and where it’s going gives us much greater peace of mind when making future plans.

Also, Croatia rocked.

Tony September 12, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Croatia was amazing for us! One of the most idyllic locations we’ve been and it was soooo cheap! We were getting by on as little as $55 per day some days… including insurance!

The spreadsheet has been annoying to update sometimes, especially when it hasn’t been done in a little while. I am so glad we have all of this interesting data now though!

I would say my spreadsheet and I are more “frenemies” than best friends at this point…

Bethany ~ twoOregonians September 13, 2012 at 8:09 am

Frenemies. Ha 😉

Anuj September 12, 2012 at 9:55 am

Awesome post – thanks for bringing out the fact that just because a destination is considered expensive, doesn’t mean that it has to be for you (and vice versa).
Could you share the template of the legendary spreadsheet you mentioned? I think many of us would benefit from it


Tony September 12, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Right on, Anuj!

I would love to share the spreadsheet. It needs to be cleaned up a bit for general use, but I can definitely pass it around.

In my former work life I was a financial analyst at one point, but I never did much with excel. I bet some of the finance gurus out there could make a few tweaks to really make the spreadsheet fly!

Betheny’s point above is also key… sometimes the cheaper locations let us relax and spend more on the luxuries. Which totally defeats the purpose!

Chris September 12, 2012 at 4:52 pm

I certainly would have never thought that South America would have been more expensive than Europe, it just goes to show there are plenty of ways you can save money even in a region that is perceived to be more costly.

I guess the spreadsheet may get one hell of a battering once you hit Australia though!

Tony September 12, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Completely surprised us, too! We just assumed South America would be cheap, but between all of the buses, tours, and 2 weeks in Patagonia… it added up!

I think part of it is because we were also so aware of the perceived high cost of living in Europe that we focused on conserving cash. It is amazing how fast cash can fly out of your pocket when you think you are in a cheap location….

Josh | Traveling 9 to 5 September 12, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Great post, I love when people share their budget numbers. I’m so behind on our budget posts, but hoping to catch up on them soon. It’s safe to say that both Caroline and I are addicted to tracking our budget now, when we could never make one before we started traveling.

Can’t beat 35 categories, but we do have a monster spreadsheet tracking everything down to the last cent, kip, baht, centavo, and peso! It has 24 tabs…. :)

Just on feeling alone, Spain was definitely less expensive than Rio or Buenos Aires. I am hoping that Ecuador and Peru help us reclaim some of that lost cash.

Tony September 12, 2012 at 7:55 pm

The spreadsheets can definitely take on a life of their own. I have tabs by month with one cell in each tab that lets me convert whatever currency we happen to be in that month.

I used to be a financial analyst after college but never did much with excel… so the spreadsheet is not as dynamic as it probably could be. Works for us though!

Peru will definitely help… unless you are paying to do the Inca Trail! That was a big cost for us :)

Andres September 13, 2012 at 4:59 pm

No wonder it was more expensive! You didn´t visit Colombia! In the charming pueblos of Antioquia´s Southwest Coffee Region, small hotels cost under 12 euros per person per day, breakfast under 2.25 euros, other meals are usually under 4.25 euros. Even private tours can cost under 68 euros including private transportation from Medellin, horseback riding, lunch, personal accident insurance, visit to coffee farms, sugar-cane mills. The evidence can be found at: http://www.landventuretravel.com

Tony September 15, 2012 at 1:09 am

Trust us… we desperately wanted to go to Colombia but just couldn’t make it work. Next time we go to South America Colombia is at the top of our must-visit list!!!

Thanks for the tips!

Andres September 16, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Great! I´ll be glad to help you plan your trip. I have some tour operator friends that can provide extra tips in the different regions (Coffee region, Bogotá, Caribbean Coast) and of course, I´ll be the “expert” for Medellin and surrounding areas (Antioquia).

Leanne Pittsford September 18, 2012 at 3:11 am

So true about Colombia. And slow travel is SO much cheaper. We just did expense for Berlin and we saved 1k including our flights by living in Berlin for two months. Great post.

Tony September 18, 2012 at 3:15 am

Doing expenses is always so interesting after a long stay like in Berlin. DONER KABABS are amazingggg for the budget!

I will say living in San Francisco would definitely skew your comparisons though…. doesn’t get much pricier! What a nice way for you two to give your wallets a break though. Most people would never think you could save money by traveling!

Miss you 4!

Leanne Pittsford September 18, 2012 at 3:25 am

And just think about how much we will save in Thailand.

We miss you back. Magoo is still depressed.

ps – We must do Colombia together.

Kieu September 14, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Gerard and I also kept a meticulous spreadsheet..lol. We just started to look back on the numbers to do our recap for Asia and are surprised at the numbers in certain countries. Can’t wait to share. LOVE this post, btw. We’re in Peru for 4 weeks before heading to Bolivia for 2 weeks. Any suggestions?

Tony September 15, 2012 at 1:12 am

It really is amazing when you dig into the numbers… so glad we kept a record! We actually have so much data the problem is just trying to figure out the best way to present it. If you think of any interesting breakdowns you’d like to see, let us know!

As far as Peru and Bolivia, we highly recommend spending a night on Isla del Sol in the middle of Lake Titticaca. We were there in the off season and felt like we had the whole island to ourselves. at 13,000 ft high, it feels like the night sky is right on top of you. We also recommend the Bolivian side of Lake Titticaca more than the Peruvian side… Copacobana was great!

Are you looking to do the Inca trail while in Peru? What about the Bolivian Salt Flats when you’re in Bolivia? Both were well worth it!

DJ Yabis September 16, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Awesome. I totally agree with you. Europe is not that expensive and I travel almost the same way, “living” in cities and making it as a base for my travels. I just finished my 3-month Euro Trip and will update my travel expenses report in my blog soon as that’s also my aim, to show people that traveling in Europe is not that expensive as they think!

Although I think the flights and the expensive tours you took in South America made it more expensive. ;D


Tony September 16, 2012 at 10:33 pm

The flight and tours definitely were a HUGE cost! I was trying to show that just because SA has a reputation for being inexpensive, any benefit of low costs is negated by how you travel. If people are smart about it, they can definitely make Europe way cheaper than they think.

Next time we go to Europe we are going to try even more WWOOFing and maybe even some housesitting. There are so many ways these days to make your money stretch!

efrutik September 26, 2012 at 9:12 am

I am itching to do house sitting, but can’t get it how. There is so much information out there!!! Can you recommend something to start off with, from your personal experience (resources, approach, anything that has worked for you) if you don’t mind sharing? Thanks!

Oh and I don’t feel so paralyzed now that I’m traveling in Europe, great post!

Tony September 26, 2012 at 8:42 pm

We’re just finishing our first housesitting job now and have loved it! The hard part will be saying goodbye to the dogs we’re taking care of… we’ve gotten attached!

We have used trustedhousesitters to find our job. You have to pay an annual fee to get access to their contact list, but if you’re serious about it, it is well worth it.

We wrote a guest post for them highlighting some tips on how first timers can land a gig. You can check it out here: http://trustedhousesittersblog.com/index.php/2012/08/26/how-first-timers-can-get-their-dream-housesitting-job/

Hope this helps!

Dave October 19, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Kudos, love keeping track as well! We just posted our Korean wrap up which has our numbers, but right now only two countries to compare…

BTW, are these total for the both of you, or per person?

Tony October 20, 2012 at 1:56 am

Hey Dave!

I have so much data now on our trips expenses that I really need to spend a few days going through it and pulling out some interesting #’s… like how much we’ve spent on alcohol!

Awesome work only spending $41 per person per day in Korea… i’ve heard it can be crazy expensive there!

For our budget, we include everything that we spend on the road, including health insurance, but don’t include the money we spent on our gear before we started. I need to write about what we bought and what we paid at some point.

The breakdown of expenses if total, as a couple. So divide by 2 to get our per person rate! :)

Liz January 18, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Something else to consider: In South America, you have to look over your shoulder most of the time to make sure you’re not a victim of theft. If you’re robbed, that makes South America even more expensive. Too bad the EU makes it so difficult to stay in Europe for more than 90 days (unless you are a UK citizen). Great post!

Tony January 18, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Thanks for the comment, Liz!

South America definitely kept us on edge a bit more than Europe. Not sure all of the reasons that caused this, but part of it seemed to be how much more comfortable Europe is with travelers. Because visitors are so common and there are so many, it seems like you actually don’t stand out as much.

Hope you weren’t robbed!


Mariana May 5, 2015 at 5:09 am

It´s more expensive than Asia, indeed but not more than Europe.. no wonder why you got such values if you spent almost 2000 in an insurance and you spent 2000 USD in plane.. which is still not the cheapest option for a flight to south america! I think you should try to find cheaper options before booking, instead of making such a statement. The most expensive country there I agree is Chile, but the costs there are not higher than in Croatia.

Tony May 5, 2015 at 8:55 am

Hi Mariana – Thanks for stopping by!

A big part of travel expenses is the way you travel. I was trying to show people that more than the actual location, the type of traveling you do is often a much larger factor with your final costs.

In South America, we spent a few weeks in Patagonia which meant sky high grocery bills and the transportation costs to get down there and then around were much higher as well.

The insurance included our US health insurance which was the same every month. The $2,000 in flights included all flights in South America… not just the flight to get there. It’s a long way to get to Patagonia! It was also pretty hard for us to find flights from Boston to South America for less than $600 per person at the time. $2,000 total for two people doesn’t seem like that much to me :)

Thanks again!

Eliana June 12, 2016 at 4:19 pm

Hi Tony,
I find your information very useful but would really like to know dates. When did you compare Europe travel to South American travel?
Things change so much over time.
My husband and I are planning a 6 month trip: 2 destinations. Trying to choose them now.
Thanks :)

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