One of the most popular things we did while driving around the U.S. in our RV last year was to keep track of our monthly travel expenses, which we published at the end of our comprehensive post on how to save money living in an RV fulltime (and updated monthly).
We got a lot of feedback from folks saying they’d found it useful, and since money is one of the main issues confronting anyone deciding whether or not they want to adopt this lifestyle (one of the most common questions we get is “How can you afford it??”), we figured we’d continue our tradition of transparency and detail our monthly travel expenses while on the road.
So, interested in the costs of full time travel abroad? From now on, at the end of each month we’ll write a post like this one breaking down how much we spent in each category and reporting our average cost per day on the road.
August 2011: The cost of living in London
- Rent: $0
We were fortunate enough to spend August housesitting in London, so we paid nothing for accommodations! Earlier in the summer we forked over about $100 for annual membership fees on two housesitting websites (Mind My House and Trusted Housesitters) where we connected with our house-sit-needing new friends, but I’m not including those fees here since they were paid months ago.
- Groceries: £182 ($290)
- Eating out: £207 ($331)
Our housesit was within walking distance of a large supermarket and we had access to a wonderful kitchen, so we did a lot of cooking. We bought organic and free-range whenever available (which certainly impacted our grocery bill), but overall we found that groceries weren’t too outrageously expensive. To give you an idea of costs, a large container of yogurt was £1.60, a bag of spinach £1.50, it was £0.80 for an orange pepper, £1.40 for soymilk, tortilla wraps were £1.00 for a pack of ten, and a half-dozen organic eggs set us back £2.
We love food and exploring regional cuisines, so we also ate out at least once on each of the days we were out and about in the city. Dining out was definitely expensive, but we found that portions were usually large enough for us to share one entree and be satisfied.
The cost of dinner at the Indian restaurants on Brick Lane was about £10 for a starter, main dish, and rice or naan. We ate on Brick Lane multiple times (sampling a few recommended places) and always bargained to that price – which is half the fun of Brick Lane! Once we even got two free lassis thrown in. 😉
ALCOHOL AND NIGHTLIFE: $138
- Club covers: £30 ($48)
- Alcohol: £56 ($90)
We actually only went out about five times… but because we mostly went to dance clubs, we paid quite a bit in cover charges. We quickly discovered that dancing in London is expensive! A much better option if you want a more relaxed evening is to find a pub and order a pint or two, but we had specific venue recommendations we wanted to track down and experience while in the city.
- One-way flight to London: $848 each, so $1696 total
- Transportation within London: £113 ($180)
Our home for the month was in Walthamstow, which is the very last stop on the Victoria Line (in Zone 4, if you’re familiar with the city’s public transit). It was about a 25-minute tube ride to get into London proper, so we spent quite a bit on local transportation over the course of the month. We each used an Oyster Card, which you swipe each time you ride a bus or subway to deduct the cost from your account. If you use this card (and travel between 9:30am and sometime before the evening rush hour), it caps out at £6 or so for the day, so using the Oyster Card saved us a huge amount of hassle and money!
Our flights over the pond were sort of pricey, but not bad considering we bought them less than a month in advance (also, Air New Zealand? I think I’m in love). I’m mostly including them here for reference purposes, though, as we didn’t actually buy them in August and (we hope) going forward our transit costs will be quite a bit lower.
- Entrance fees for attractions: $0
We used the London Pass (which we received for free) to cover most of the attractions we were interested in visiting, and the rest had free admission. As we explain in our review of the London Pass we would have shelled out £114 in admission fees if we hadn’t used it, whereas if we’d actually paid for them ourselves it only would have been £44 per pass.
- SIM card for phone/internet: £10 ($16)
- Travel insurance: $100
- Medical: £840 ($1,340)
- Miscellaneous (haircuts, a scarf, etc.): £48 ($77)
Using your phone for internet or making calls is actually super cheap in the U.K. (compared to a lot of other countries). When we first arrived we got a free SIM card from T-Mobile for one of our old iPhones, then paid £5 for 3GB of data and another £5 for a certain number of voice minutes to be used within the month. The minutes weren’t enough for long conversations, but definitely sufficient for short calls.
I considered not including the medical category because it’s a complete fluke and hopefully not relevant for most folks (or ourselves going forward!), but it is an illustration of what happens if you find yourself in another country and need to see the doctor. In my case, I had two abnormal moles removed in the States in July, but once we got to London theatre breaks I received the biopsy results and it turned out more skin needed to be taken off sooner rather than later, so I made the decision to get it done immediately rather than waiting for a country with cheaper healthcare (or a better exchange rate). Because our travel insurance only covers medical emergencies, I paid out of pocket for the consultation, excision, and biopsies. Ouch.
Overall travel costs
- Accommodations: $0
- Food: $621
- Alcohol and Nightlife: $138
- Transportation: $1876 ($180 ignoring the flights to London)
- Sightseeing: $0
- Miscellaneous: $1533 ($193 ignoring the medical costs)
More realistic daily average (NOT taking into account flights and medical): $36.50 ($18.25 per person)
Keeping travel costs down:
Obviously the housesitting gig played a major role in keeping our overall expenses low, especially since lodging is one of the most expensive parts of visiting London. Aside from that, though, I think one of the other choices we made that ended up reducing costs the most was to not go out every day.
We kept the costs low where we connected with our house-sit-needing new friends, but I’m not including those fees here since they were paid months ago. For those who plan on taking up permanent residence in London, you can enlist the help of a Ladbroke Grove letting agent
There were quite a few days we didn’t leave the house at all (usually due to sickness or a work overload), or when we just went for walks and explored the immediate area but didn’t spend anything. This is one of the benefits of traveling slowly – since we had an entire month, we didn’t feel the need to be out and spending money on things every day!
Overall, I’m pretty happy with our numbers… you always want them to be smaller, but London is bloody expensive and the exchange rate is killer. While the price of an item may seem reasonable when you see it in pounds, if you’re paying in U.S. dollars then it’ll actually cost you more than half as much again!