What does it cost to cruise? What’s a reasonable amount to budget for a sail around the world? Is X amount enough to live comfortably on a sailboat? It doesn’t matter how you word this question, we’ve heard them all a hundred times.
Well before Ali and I ever started cruising we kept track of our expenses. Closely. We have always been the type of people who would notice when there was a new ninety-nine cent charge on the electricity bill and then call to complain about it. Nothing irks us like getting pinched for a buck or two or five without our consent. And hey, knowing where your money goes should be the number one financial goal of everybody out there anyway. When people ask us how we afford to live the life we do our answer is rarely about how we make our money, and instead centers on knowing exactly how we spend our money. Making money is the easy part—most of us have been doing that since we were tweens—it’s the spending money that causes problems.
Our “fiscal responsibility” mentality has always been with us, so when we decided to go cruising it was only natural for us to keep track of every dime. Literally. Every dime. We published the numbers each and every month, and not with all the disclaimers that most bloggers throw in there like:
“We only spent $1,147 this month!” **
** Does not include the new laptop we had to buy to replace our old one, the new charts we had to have for this cruising area, and the flights back to the States for our friend’s wedding next month.
People tend to think that those sort of one-off expenses are just that—one-off. They aren’t. In fact, those are the sort of expenses that add up to a very substantial portion of any circumnavigators total expenses. They are not unique to any one cruiser—we all have them. Hell, we lost three cameras to the ocean, and another to a thief in under four years. That alone added about $60 per month to the overall cost of our trip (remember this is a few years ago when a digital camera cost real money, especially in far-off countries). Who amongst us would think to figure into our budget $2 per day for cameras?
Ali and I had an engine overheat to the point that it couldn’t be rebuilt. We dropped $5,000 on a new one. One-off? Well, the guy in the slip right next to me as I type this is having his engine rebuilt for the fourth time in a year. Unique? A guy in the next dock over just had a new 50hp Yanmar dropped in. Did any of us see that coming? Not a single one. But why not? Let’s face it, engine issues are not uncommon. In fact they are so common that you’d be remiss not to include at least a little something in your budget for major repairs.
Of course there are one-off expenses. Things that others couldn’t reasonably be expected to incur. We had a one-year-old catamaran that had been surveyed by the biggest name in the catamaran industry at the time. Yet six months after we set off we found that our hulls were completely—and I do mean completely—delaminated. As if the fiberglass and the core had never been bonded together at all. $33,000 in repairs and repainting. That doozy we kept out of the monthly expenses, but included in full in its own sidebar.
In preparing your budget for a sail around the world be hyperaware of the tendency we all have to underestimate. Even the guy who is eternally pessimistic in everyday life suddenly becomes a raging optimist when it comes to estimating expenses for the journey of a lifetime.
And hey, to be perfectly honest, I can respect that. It means he wants to get out there so badly that he is willing to say, “F#*@ it, we’ve got enough dough in the bank, let’s just go now.” In the back of his mind he knows he’s pushing it, but pushing it is what life is all about, so for that I say good on him. Because, as one of my favorite sayings goes, “You can always make more money, you can never make more time.”
People take what they want from our numbers. Combined with our website’s stories we provide a pretty clear picture of how we cruised. Some might say they won’t eat out as much as us and therefore are going to lower the food estimates, while others know that they will stay in marinas more often than we did and will adjust the numbers accordingly for that. The possible tweaks are endless, but having a basic guide to start from can be a huge help.
Without further ado here are the numbers:
|2003 35′ Wildcat Catamaran (used)||157,000|
|ssb radio & modem w/install||6,550|
|misc. boat bits||6,412|
|sep 2003||oct 2003||nov 2003||dec 2003|
|boat supplies||included above||included above||568.99||2,044.85|
|Nov: annual Sailmail fee $200; one-time FCC callsign registration|
|Dec: new house batteries|
|jan 2004||feb 2004||mar 2004||apr 2004|
|Apr: Panama Canal transit fees $600; Panama haulout and bottom painting|
|may 2004||jun 2004||jul 2004||aug 2004|
|May: surprise stop in Colombia refuel and custom fees|
|Jun: Galapagos tour $2786|
|sep 2004||oct 2004||nov 2004||dec 2004|
|Sep: includes flights home in Dec $3339|
|Oct: New Zealand car purchase|
|Nov: new window/seat covers $1130; annual Sailmail fee $250|
|Dec: back home in the U.S.|
|jan 2005||feb 2005||mar 2005||apr 2005|
|Jan: NZ road trips $901; Volvo mechanic (saildrives, maintenance) $660|
|Feb: NZ south island road trip $2113; does NOT include Boat Repair Costs|
|Mar: new watermaker pump; replacement camera|
|Apr: does NOT include new Volvo engine $5244|
|may 2005||jun 2005||jul 2005||aug 2005|
|May: includes Australia road trip $944; new surfboard|
|Jul: starboard engine part/mechanic $916|
|sep 2005||oct 2005||nov 2005||dec 2005|
|Sep: includes Uluru road trip $1304|
|Nov: annual Sailmail fee $250|
|jan 2006||feb 2006||mar 2006||apr 2006|
|may 2006||jun 2006||jul 2006||aug 2006|
|May: trip to Cairo and Luxor $875; new boat prop $566; Suez Canal fees/tips $530|
|Jun: Israel/Jordan road trip $1279|
|Jul: stolen cash/new camera $684; haulout/mechanic $1169; Istanbul trip $389|
|Aug: includes Italy trip $607|
|sep 2006||oct 2006||nov 2006||dec 2006|
|Sep: includes Italy trip $2,126|
|Nov: annual Sailmail fee $250; welder $230; two car rentals including fuel $346|
|jan 2007||feb 2007||mar 2007||apr 2007|
|Mar: Puerto Rico road trip $1186; Haiti trip $414|
|Apr: two week Florida car rental including fuel $370; $$ Florida marina|
|Total $136,434. Forty-four months, $3,100 per month.|
Turns out I would have actually had to tack on an additional $1,600 to my estimate of $1,500.
When I was planning our trip from my home office in Chicago I came up with a number of $1,750 per month. And I thought that was being generous. In fact the number I came up with was actually $1,500, but just for fun I tacked on another $250. Turns out I would have actually had to tack on an additional $1,600 to my estimate of $1,500.
What does that mean? It means take your best guess and double it. Okay, that’s not entirely true either. I mean, most of you won’t be setting out in your boat for the very first time in your lives. You’ll have spent weekends, and quite probably weeks at a time living on your boat before the big trip commences, and you’ll likely have a much better grasp of what it takes to live on a boat than I did. I had never stepped foot on a sailboat when I came up with my estimate, so really, how could I come up with a number?
I mean, Ali and I had never cooked more than one meal in a week before, now we were suddenly going to provision a boat for months at sea? We had no idea how much time we’d spend motoring versus sailing, or for that matter what our fuel consumption would be. We didn’t know that we’d want 300 feet of chain and that our boat would only come with 150. Point is, there were a million unknowns to us—a person who has spent more time on their boat is going to be able to weed out at least half of those and come up with a more accurate budget.
Now for fun let’s compare this to land travel. After sailing around the world Ali and I purchased a restored ’58 VW Bus and hit the road. We spent a couple of years driving 60,000 miles from the U.S. To Mexico, back up to Alaska, then all the way south to Argentina, onto a cargo ship and over to Europe. We eventually sold the bus in England and ended the trip with our first baby on the way.
|1958 Volkswagen Panelvan (restored)||13,600|
|engine, transmission, brakes, safaris||5,400|
|camper kit build||2,100|
|sep 2007||oct 2007||nov 2007||dec 2007|
|jan 2008||feb 2008||jun 2008||jul 2008|
|Note: March-May in Oregon waiting for warmer weather to take off for Alaska|
|aug 2008||sep 2008||oct 2008||nov 2008|
|dec 2008||jan 2009||feb 2009||mar 2009|
|Dec: shipping the bus from Panama City to Colombia totaling $2616: container and Panama port fees $1305, airfare for us $435, hotel ten nights $502, Colombia port fees $374|
|apr 2009||may 2009||jun 2009||jul 2009|
|Apr: cargo ship from Argentina to Germany totaling $4795: RORO bus shipment $932, cabin for two $3496, wire fee $67, Brazil visas $300|
|Jul: includes a side trip to Paris and flights to the U.S.|
|Total $58,844. Twenty months, $2,942 per month.|
$41,170 total without Europe. Sixteen months $2,573 per month.
I have to admit, I really thought that the land travel was going to come in quite a bit cheaper than the sailing. And it does if you factor in the massive boat repair bill we had in New Zealand which jacks up our monthly budget for our sail around the world all the way from $3,100 to $3,862. But leave that out and shazzam, land and sea are on pretty equal footing.
Then again, if we’d stuck to just driving the Americas, and left out the expense of shipping and traveling through Europe, our cost per month of living on the road drops precipitously to just $2,573. That’s significantly cheaper than cruising.
So you can see that there are a million-and-one ways to manipulate the numbers to fit—your lifestyle, and your cruising goals.
In the end though, no matter what number you end up at, traveling the world is a bargain. The payback for the money spent is tenfold. In all my years of travel and all of the reading I’ve done, I have never once come across a person who said, “Well, that (traveling) was a waste of money. Wish I’d stayed put.
The experience of world travel will shape your future. For many it becomes an ongoing quest, for others it is something that they can always lean on—when they think times are tough they can almost certainly think of people that have it a lot tougher. And I think for most of us travel has a way of shaping our financial future as well—molding good spending habits, encouraging saving, lowering waste of all kinds, and forcing that all important question into our minds—not, “Can I afford this?” but, “Do I need this?” That’s a question that can help anybody on any budget.
Now get out your pad and pencil, jot down some numbers, compare them to what you see above. Now go in and tweak them some more. Add a little cushion. Okay? Done? Now call your spouse into the room. Go on do it. Now repeat after me, “See honey, we can make this work.”