What Does it Cost to Cruise?



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    
watermaker w/install 7,634    
ssb radio & modem w/install 6,550    
misc. boat bits 6,412    
rigging 4,042    
  sep 2003 oct 2003 nov 2003 dec 2003
communication 76.91 164.02 576.78 44.00
food 355.04 545.94 680.10 552.42
diesel 39.00 231.68 37.40 170.50
marina/mooring 1,229.82 1,489.75 584.09 495.50
boat supplies included above included above 568.99 2,044.85
other 551.17 939.31 390.75 607.88
  2,251.94 3,370.70 2,838.11 3,915.15
Nov: annual Sailmail fee $200; one-time FCC callsign registration
Dec: new house batteries
  jan 2004 feb 2004 mar 2004 apr 2004
communication 8.00 50.00 73.97 60.73
groceries 285.59 181.15 281.70 564.67
restaurants/bars 459.47 444.14 544.92 294.10
diesel 132.36 68.10 123.00 219.50
marina/mooring 270.00 30.00 0.00 86.50
boat supplies 123.10 82.35 323.04 2,466.34
other 452.66 177.45 564.45 1,599.42
  1,731.18 1,033.19 1,911.08 5,291.26
Apr: Panama Canal transit fees $600; Panama haulout and bottom painting
  may 2004 jun 2004 jul 2004 aug 2004
communication 44.11 37.05 63.11 92.45
groceries 57.46 298.09 350.77 186.28
restaurants/bars 219.09 238.56 395.01 600.60
diesel 100.51 43.00 299.20 44.10
marina/mooring 5.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
boat supplies 203.84 243.83 103.05 461.30
other 609.62 3,586.91 420.05 731.01
  1,239.63 4,447.44 1,631.19 2,115.74
May: surprise stop in Colombia refuel and custom fees
Jun: Galapagos tour $2786
  sep 2004 oct 2004 nov 2004 dec 2004
communication 82.53 60.43 278.35 33.72
groceries 324.72 267.68 255.19 0.00
restaurants/bars 441.00 380.15 728.11 662.81
diesel 98.02 203.57 0.00 0.00
marina/mooring 193.07 37.05 0.00 0.00
boat supplies 210.33 133.07 1,787.66 446.09
other 3,960.46 1,295.37 3,559.27 3,038.43
  5,310.13 2,377.32 6,608.58 4,181.05
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
communication 64.89 57.96 117.57 28.58
groceries 104.39 116.28 590.10 305.75
restaurants/bars 465.56 623.48 309.45 162.22
diesel 0.00 0.00 131.40 113.05
marina/mooring 0.00 217.51 307.77 72.42
boat supplies 316.46 367.06 1,265.35 63.50
other 2,251.57 3,241.12 1,918.75 411.12
  3,202.87 4,623.41 4,640.39 1,156.64
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
communication 93.48 74.31 86.64 99.60
groceries 374.32 276.31 416.37 473.86
restaurants/bars 771.04 247.13 329.35 244.53
diesel 320.76 0.00 214.55 300.31
marina/mooring 91.20 289.60 253.08 114.57
boat supplies 96.60 135.40 1,140.29 909.99
other 2,546.34 659.54 1,024.98 640.66
  4,293.74 1,682.29 3,465.26 2,783.52
May: includes Australia road trip $944; new surfboard
Jul: starboard engine part/mechanic $916
  sep 2005 oct 2005 nov 2005 dec 2005
communication 82.73 33.69 276.35 57.89
groceries 662.04 268.77 151.81 102.77
restaurants/bars 749.63 236.97 369.65 378.07
diesel 0.00 192.01 387.74 0.00
marina/mooring 598.35 233.27 237.36 159.36
boat supplies 930.13 0.99 200.85 279.56
other 2,115.96 933.18 995.79 1,297.44
  5,138.84 1,898.88 2,619.55 2,275.09
Sep: includes Uluru road trip $1304
Nov: annual Sailmail fee $250
  jan 2006 feb 2006 mar 2006 apr 2006
communication 70.51 5.48 21.04 29.56
groceries 102.00 125.79 292.65 53.53
restaurants/bars 304.83 194.66 356.63 243.53
diesel 324.24 179.79 194.59 280.00
marina/mooring 85.70 0.00 0.00 41.65
boat supplies 4.89 11.91 65.30 24.78
other 817.92 291.32 648.68 681.64
  1,710.09 808.95 1,578.89 1,354.69
  may 2006 jun 2006 jul 2006 aug 2006
communication 79.13 13.68 121.23 39.79
groceries 140.09 308.49 233.64 193.03
restaurants/bars 331.00 467.70 429.67 561.05
diesel 119.00 167.46 294.27 430.13
marina/mooring 274.33 333.35 535.13 450.89
boat supplies 640.61 66.63 1,112.20 50.00
other 1,344.13 2,090.87 1,380.53 1,131.95
  2,928.29 3,448.18 4,106.66 2,856.84
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
communication 90.22 42.50 272.06 30.00
groceries 40.03 473.22 413.58 28.01
restaurants/bars 688.13 501.41 501.49 74.86
diesel 366.67 498.23 270.90 0.00
marina/mooring 538.42 1,461.86 938.56 317.52
boat supplies 25.00 177.92 437.41 0.00
other 2,561.02 858.02 1,214.21 204.79
  4,309.49 4,013.16 4,048.21 655.18
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
communication 45.86 4.97 59.00 21.57
groceries 278.86 307.99 143.16 322.10
restaurants/bars 632.06 495.17 750.36 460.15
diesel 427.54 91.01 61.00 249.01
marina/mooring 24.55 105.00 21.00 1,373.13
boat supplies 232.40 241.14 86.90 1,027.98
other 289.24 512.98 2,085.96 986.29
  1,930.51 1,758.26 3,207.38 4,440.23
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
gas 439.55 229.47 549.40 178.27
vw expenses 231.05 231.87 109.87 5.44
camping 31.00 0.00 164.22 154.18
hotels/hostels 579.08 151.70 579.50 0.00
food 262.15 285.88 622.04 557.17
border fees 6.00 0.00 75.91 0.00
other 172.50 496.03 559.04 518.99
  1,721.33 1,394.95 2,659.98 1,414.05
  jan 2008 feb 2008 jun 2008 jul 2008
gas 241.45 229.09 288.05 1,441.26
vw expenses 98.67 0.00 0.00 97.27
camping 340.00 294.55 124.22 264.28
hotels/hostels 108.55 127.27 0.00 143.19
food 610.50 552.78 384.87 1,249.38
border fees 0.00 0.00 198.00 0.00
other 359.20 292.64 492.80 315.80
  1,758.37 1,496.33 1,487.94 3,511.18
Note: March-May in Oregon waiting for warmer weather to take off for Alaska
  aug 2008 sep 2008 oct 2008 nov 2008
gas 1,174.38 549.97 496.71 323.86
vw expenses 137.06 1,247.99 42.46 6.40
camping 206.85 144.94 336.02 100.67
hotels/hostels 153.83 0.00 170.34 499.23
food 761.78 434.24 712.59 777.36
border fees 0.00 0.00 110.59 124.81
other 1,818.39 449.03 477.42 250.13
  4,252.29 2,826.17 2,346.13 2,082.46
  dec 2008 jan 2009 feb 2009 mar 2009
gas 214.34 317.50 315.94 737.18
vw expenses 182.64 198.52 458.23 51.49
camping 168.73 103.48 107.55 210.49
hotels/hostels 540.61 477.44 444.34 197.25
food 820.86 628.56 466.92 724.29
border fees 37.56 1.00 0.00 23.24
other 2,956.85 309.33 495.21 288.45
  4,921.59 2,035.83 2,288.19 2,232.39
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
gas 511.20 267.37 1,009.17 808.88
vw expenses 216.44 279.50 28.21 302.60
camping 124.16 131.43 602.72 662.14
hotels/hostels 430.96 0.00 0.00 953.19
food 642.33 277.77 1,098.66 1,047.93
border fees 0.00 0.00 10.86 0.00
other 5,611.57 553.78 571.45 4,272.85
  7,536.66 1,509.85 3,321.07 8,047.59
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.”


6 Comments on “What Does it Cost to Cruise?”

  1. you say: ” I have never once come across a person who said, “Well, that (traveling) was a waste of money. Wish I’d stayed put.””

    hello allow me to introduce myself, all my traveling was a waste of money and time (much of it on the company dollar, so more a waste of time than money). in the years of traveling there are many more enriching activities I could have engaged in. I have not met anyone who has traveled significantly and been overwhelmed or impressed with their emotional, intellectual, or spiritual capacity compared to those who do not travel. In fact the joe’s who stay home, for example to gain a degree at a uni, are better off than the joe’s who travel the world even if they travel as a study abroad.

    travel is for fun. that is all it is except for one other thing. travel is a trick to impress others.

    travelers are the same people when they come back as when they leave. the idea of a traveler having a sudden eye opening life changing attitude changing enlightenment while on the road is only a fantasy told by romantic idealists and a broad range of corporations in their marketing messages. you are following right along with that marketing message. it’s a popular one. perhaps because historically only the more economically elite are able to travel thus anyone who travels is acting the charade of being economically elite.

    read thru the lines of On The Road and see that a road trip is only a bunch of gags, to self and others, no more, no less.

      1. when in doubt attack the author rather than the content. thanks for the ad hominem. you might have chosen to learn something instead..

        1. There is no attack whatsoever in my comment. I do indeed think it is sad that you traveled a bit and felt all of it was a waste of time and money. I think that does say a lot about you, and I think most travelers would agree with that. You claim travelers are the same people when they come back as when they leave, and I agree that for you, traveling on a business trip, that is no doubt true. For long-term travelers I don’t feel like we need to have “a sudden eye opening life changing attitude changing enlightenment.” There is no reason for our lives to change suddenly, it simply happens over time.

          As for whatever you are saying about a marketing message, well, I don’t have any idea what you mean.

          And really? Comparing all travel and road trips to On The Road? Or claiming that as the ultimate authority. Or whatever you’re doing. I don’t know, Mr. Anon, I really didn’t learn anything from your post. And frankly, I’m not sure why in the world you feel as if you need to be my teacher.

  2. I think anon’s comment was made out of a nagging sense of regret at having wasted the best years of his life, to be honest.

    I have only recently finished school (10 years after many of my peers), so I cannot afford to partake in the world travel I wish to (I also have 4 kids lol). My wife and I are saving up, so that when we hit 50-55, we can pull up roots and take to the sea.

    Given the resources, I’d do it today, and teach my kids the kinds of lessons they’ll never learn in a classroom.

    In the meantime, I travel vicariously through people like y’all 🙂 Thanks for the blog, it’s a real pleasure to read.

  3. Thank you for detailing your expenses, and comparing land and sea travel. Good insights, too.

    In the first comment above, one phrase was telling: ” . . . much of it on the company dollar.” Business travel does not equal travelling for pleasure. When I was a consultant, I spent most of my time on the road. Sometimes I’d visit exotic places, but most often not. My friends and family sometimes said they were jealous, but the inside of one Hilton looks pretty much like every other Hilton, and conference rooms look the same the world over.

    Travel that you choose is entirely different than being paid to do business in other places. All of your insights above apply to travelling by choice, imho.

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