Is a cheap world cruise actually possible?
That’s the question we asked ourselves.
So we thoroughly investigated this seemingly unlikely potential, as we planned a trip entirely around the world without flights.
Over the past five years of our nonstop travels around the world, we make concerted efforts to pursue and uncover some of the best travel values in the world, while stretching our travel dollars as far as possible.
It’s an open secret how traveling through cheaper destinations like Southeast Asia can be easily accomplished on a modest budget of $25 per day, or even less. It’s actually quite easy to achieve a high standard of travel at a low cost in many parts of Latin America and Eastern Europe too. It’s a proven strategy that has allowed us to travel well without spending a fortune over the course of the past several years.
But we also like getting off the well-worn backpacker trails and going beyond the world’s more economical nomad hotspots. We like to show how even seemingly extravagant travel experiences can be affordable. For example, we’ve proven how to visit the Galapagos on a Budget, take an African Safari for $50/Day, or even have a Luxury Trip to Egypt on a Budget.
Yet this past year we gave ourselves the biggest budget travel goal we’d ever set out on: attempting a cheap around the world cruise.
The terms “world cruise” and “budget travel” are two contrasting phrases that don’t normally mix. We want to prove that they can!
To up the ante, we also decided to plan our cheap world cruise route through some of the most expensive countries to travel. Lingering in budget travel havens like Thailand and Mexico would be far too easy of a strategy to keep travel costs low.
Instead, our cheap around the world cruise route would wind through all three of the world’s top 3 most expensive countries to visit: Switzerland, United Kingdom, and France (source: BusinessInsider). The journey would further include prolonged stays throughout notorious budget-busting nations like Japan, Canada, and Italy. These are all places we’ve tended to avoid in the past, largely due to the presumed high costs involved. But the desire to explore such remarkable destinations was strong. Hence, there’s always a way!
We further raised the stakes by visiting many of the world’s most expensive cities, including Singapore (#1), Hong Kong (#4), Seoul (#6), Tokyo (#11), Rome, London, and Beijing. (source: Economist Worldwide Cost of Living 2018 survey)
We would attempt to carry out this seemingly expensive feat by staying in mostly nice hotels and renting out entire homes, that would even include our very own Italian villa on the Mediterranean. Throughout the voyage, we would partake in quintessential high-end culinary experiences from eating Kobe beef in Japan to indulging in fondue in the Swiss Alps, and even some Michelin-stared restaurants in between. We would go on to have such costly experiences like downhill skiing across South Korea’s Olympic mountains, visiting an international Disney theme park, and sipping on bubbly while touring France’s Champagne region.
✅ We did it all.
But to top it all off, our primary form of transportation to get to all these pricey places in the world: luxury cruise ships!
We spent a total of 2½ months cruising entirely around the world on luxury liners, getting wined and dined each night before taking in an awesome show, retreating to our lavish stateroom, and then being transported to the next exotic port for another day full of adventure on land.
And we accomplished this all on a fairly low budget.
This post gives all the cost breakdowns and details our strategies of how we pulled off what may seem completely impossible: a cheap round the world cruise.
For those with champagne tastes on a beer budget, we want to show our crazy method of how a cheap world cruise can be accomplished. Whether you’re considering such an epic round the world adventure of your own as part of a gap year, career break, retirement trip, or just dreaming, we want to show you that it’s possible.
By employing some proven budget travel strategies, leveraging some lesser known travel hacks, understanding how repositioning cruises work, and traveling independently when on land, we found out that you can open the doors to a world of luxury and prolonged travel you may not have thought was possible.
Before setting off on this long-held travel goal of ours, we doubted ourselves if we could actually pull it off? Given all the luxury travel involved, combined with traveling through the world’s most expensive destinations, we were hesitant and doubtful. We wondered how much would this cheap world cruise actually cost?
So we set off on a grand journey around the world without flights to find out. We’re here now to share our discoveries, expenses, and strategies with you as we explore this illogical idea of a cheap cruise around the world.
How Cheap Is A World Cruise?
The idea of a world cruise seems like something achievable only to the wealthy and retired. We’re neither. Not even close.
Yet we love to travel and the idea of taking a cruise around the world is appealing. We regularly come across social media shares like this one that just popped up on my Facebook feed last week. It swoons over a 117-day Regent world cruise with an exotic itinerary that looks just as amazing as the elegant ship itself. Yet that world cruise has a pretty amazing price tag to match. If you can catch the “special fare,” currently the cheapest cabin for this world cruise is $124,998 for a couple. Ouch.
When looking at the expenses of long-term travel, it’s often easier to conceptualize daily or monthly costs. This cruise breaks down to $534 per person, per day. That’s $32,000 for a couple, each month.
Any way you slice it… yikes! And oddly enough, the Miami-to-Barcelona route of this “world” cruise doesn’t even make it entirely around the world. But I digress. The point is: this world cruise is a mega-expensive trip, only for the wealthy!
Surely there must be cheaper world cruises. And there is.
We recently scoured through all the current last-minute world cruise deals and the cheapest world cruise (2019) that we could find is this 112-night trip around the world on the Costa Luminosa for $29,012, departing in January. And that’s the cheap price only if you’re okay to settle in with a small interior cabin. Gratuities add another $2,600 to your onboard account and we’d estimate that adventures ashore and the occasional cruise cocktail would further grow your travel expenses by at least an extra $5,000. Now add in the required visas plus some travel insurance and you’re realistically looking at a minimum spend of about $40,000 for a cabin for two. And that’s before the cost of flying to Venice, Italy, where this world cruise departs from on January 5, 2019.
Without flights, this cruise ultimately breaks down to $179 per person, per day, for the nearly 4-month voyage. We think this is actually an excellent deal for a fully around the world cruise! Yet what amounts to $10,000 for a couple, for each month of travel is still entirely too much for our frugal travel tendencies.
For a cheap world cruise to be within our reach, we would need to be able to accomplish it on a budget of at least 1/3 of that cost.
That comes out to $60 per day. Such a spending plan would be an impossible budget for the extravagance of a world cruise.
…Or is it?
Our Method: How To Attempt A Cheap Cruise Around the World
Our secret weapon to accomplishing a cheap world cruise would be to carefully utilize a series of repositioning cruises.
During the past five years of traveling around the world, we’ve regularly used repositioning cruises as a cost-effective means of transportation to get from one continent to another. This is when cruise lines reposition their fleets in the spring and fall when the seasons change.
For example, beginning next month and into early November, many cruises will be repositioned from the Mediterranean to Florida and the Caribbean. Rather than floating an empty ship across the ocean, cruises are instead loaded with entertainment and stops are planned at exotic ports along the way to form an interesting cruise itinerary.
These lengthy voyages with many sea days typically aren’t very popular, so prices often get slashed in attempts to fill the ships with paying passengers. When that happens, we take advantage of astonishingly low rates and set sail across the ocean in luxury. (Example: This 5* Norwegian Epic repositioning cruise, is sailing from Barcelona to Florida on Nov 4, 2018, and is currently priced at $529 per person, for the two-week cruise across the Atlantic and through the Caribbean.)
Rather than sitting in a cramped coach seat on an overnight flight, we instead get to enjoy two weeks of island hopping, fine dining, entertainment, and relaxing in our comfy stateroom. Such repositioning cruises have given us a way to afford luxury that is often otherwise unattainable to our travel budget ways. The crazy thing is that these repositioning cruises are often priced less than a flight between two continents.
So over the years, we’ve crossed the Atlantic on four separate occasions, among other routes such as this Panama Canal cruise down to South America. Our lowest-priced transatlantic crossing was this two-week cruise we took for only $159!
While transatlantic cruises are the most common (and often cheapest) route for repositioning cruises, we’ve been well aware that there are some less common transpacific routes and even itineraries between Asia and Europe that pass through the Suez Canal.
Armed with a keen awareness of these different repositioning cruise routes and the corresponding seasonalities, we had to attempt to stitch them together in a grand attempt to form a cheap world cruise.
Doing so would take a great degree of planning, a bit of gambling on the ever-changing rate fluctuations, and a little luck to ultimately form our own patchwork of a cheap world cruise.
Using this method, it would not be a consecutive world cruise residing on a single ship entirely around the world for a 100+ day voyage. Rather, to catch these rare one-way cruise deals, it would require some carefully plotted timing, while also traveling overland in between the oceanic cruise segments.
The overland travels would be a small and welcomed concession we’re willing to make in order to achieve the financial feat of a cheap luxury cruise entirely around the world. Plus, we figured it would be nice to break apart all this time at sea with some extended adventures on land.
So that’s exactly what we set off to do.
In summary, our method involved three components are absolutely critical to taking a cheap world cruise:
- Understanding repositioning cruise routes and timing
- Having the time and desire to spend time on land in between repositioning cruises
- Being skilled at traveling independently and using budget travel tactics
We’ll break all that down now.
How Our Cheap World Cruise Plan Materialized
While backpacking across the Andes of South America in early 2017, we began conceptualizing this cheap world cruise idea and eyeing potential one-way repositioning cruises to take.
We had long wanted to spend some extended time traveling across Canada. So we booked a flight to Halifax, Nova Scotia at the beginning of July, where we began to scour the Internet to investigate this cheap world cruise idea further. Turns out, that flight to Halifax would be the very last time we would get on a plane for quite a long time.
When we weren’t actively traveling and exploring Canada, much of the time during our 10-week trip across the country was dedicated instead to exploring the possibility of this idea of a cheap world cruise. Countless hours of research, budgeting, route-planning, and price checks were conducted between our touristic pursuits throughout Canada.
It wasn’t until we were in Montreal in August, that we pulled the trigger to really set this cheap world cruise trip into motion. That’s when we booked a last-minute repositioning cruise from Vancouver, across the Pacific Ocean, all the way to Japan!
It was happening.
Our Cheap World Cruise Itinerary & Travel Stats:
This westward trip across Canada was actually the beginning stages of our journey entirely around the world without flights.
At the time, it was all just a rough sketch of varying ideas and possibilities. But this cheap world cruise would ultimately take us to:
- 22 countries,
- visiting 35 Unesco World Heritage Sites,
- sleeping in 74 beds, and
- through over 100 different cities in the world!
The trip from Halifax completely around the globe and back took exactly 300 days, all without using a single flight.
Instead, we moved around the world using:
🚆 71 trains,
🚌 52 buses,
⛴️ 11 ferries + 1 river cruise,
🚗 7 rental cars,
🚕 6 long-distance taxis, and
🚢 4 ocean cruise ships that carried us around the world for a total of 2½ months!
Yet much more remarkable than our forms of transportation or where we slept each night, was the vast amount of amazing travel experiences we were so fortunate to have during this grand adventure around the world.
Highlights during the 10-month trip around the world included:
🇨🇦 Tidal Bore Rafting Across the Most Extreme Tides in the World
🇨🇦 Hiking among Moose in the Canadian Wilderness
🇨🇦 Lobstering in Prince Edward Island
🇺🇸 Taking the Amtrak Empire Builder Across the US
🇺🇸 Cruising through Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park
🇯🇵 Exploring Japan’s Most Atmospheric Ancient Temples
🇯🇵 Hiking Japan’s Ancient Komono Kodo Pilgrimage Route
🇯🇵 Eating Everything in Japan
🇰🇷 Skiing on Downhill Olympic Ski Runs in South Korea
🇰🇷 Attending a local Ice Fishing Festival (and actually catching!)
🇰🇷 Venturing to the DMZ at the North Korea Border 🇰🇵
🇨🇳 Finding Ourselves All Alone at a Remote Section of the Great Wall of China
🇨🇳 Taking a River Cruise Down the Yagtze
🇨🇳 Hiking Across the Fabled Avatar Mountains
🇻🇳 Floating on a Junk Boat Through Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay
🇹🇭 Relaxing on a Tropical Thai Beach
🇮🇳 Experiencing the Wonderful Culture Shock that Incredible India Delivers
🇴🇲 Roaming around Desert in Oman
🇪🇬 Cruising Through the Suez Canal
🇮🇹 Hiking from Seaside Village to Village in Cinque Terre
🇮🇹 Learning Just How Delicious Fresh Pasta in Italy Is
🇨🇭 Trekking the Swiss Alps
🇫🇷 Drinking Champagne within France’s Champagne Region
🇧🇪 Cycling to a Remote Belgian Monastery to Seek the World’s Best Beer
🇬🇧 Pub Crawling around London‘s River Thames on a Sunny Day
🌊 Taking the Inaugural Cruise on the Brand New Norwegian Bliss to Complete Our Journey
^Phew, and that’s just the highlight reel. It was truly a trip of a lifetime.
So How Much Did It Cost to Take This Cheap World Cruise?
Here, we’re going into the deep details to fully break down the cost of our entire trip around the world. This trip budget includes all four cruises that we took, in addition to detailing the expenses of our stints traveling overland across the world’s most expensive nations.
We feel a bit naked revealing our personal finances and spending habits. But we are doing this because we want to show exactly how it is possible to actually afford a trip of this caliber.
Here’s how we broke it all down. Our travel expenses during the ten-month journey can be grouped into four large categories of costs:
- Eating & Drinking
- The cruises themselves
Before drilling down into our detailed financial data, it’s worthwhile to take a second to understand some accounting challenges we faced when tracking our travel expenses.
It was tricky to categorize because many of these groupings often overlap. For example, we regularly seek out accommodation that includes breakfast and are willing to pay a bit more for that. We even stayed at some business hotels in Japan that further included complimentary curry rice for dinner (yum!). In such instances, we only allocated the expense to “accommodation,” even though the price we paid for the hotel covered two breakfasts and two dinners.
Such aforementioned occurrences lower our eating & drinking costs, even though it’s actually baked into the accommodation and entertainment expenses. As a result, hotel expenses are a bit overinflated since cheaper places were available that didn’t include meals.
We often used taxis and public transport to sightsee, which could logically be attributed to transportation. Yet given that our intention of using such transport was to pursue activities, such local transportation was instead allocated as entertainment. There are many more blurred lines like these aforementioned examples, but you get the point.
Perhaps our biggest accounting challenge is with the cruises themselves. Their costs are all-inclusive of our transportation, dining, onboard entertainment, and accommodation. This is what makes cruises such great value! But it also makes it damn near impossible to categorize. As such, we’ve separated cruising expenses from our land-based travels in between.
This preface is simply to let you know that these allocations may not be a perfect science, but we made a solid effort to categorize expenses the best we could to give you a glimpse into our personal finances of this cheap world cruise route we’ve attempted to achieve. We have meticulously tracked and are now revealing our personal expenses in an effort to show just how it can all be done.
So let’s take a look!
Eating and Drinking Costs on this Cheap World Cruise
During our 2½ months on cruises, we indulged in the included fine dining each night while sailing across the world’s oceans. The incredible cuisine we have access to onboard is one of the aspects we enjoy most about using one-way cruises to transfer between continents.
While traveling around the world on a budget, often fine dining experiences are out of reach for our finances. So when we get on a cruise, the included four-course dinners are an absolute treat. During the 2½ months we spent cruising over the past year, we enjoyed so many great appetizers, from escargot to seared scallops. Favorite main courses over the voyages included filet mignon, lobster, chateaubriand, and beef wellington.
These cruises weren’t just a giant buffet of cheap sandwiches. It’s really quality menu items and fine dining!
We almost never order dessert when dining out around the world. But on a cruise, that all changes. When a different cheesecake is available on the menu each night, we’re going to try them all!
Each of the four cruise lines we used has their own specialties. Perhaps most interesting was the Italian liner, Costa, which featured a regional Italian menu each night. And after roaming around dairy-free Asia for nearly a half-year, I can’t even begin to express what an amazing novelty it was to reintroduce delicious Italian cheese into our diet. We helped ourselves to so much authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano throughout the month we spent on that ship!
We’d further wake up to have eggs benedict for breakfast, sit down to an indulgent 3-course lunch, and follow it up with some petit fours during high tea. All of this decadence is completely included in the cruise fares. We didn’t ever pay a dime more while dining aboard the cruises during our 2½ months we spent aboard them.
Some ships have specialty restaurants that carry an up-charge. Many people love them. We personally never find them to be worth it, given the excellent meals available for free in the main dining rooms.
What we do find worthwhile is spending our money to eat local when on land. During days in port, we always roam around to try the local cuisine. In Vietnam, we devoured banh mi and pho. In Thailand, we slurped up as much tom yum and pad thai as possible. We chowed on kottu in Sri Lanka, followed by curries in India. We couldn’t possibly stop into a Greece port without stuffing our faces with a traditional Greek salad.
You can see this separate post that details our top nine favorite meals from this journey. And they were all under $25!
These expenses were very minimal in the grand scheme of things. And we always find that sampling the local cuisine to be so worth it when in ports, even though we had access to free food that was included on our cruises. We’ll detail how much we spent on all these local meals in a sec. But first, we need to add in the bar bill!
Tips: Drinking on the Cheap During This World Cruise
Alcoholic beverages were not included on any of the four cruises we took around the world. (Gasp!) Drinks on these ships were all very expensive. For example, a beer typically costs anywhere from $6-$8 and cocktails are around $10 and up. It’s budget-busting prices for anyone who likes to kick back a few. (We do.)
As such, we didn’t ever order much from the bar. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t ever drink. We just used the following tips to drink for free and cheap!
Fortunately, most cruises allow you to bring aboard your own wine. We take full advantage of that. We always researched rules in advance and brought aboard our maximum allowance. Corkage fees are only imposed if opened in the dining room.
Meanwhile, booking cruises during promotions often gave us the perks of additional bottles of wine that were gifted to our room once onboard. Since we’re seasoned cruisers, our loyalty status got us invitations to free cocktail hours and often gifted us even more wine to our stateroom. We further won bottles of champagne by participating in shipboard games like trivia contests. At some points during one cruise, we had more alcohol in our stateroom than we knew what to do with!
Just as we would eat local on port days, we also made strong efforts to drink local while docked. We would always seek out local breweries or whatever the interesting libations were native to the country we were passing through. Knowing the drink prices we would encounter back aboard the ship, we would sometimes overindulge a bit at the end of our port days. And often we found that security was fairly lax about bringing a few cans of beer back onto the ship, even though it was technically not allowed.
To further enjoy some beverages while on the ship, we tried to take advantage of any drink promos being offered. For example, during the transpacific cruise from Vancouver to Japan, there was a buy-one-get-one promotion on Alaskan craft beers. As thrifty beer lovers, I quickly had the bartender send a case to our stateroom, which brought our per-beer cost down to $2.98.
We also gave our livers some much-needed breaks during these long voyages since booze was often a costly commodity.
Just how costly? Consider if a couple each had an average of two glasses of wine each night, during the 2½ month time frame we spent cruising. That seemingly minor indulgence would ultimately add about $2,500 to your cruises!
Check my math: $9 per glass x 2 glasses x 2 people x 70 days = $2,520
Ouch! Those two glasses of wine per night are easily enough to buy two cruises! It’s kinda crazy, but it’s so easy to run up an extremely high bar tab on a cruise if you’re not careful.
That’s where they get ya! Yet we were always very careful to maintain a low (or no) bar tab using the aforementioned cheap drinking techniques and occasionally laying off the sauce completely.
That explanation just scratches the surface on our cheap cruise drinking strategies. For even more detail, here is some follow-up reading:
Total Food & Beverage Cost While Cruising
Between eating & drinking in ports and some very minimal bar bills on the ships, we spent just shy of $500 on food & beverages during our cruising segments between the two of us. To be more precise, our eating & drinking expense totaled: $238 per person during the 2½ months aboard the cruises. That’s about $3.45 per cruise day, per person.
Eating & Drinking Costs When Traveling Overland
So we ultimately spent very minimally on food and drink while cruising, given the included dining and our thrifty tricks to drink cheaply onboard.
But what about those 200+ days we spent on land? We went from gorging ourselves with endless fresh sushi in Japan to sipping French champagne, all in a matter of months. That can’t be cheap!
Well, it wasn’t entirely cheap. Overall, we spent an average of $21.89, per person, per day on eating and drinking around the world, during the 230 days we traveled overland in between cruises. This cost may be slightly overinflated, as it also includes all groceries such as medicine, toiletries, and other knick-knacks we picked up along the way.
This is an area of our budget that could easily be much less for frugal travelers. But we really enjoy eating and drinking!
Given the quality of food we sought out and our penchant for tipping back a few pints, we’re content with our budget here.
How We Saved on Eating & Drinking Well Around the World
In Canada, we cut costs by cooking in some nights, given we stayed in apartments during the vast majority of our time there. Yet we also found great dining deals. You can see some of the cheap eats we found in our Guide to Halifax on a Budget. Meanwhile, in Montreal, we frequented a great restaurant where everything on their menu was CAD$6 ($4.50). Our downfall in Canada (and many countries) were the delicious beers we often splurged on.
In Japan, we lived off of economical sushi and delicious bowls of ramen. We found plenty of restaurants where meals easily came to less than $10 per person, while further cutting costs by some fantastic take-out options, like sushi, prevalent throughout the country. Of course we had to indulge in some splurge meals like shabu-shabu and Kobe beef. Yet we even managed to find the latter for under $10! Again, the high cost of beer in Japan helped to put our total here over $20, rather than under.
In South Korea, we found food to be slightly less than in Japan and alcohol significantly less. We cooked a bit in our two studio apartments to save too, but overall we found many economical local options to dine out in.
Yet it was China that offered us the biggest reprieve. We found local restaurants to be particularly affordable outside of the tourist areas and cheap booze too! Meanwhile many hotels in China covered the cost of our breakfast. And we were often traveling quickly, where we just grabbed a cheap noodle bowl or even fast food from the train station before boarding. China is not known for having inexpensive food. Yet for us, it was, particularly so relative to the other expensive countries we spent the year traveling through.
In Italy, pizza was almost a daily occurrence in our diet, which was as economical as it was delicious! We enjoyed incredible pasta dishes and regional specialties at many of the casual eateries. We usually replaced our preference for beer since cheap wine by the liter was less than a few pints ale. Yet it was the many well-placed gelato shops that helped to edge our daily food expense to a higher mark.
Our remaining time in Europe hurt our eating & drinking budget, from France to Switzerland, Belgium, and England, as we splurged quite a bit. We had to dine in Lyon’s famous bouchons and we weren’t going to pass through the Swiss Alps without a proper fondue dinner. We continued our splurges throughout France’s champagne region before later indulging in many Belgian and English ales. It all added significantly to our daily eating & drinking costs, but we didn’t linger in these countries, so the splurges didn’t impact our overall budget too much.
Cheap World Cruise Accommodation Costs & Strategies
We spent 2½ months sleeping in luxury on the cruises themselves. It was heavenly waking up to the lapping of rolling swells and the sweet ocean breeze, as we often scheduled a morning pot of coffee to be delivered to our stateroom upon waking up.
Tip: Cruises with Overnight Ports Contain Excellent Value
A nice perk of some of the cruises we took was that they included overnight stops. Staying in port overnight is an emrging trend in the cruise industry. But it’s still a rare novelty, as most cruises stick to daytime port calls and move during the nights. When ships do stay in port overnight, not only does it give you a chance to explore more and experience the nightlife, but the ship essentially acts as a floating hotel in a prime location.
Our overnight port calls were fantastic cost savings, as stops included both Singapore and Hong Kong. These are two of the most expensive cities in the world! Decent low-end budget accommodation starts at about $70-$80 per night, while hotels easily cost well into the hundreds of dollars. Yet our accommodation cost while in Singapore and Hong Kong was fully covered on the Celebrity Millennium, as it docked in ideal waterfront locations right within these two cities. Our nightly cost in these most expensive world cities was $59.50 per person for five-star accommodation, which included breakfast, lunch, and dinner!
Maintaining High Standards and Low Rates While Traveling Overland
The majority (75%) of our nights during this round-the-world trip were spent sleeping on land, in between those luxurious nights on the cruises (25%). We were challenged with finding inexpensive accommodation in expensive destinations like Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing and throughout high-priced countries such as Canada, Italy, and France.
Over 220 days, paying for accommodation on land, we spent an average of $39.26 per night ($19.63 per person)while traveling through the most expensive countries in the world. Costs shown here are the total costs paid, including any taxes and cleaning fees. We did cash in points on a few occasions. But whenever doing so, we still accounted for the full price of what it would have cost, so that we could better provide a realistic look at actual costs on the ground, for those without points.
At a nightly rate of less than $20 per person, we were quite happy with that rate, particularly considering the expensive destinations we were traveling across, for such prolonged periods of time, and frequently in nice 3 & 4-⭐ hotels.
We pursued different strategies by country and even region to accomplish a high standard at a low cost, as accommodation prices varied greatly from one area to the next. Generally, we search among the least expensive places that have decent reviews, good wifi, and convenient locations. We’re big on breakfast, so that’s something we always look for and even opt to pay slightly higher rates when it can be included.
In some locations, our low-price search strategy lands us in a nice 4-star hotel. Other times, it may only get us a private room at a hostel. We zig and zag.
Here’s a look into what we paid each night, by accommodation type.
It may seem counterintuitive that rates for budget accommodation like motels ($48) or a private Airbnb room ($54) were actually more expensive than 3 & 4-star hotels (42$). This is because we booked nicer hotels only when in destinations where there were great deals. In locations where we booked budget properties, it was because all accomodation was expensive.
Tip: Be Flexible and Open to All Types of Accommodation
Our key strategy for keeping accommodation costs low is to be flexible. Don’t completely ignore budget accommodation when there is a significant difference in price. Given the theme of this trip, we attempted to stay in mostly nicer places all along the way. But that wasn’t always the case. We readily made occasional concessions to stay at budget hotels, hostels, and private room Airbnbs whenever passing through high-cost locations or when it just made sense financially.
You may be surprised how nice some budget accommodation can be. We’ve stayed in hostels that have given us far better experiences than some 4-star properties.
Meanwhile, some budget hotels indeed lived up to their meager reputations, as we occasionally experienced cold showers, spotty wifi, and lumpy mattresses. Those instances just make us truly appreciate the luxury properties even more. It’s only after enduring a bad stay, that the 3 & 4* hotels feel special.
Here’s a look at all the different types of accommodation we stayed at over our 300-night trip.
Sites We Used To Book Cheap Accommodation
We are not loyal to any one particular booking site and usually check a few of the main ones to find the best hotel deals. During this flightless trip around the world, we used Agoda the most, as this site (owned by Booking) tends to have particularly attractive rates for Asia, which is exclusively where we used it. Still, even in Asia, we did find better places or rates nearly half the time on competing hotel booking sites.
Whenever rates are the same across booking sites, we prefer to use Hotels.com since they have what we’ve found to be the most generous loyalty program among booking sites. (They give one free night after every ten nights booked, that essentially equates to 10% cash back to use on Hotels.com)
Meanwhile, whenever pursuing lengthier stays, we have a preference for Airbnb since many hosts provide hefty discounts when staying for 7-days or 28-days at a time. We took advantage of that in Halifax, Montreal, and Kyoto, booking 28-days in each. We use those cities as a base to explore the surrounding area. Airbnb rooms also came in handy during a few instances for short stays, when traditional accommodation was simply beyond our budget. This happened in Quebec City, Ottawa, and Turin.
Whenever the cheapest hotels exceeded $50 per night, we almost always found other great places to stay for significantly less by using Airbnb. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, we’re always happy to provide our referral link here to give you $40-off your first stay.
Here are the sites we used to book each stay.
Where We Stayed
So where exactly did we stay? Here’s a glimpse into the most and least expensive hotels we booked.
Most Expensive Stays:
|Alpine Classic||Switzerland||3* Hotel||$71||Included cheese!|
|Corniglia Dreams||Italy||Boutique Hotel||$71||Italy hotspots=$|
|Hotel O||Belgium||3* Hotel||$78||Beer was worth it|
|Kelly's View||Canada||Motel||$80||CA summer=$|
|The Emerald Pencil||USA||Private room||$101||For a wedding|
|Four Points by Sheraton||China||4* Hotel||$151||Stayed free w/ points|
The most expensive place we slept during our 300-day trip around the world was the Sheraton Four Points in Shenzhen, China, right across the border from Hong Kong. We stayed there using some SPG points we’d accumulated years ago, so we actually didn’t pay for this. As such, I don’t really count it, because we would have otherwise chosen a more economical hotel.
So that would make the upstairs room at Emerald Pencil our priciest stay of the trip. We passed through here as a stop on our round-the-world trip which coincided with a very good friend’s wedding. (The timing and location worked out great!) Despite being the most expensive place along our route, it was actually the cheapest room available in Nashville, Indiana, which we booked months in advance, and a unique and enjoyable stay.
Least Expensive Stays:
|Pingyao Harmony Hotel||China||Boutique Hotel||$25.31||Amazing Place!|
|Corner Lodge||Thailand||3* Hotel||$24.07||Luxury for less|
|Hotel Alibi||Italy||3* Hotel||$23.61||Incredible Value|
|Zhangjiajie Yijiaqin||China||Budget hotel||$17.95||Meh.|
|Yangshuo Wada||China||Hostel (private)||$13.12||Great stay!|
The least expensive stay during our trip was a very comfortable private room at a nice hostel in perhaps one of the most scenic locations in all of China, Yangshuo. At $6.56 per person, per night, our stay at Yangshuo Wada was clearly the best value we had along the way. This was a “hostel” by name and price only, as our private room and amenities were more reminiscent of a nice hotel. We had a great stay there for three nights and it is a clear example of how China provided some of the most affordable accommodation of our entire trip.
Keeping Accommodation Cost Down Varied by Country
Looking at our accommodation cost in the countries where we spent the vast majority of our time on land, you can clearly see that China was the least expensive, while our French road trip nearly averaged $50 per day, including our detours into Belgium and Switzerland.
The following synopsis offers some travel tips we used in each country on how we managed to keep accommodation costs down.
Longer-term stays in Canada greatly helped us to keep accommodation expenses low as Airbnb hosts often give discounts to guests staying 28-days or longer. We found Montreal to have particularly low Airbnb rates, which is what attracted us to the city in the first place. We think it may have among the best value Airbnbs in all of North America, above the Mexico border.
Meanwhile, roadside motels, a few hostels, and even universities helped to maintain low costs. Yes, universities! During summers in Eastern Canada, many of the colleges operate their empty student housing just as if they were hotels. You still get a nice clean, private room and it’s at a fraction of a cost of similar nearby accommodation.
Accommodation in the USA is pricey, so we limited our time in our home country. We actually stayed with friends in Detroit for six nights (thanks Micah & Laura!) before heading down to Indiana to attend a wedding. Then we slept on the Amtrak for another two nights as we crossed the country before exiting back to Canada. So we didn’t spend much on accommodation at all as we zipped through the States; only those two nights in Indiana.
Accommodation in Japan can be very expensive, particularly so in major cities like Tokyo. We surprised ourselves that we were able to budget $40 per day here. The notorious capsule hotels can be a good money-saver for solo travelers, but as a couple sharing a room, we found much better value elsewhere. Business hotels in Japan had some fantastic deals that often included breakfast, saunas, massage chairs, fantastic toiletries, and some even provided a basic dinner.
At first, we thought that accommodation in South Korea may bust our budget. But weeklong stays in studio apartments helped to stretch our travel funds. We further found some bargains at “love hotels,” which turned out to actually be really nice while also giving us a good laugh at some of the amenities.
In China, we were able to afford some of the nicest accommodation yet, as we stayed the majority of time in 3 and 4* hotels her. Some 4*star hotels as low as $30 including breakfast. Our January timeframe was low season, so there were plenty of rooms available with very attractive room rates.
Italy proved true to its expensive reputation when in tourism hotspots like Cinque Terre, where we booked one of our costliest rooms of the trip. Yet we found great value in lesser-traveled towns and even domestic tourism destinations, such as Rimini, which had excess inventory during the offseason, forcing lower room rates.
Finding decent accommodation in cities in France can be costly. Thankfully, we had a rental car during much of our time here, which gave us access to the many affordable roadside motels throughout city outskirts and in the countryside. Otherwise, our accommodation costs would likely average much higher.
Activities & Excursions Costs: Cruising Around the World
Cruising and independent travel are like oil and water. They usually don’t mix together. Yet we enjoy both forms of travel and love to combine the two! Traveling independently was an absolutely critical strategy to keeping cost low.
Shore Excursion Costs While Cruising
Like alcohol, excursions on most cruises are extremely expensive! For budget travelers like us, they are entirely cost prohibitive altogether. Therefore a critical component to keeping within a reasonable budget was to simply step off the ship and do our own thing. With over 30 port calls during our 4 cruises, we never once took a single tour that was purchased from the cruise ship.
Such shore excursions that the cruises offer can be extremely convenient, as you don’t need to plan anything. But you pay quite the price for that convenience.
It can be nice to take a shore excursion if your budget allows. Yet for anyone who is comfortable traveling independently, exploring on your own comes easy and saves loads. A little advanced research and planning goes a long way. We always looked up transportation logistics and things to do nearby wherever the ship was docked.
This ultimately saved thousands of dollars throughout our cheap world cruise.
For example, when we docked in Juneau, Alaska, most glacier tours were well into the several hundred dollars per person. Instead, we hopped on a $2 public bus, which took us directly to the impressive Mendenhall Glacier.
When we arrived to Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, most cruise passengers got on a bus to take them on a boat tour around these most scenic islands. Instead, we hopped on the back of a scooter taxi, which took us to a boat and a $17 half-day tour of the same famous islands that our fellow cruise passengers were splashing out hundreds to see.
Those are just two small examples, but we used these same independent travel tactics in every single port we visited. In many of the ports we pulled into, like Heraklion, Greece, or Kushiro, Japan; the ship docked only steps away from the city center. So we could just walk off the ship and easily sightsee on our own.
Occasionally we’d arrive to industrial ports that had logistical challenges and required transportation. These situations always brought upon aggressive taxi drivers, who view cruise passengers as walking dollar signs. Unknowing cruisers often pay extremely inflated costs to these money-hungry taxi drivers. We regularly received ridiculous quotes from taxi drivers, even asking for a $100 USD to drive us a few miles. Some taxi drivers wouldn’t budge in negotiations, knowing they would get be able to get this inflated rate from the next group of cruisers who walked by. It’s all a frustrating situation that we regularly faced while walking into ports from a cruise ship. Yet it’s fairly easy to deal with by using these three strategies:
- Use public transportation if available.
- Use Uber, which was available in the majority of ports and keeps drivers honest.
- Walk away from the cruise port, then catch a taxi.
So what did all this Ubering and excursioning cost?
In total, we spent $303 per person during all of our DIY shore excursions, including all local transport and activity costs. That comes out to about $10 per person in each port visited.
This is an enormous cost savings when attempting a cheap world cruise. It’s not uncommon for a single shore excursion to be priced at $300 or more. Yet we managed to stretch that same amount across all 30 ports that we docked in.
Ship Entertainment & Activities
Yet again, one of the nice things about taking a cruise around the world is that all that time on the ship is completely inclusive of activities and entertainment. People sometimes wrongly assume these repositioning cruises are boring stripped-down versions of a cruise. But we’ve found that usually to be quite the opposite. Often cruise lines add additional lecturers, activities, and entertainment to repositioning cruises, as they want to keep passengers having fun during the additional sea days.
Broadway-style shows, rock concerts, themed parties, and comedy filled our evenings. While during sea days, we regularly attended enrichment activities like complimentary cooking demonstrations and language classes. It was fun to learn Japanese on the way to Japan! Some cruise lines, like Norwegian, will have a small fee for certain activities, such as their longest go-cart track at sea ($6). We had to pay it to give that a try. We also paid $25 to see their Prohibition burlesque show, which was actually a good deal because it included 5 craft cocktails during the hilarious performance. Beyond those two minimal expenses, all onboard entertainment was entirely complimentary and included during the 2.5 months of cruising.
So our entire entertainment costs while on all four cruises for 2.5 months was a mere $31 total per person, averaging to $0.44 per day.
Meanwhile, we also incurred entertainment and activity costs while traveling overland too. Local transport, attraction entrance fees, museums, and adventure activities all contributed to this amount.
In places where we traveled slower (Canada), these costs averaged less. In China, when we traveled at a fast pace and incurred some higher expenses like a Yangtze River cruise, expenses averaged more. It was easy to keep costs lower in places like Europe as sightseeing around the historic towns and hiking are free. Our funds were better used on French and Italian cuisine.
Afterall, many of the best sights and experiences around the world are free!
Transportation Costs Around the World
Not including the cruises, we spent about $2,275 per person on transportation costs while traveling overland clear across North America, Eastern Asia, and finally from Italy to England. That averages out to about $10 per person, per day during our overland travels.
Our itineraries were almost never the most direct, efficient, nor cheapest routes to cross the countries. That would be a boring trip. Instead, we carefully planned our itineraries with major points of interest in mind and often spared no expense diverting there.
Here’s what we spent on transport by country:
We always carefully weighed out costs as a leading factor in choosing our form of transport. Taking the easiest or fastest route was not always the cheapest. Also, taking what would be presumedly a cheap form sometimes would not be the most economical.
For example, Canada has a great Via Rail train that travels exactly on our travel route. But when we compared that to the cost of a one-way rental car, the latter was significantly less even after gas, tolls, and a night stopover. So we relied on some rental car deals and a few cheap buses in Canada to cross the Eastern part of the country, instead of riding the pricey rails.
Meanwhile, in the US, we couldn’t resist the $146 ticket to cross the country on the Empire Builder over the course of three days, chugging along from Chicago to Seattle.
Japan is well known for its bullet trains, which are almost as renown for their high prices. Instead, we often utilized cheaper and slower regional trains in addition to inexpensive buses to cross the land of the rising sun. We also purchased less expensive regional rail passes and used them extensively to cover a lot of ground during their short time spans.
South Korea is a nice compact country to travel through, so costs were minimum using a combination of inexpensive buses and the rail network.
That was quite the contrast to China, the fourth largest country in the world. We traveled quickly and over long distances using the great-yet-pricey high-speed rail network.
Once in Italy, we used only regional rail lines and a few low-cost buses as an economical means to get all around the Boot.
That took us into France, where rail strikes forced us to spend a bit more than we would have liked on a rental car and gas. We cut costs by taking country roads that avoided the hundreds of dollars worth of tolls we would have incurred. A bus into London and a train to Southampton rounded out our transport expenses before crossing the pond by cruise.
Cost of Flights
One awesome aspect of embarking on an around the world trip entirely over land and sea, is that there are no flight expenses involved. Nothing. Nada. Zilch!
It’s a huge money-saver not having to account for the cost of flights!
Usually, the cost of flights on a trip around the world would total well into the thousands of dollars!
We instead put this nonexistent flight budget towards the cruises, which can often be priced about the same (often less!) than flights going along the same routes. Yet the cruises offer so much more value since they cover meals, accommodation, and so many luxury amenities all while stopping along into the fascinating destinations you get to explore while traveling from one part of the world to the next.
An added bonus was going the entire year of traveling without having to deal with airport security, baggage fees, shrinking seat space, rude passengers, airplane food, and flight delays, among the many other hassles that come with air travel.
Cheap World Cruise Costs
Those overland costs are nice and it’s great not having any flight expenses. But what about the cost of the cheap world cruise segments that are so critical to this voyage around the world?
Those were quite large expenses. In fact, these repositioning cruises were all the most expensive cruises we’ve ever taken in our lives! We often cruise across the Atlantic for about $500 or so, per person. But these fancy cruises that we pieced together were nowhere near those rates.
Our cruising expenses were a greater cost than we had initially anticipated, as rates fluctuate. Yet, we’re still content with the overall cost. So what did our world cruise segments cost?
After adding in all port charges, taxes, fees and even adding in gratuities (tips to wait staff and cabin stewards), the grand total of our cruise segments came out to $81 per person, per day. These cruise days averaged much higher than our overland travels ($55 per person, per day), which helps to bring down our entire trip cost average as we’ll get into in a bit.
First, let’s look at how the world cruise costs shook out:
(Note: we scored a promotional deal with Celebrity that included prepaid gratuities, hence the $0 reflected in the above table. We also received some small onboard credits ($50), that we applied toward gratuities in other instances.)
Now, spending over $5,000 per person on cruises may not seem cheap exactly. But this was over the course of 2.5 months of luxury living while being effortlessly transported all around the world. Heck, flights in between all of these locations would have cost much more. It’s truly exceptional travel value!
This patchwork approach to a cheap world cruise is a fraction of the cost of an actual world cruise. Still, it could have been even cheaper, as we were not always successful at securing the lowest rates possible. We’ll explain that further, but first let’s get a grand total at how much this entire round the world trip cost.
Cheap World Cruise Costs: The Grand Total
So here is the total breakdown by country and by cruise, per person, per day. This includes all of the travel expenses we incurred during this 300-day cheap world cruise. So the cruise costs shown here absorb additional eating, drinking, and entertainment expenses that were incurred onshore during that cruising timeframe.
Somewhat surprisingly, South Korea came out as the cheapest of these expensive countries we traveled through. This is largely due to the minimal transportation costs we incurred when traveling across this compact nation.
We were also surprised that Canada and Italy rounded out our top three cheapest countries. It was our slow pace through Canada that helped to spread our transport costs over 70+ days, which greatly helped to bring down daily costs down. Meanwhile, in Italy, our transport costs here were quite minimal, as were our entertainment expenses. Hiking, exploring villages, and eating pizza doesn’t cost a whole lot!
Of these countries we spent the majority of our time in, China felt the cheapest while on the ground there, as we definitely spent well under $50 per day in accommodation, eating, drinking, and doing. But it was our vast use of the high-speed rail network in China, as we traveled at a fast pace, that really helped drive up our average daily cost during our 26 days journey across the world’s 4th largest country.
Meanwhile, our transpacific cruise daily cost hurts my head and crushes my soul. We’ve never spent so much during a cruise before, ever. The cruise was actually priced at $949 per person, which is an attractive rate to spread out across the 15-night voyage ($63 per day). But heavy port fees that totaled over $1,000 between the two of us is the culprit which formed this costly situation. Presumedly much of those port fees were for Glacier Bay National Park, in which case we say it was totally worth it! Our consumption of Alaskan Brewing beers didn’t help matters either, as we had a really fun night out in Juneau and also kicked back a few of the brews while onboard the Volendam.
If gauging the cost of this transpacific journey, take solace in knowing that there were (and currently are) significantly cheaper cruises crossing the Pacific we could have taken instead. Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work for us as we had some personal commitments. So we bit the bullet on this pricier cruise. Had we not, the remainder of this journey would have never taken place. But do know that a daily cost of $50-$80 per day (including port fees), is an easily achievable rate you can find for transpacific cruise deals, like this one departing next month.
In the end, our pricey Pacific crossing was a great cruise across the world’s largest ocean and we say it was worth the splurge. Here’s the way I see it: we probably could have flown across the Pacific for as low as $500-$700 one-way, if we scored a good airfare deal. But for an extra $66 per day, we could float over in luxury, get to go to Alaska (!!!), eat some amazing meals, and spend a few weeks learning Japanese before stopping in some lesser visited port towns on Japan’s north island to practice our new language skills. Yup, justified.
What Did The Entire Cheap World Cruise Cost?
If anyone really wants to examine our cheap world cruise budget, the table below gives a complete breakdown of every travel expense we incurred over the 300-day cheap world cruise.
So we’re happy with coming in at about $19,000 per person for a luxury trip entirely around the world’s most expensive countries, lasting nearly an entire year! That averages out to about $1,900 per month or $63 per day.
But the above figures are expenses, as we technically paid less! Here’s how:
We redeemed $382 worth of accommodation using points and travel credits, such as from Hotels.com, SPG, and Priceline. We still accounted for those expenses in all the budgeting we’ve detailed, even though we didn’t actually pay money for them.
Furthermore, we tried to use our Capital One Venture credit card for nearly every expense possible, which earns us 2% cash back that we then used to erase whatever travel expenses we chose. So we racked up enough expenses on that credit card over the course of this trip to erase $639 worth of travel expenses!
This brings our actual cost down to $18,500 per person.
That’s a travel budget of $1,850 per month or just above $60 per day for this around the world trip of a lifetime!
Travel Tips: How To Plan a Cheap World Cruise
You Can Do This Cheap World Cruise For Much Less!
There are three areas of our actual travel expenses, where it would be very easy to bring costs to a level that is around $50 per day, or even less! Here’s how:
How To Do It For Less: Book Cheaper Cruises
We’ve taken cruises across the Atlantic for as low as $159 per person ($12/day)! More realistically, $500-600 can be a good price to shoot for on a transatlantic. Due to some timing issues, we paid a bit more ($849+fees) for our most recent crossing on a brand new 5* ship, the Bliss. And it was our high-cost transpacific cruise, on the Volendam, that really rose the budget.
Last year when we were scanning the transpacific cruise deals, we found cruises as low as $600 that were making the crossing from Vancouver. Unfortunately, the timing didn’t quite work out for us to grab those deals, as we weren’t able to make it to the Pacific coast in time to take advantage of those low-priced transpacific cruises.
There are regularly cruises making this Pacific crossing for significantly less than what we paid to cross the ocean. For example, right now you can book this 19-night sailing on the Norwegian Jewel departing Vancouver next month, with an itinerary through Alaska, Russia, and Japan for only $899! After taxes and port charges, the cruise comes out to $1,267 per person, which is a hell of a deal for a three-week cruise of this nature.
Additionally, we splurged a few hundred dollars extra for two cruises to have a stateroom with a window to look out during our voyages. If you’re okay with an interior cabin, you can easily shave off even more from the world cruise expenses we’ve shown throughout this post.
How To Do It For Less: Visit Cheaper Countries
We traveled through the most expensive countries in the world and our daily costs reflect that. It would be easy to plan an itinerary through cheaper countries, which would significantly lower costs. In Asia, Singapore is the common connection for repositioning cruises. From there, it’s a quick ferry ride into Indonesia or a hop across the land border to Malaysia. Both countries are extremely economical to travel through and Malaysia then opens up to Thailand and all of SE Asia to explore cheaply overland, living off daily budgets closer to $10-$20, rather than the $55 per day we averaged when traveling overland.
Meanwhile, in Europe, instead of passing through the budget-busters of France, Switzerland, and UK, there are two other much more economical approaches. Barcelona is a very common hub for repositioning cruises and Spain (along with Portugal) is the most budget-friendly country to travel in Western Europe. So that’s an easy way to drive down costs. Otherwise, the cheap destinations throughout Eastern Europe are another good idea, and you can sometimes find repositioning cruises, to or from Athens.
How To Do It For Less: Travel Slower
We often have a bad habit of fast travel, racing around a country while packing in as much as we can. Traveling at a slower pace allows you to spread out transport costs, secure lower longterm accommodation rates, and simply become attuned to its inner rhythms of a locality in which you’ll gain a better understanding of where the value lies.
When To Book the Lowest Cruise Rate: A Tricky Proposition
We’re now delving deep into the unknown, as cruise rates frequently change. The cruise prices regularly fluctuate based on demand, cancelations, promotions, and a variety of other factors. Often waiting until the last minute (within a month or so) can be a smart move to get a rock-bottom deal. It’s a strategy that has proven to work very well for us many times. In other instances, it turned out to be a bad move. Booking last-minute can be risky. Cruises can unexpectedly sell-out or increase dramatically in price, even at the last minute. It’s high risk, high reward.
When trying to plot out all these different routes & connections while multiple different cruise prices fluctuate, things become particularly complicated. One wrong move or a sold-out cruise can break apart an entire itinerary being strung together. There are a lot of moving pieces that form one giant puzzle. And it’s a puzzle we’ve been working on while simultaneously traveling, which makes assembly all the more difficult.
Yet one positive aspect to booking cruises is that if you’re willing to place a deposit of a few hundred dollars, such cruise deposits are usually fully cancelable and refundable up until about a two months or so before the cruise is scheduled to disembark. Therefore what we did, and recommend, is make refundable reservations on whatever repositioning cruise fares around the world look attractive at any time. Even though we only took four cruises, we had actually made eight reservations. We ended up canceling four reservations for completely different cruises (similar routes) that we never took. We received full refunds.
It was nice to lock in those rates as contingency plans while keeping an eye on the prices of other potential cruises. We booked our cruise on the Celebrity Millennium from Hong Kong to Singapore over a half-year in advance and locked in a rate of $883 with prepaid gratuities. It was a great deal that only lasted two days before the price for that cruise later shot up to $2,500 and never dropped again. So we certainly held that reservation and were really happy we booked the refundable reservation when we did.
Meanwhile, we had cruises booked from Singapore to Europe that we ultimately canceled because a better deal had suddenly emerged.
We would watch the cruise prices every day to see if fares have changed. Some people check the stock market on a daily basis. I check cruise prices. There are pay sites that will actually monitor this for you and send you emails. But I simply prefer to bookmark the cruise fare pages and make it a 1-minute morning routine to see if rates have changed. I make notes on the bookmarks to remind me of what the cost was and what promotions they were offering, so I can easily recall and compare how rates may have changed.
Above, you can see my bookmarks and the crazy notes that help me keep track of it all. Being the data geek that I am, I also make spreadsheets. It’s admittedly a bit of work to keep track of. But it’s work that can pay off in the form of a cheap world cruise!
Once the cancelation period rolls around, we would make our best guestimate as to whether the rates may rise or fall. If there were other cruises embarking on similar routes at similar time frames at similar price points, we might feel comfortable with canceling our booking and holding out for a cheap last minute rate, knowing that we had multiple options to watch and consider. But if there was only a single cruise on a critical route, we’d be more inclined to keep the reservation and pay the remaining balance.
The most crucial component to employing this strategy is to ensure you are well aware of the cancelation periods of cruises that you may end up forgoing so that you can cancel on time and get the refund.
Best Cruise Lines to Book With
People ask us all the time what’s the best cruise line to attempt this patchwork world cruise with.
Our honest answer is:
whatever cruise is currently the cheapest!
We’ve sailed on almost every major cruise line now (Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Celebrity, Costa, Pullmantur, Carnival, Norwegian, Princess, etc.) and have never had a bad cruise. Each cruise line has their own appeal, novelties, strong points, and drawbacks. Any cruise is a great cruise to us if the price is right.
But we’re easy to please. Most people do have strong preferences towards certain lines and can be much pickier. We understand that. There are some lines we’ve personally enjoyed more than others. Celebrity and Norwegian tend to be favorites, for different reasons. But for us, it’s never worth paying hundreds (or thousands) of dollars more to book a cruise on a certain line. Whatever the cruise line is, we’re still going to enjoy our time in ports, the decadent meals, and relaxing at sea.
If you’re taking a one week vacation on a cruise, it can be worth spending more to go with a cruise line that fits you. But if attempting to piece together a cheap world cruise, we advise simply booking the cheapest possible segments that fit your itinerary!
Best Sites to Book With
Most cruises will be at similar rates between different booking sites. But there can be some variances. Some cruise booking sites do sometimes offer stronger promotions than one another. So when you’re ready to pull the trigger on a cruise, it’s worth cross-checking across a few different cruise booking sites just to ensure you have the best deal and best promos. Or call a travel agent.
Our favorite site to search (not necessarily book) cruises is VacationsToGo. We find their search functionality to be the most flexible. Often they also have the most attractive rates and promos too, which is why we used them to book two of our four world cruise segments we embarked on. One aspect that we don’t like about VacationsToGo is that you must actually call and speak to a reservation agent to get total pricing (including taxes & port fees) and you have to actually book the cruise over the phone. (We prefer the convenience of online booking).
Hence, we also booked our world cruises segments with:
Both sites allow you to see the total price, cabin availability, and you can complete the entire booking transaction online yourself. The search functionality isn’t as great, but we usually go to these sites already knowing what we’re looking for. Both sites do tend to have attractive rates and promos. As such, we booked our transpacific cruise on Priceline and our Norwegian Bliss transatlantic on CruiseDirect, as they respectively had the best rates and promotions at the time of booking.
Cheap World Cruise Tip: Book Guaranteed Cabins
A “guaranteed cabin” is the least expensive room you can book on a cruise. That’s what we book every time. The only downside to booking this way is that you don’t get to choose the exact location on the cruise. Instead, your exact cabin location is assigned to you a week or so before the cruise departs. (We’ve always been fine with our locations.)
On the upside, you have an off-chance of potentially getting an upgrade. You also are guaranteed to be paying the lowest possible rate within the category you book (inside, outside, balcony). In the past, we’ve booked a guaranteed inside cabin and have gotten an elusive upgrade to a balcony stateroom. It does happen.
We weren’t so lucky on any of these four cruises, although we did get upgraded from our interior to a balcony on the brand new Norwegian Bliss, using a different method.
- Further Reading: 10 Secrets to Get a Free Balcony Upgrade
How To Book With the Changing Seasons
To catch these repositioning cruise deals to form a cheap world cruise, you have to be keenly aware of where cruise lines are shifting their fleet during the changing of the seasons. Here’s where they flow:
Common fall routes:
- Transatlantic: Europe to Eastern US and Caribbean (most common)
- Transatlantic: Europe to South America
- Transpacific: North America to Asia
- Transpacific: North America to Australia and South Pacific
- Europe to Asia (Suez Canal)
Common spring routes:
- Transatlantic: Eastern US to Europe (most common)
- Transatlantic: South America to Europe
- Transpacific: Asia to North America
- Transpacific: Australia or South Pacific to North America
- Asia to Europe (Suez Canal)
It is also possible to find rogue cruises that buck these trends. For example, this past Spring we found a cruise in April that was crossing from Europe to the US. That’s during a time when most ships are making the voyage in the exact opposite direction. The reason for this unusual timing was because it was a brand new ship (Norwegian Bliss) that was on its way to being moved to Alaska for the summer. So we were able to take advantage of that!
It’s worth investigating all possibilities, even outside of the seasonal routes we’ve listed above.
By carefully scouring through every potential cheap repositioning cruise option, we even managed to find two cruises lined up in Singapore on the exact same day. So we cruised from Hong Kong to Singapore on the Celebrity Millennium and were able to step right off to get on the Costa Victoria for the remaining voyage from Singapore to Italy. It took a lot of planning, but when it finally happened, this was such a beautiful sight!
Travel East-to-West or West-to-East?
Pursuing a cheap around the world cruise can be accomplished by piecing together repositioning cruises in either direction. But which way is better?
First, that depends on where you’re starting your voyage from and the time of year. For example, if you’re beginning in the US in the Fall, your best options are transpacific repositioning cruises heading west. If you were to begin in the US in the Spring, the likely option would be to begin on a transatlantic from the East coast and head west.
We took a westward route around the world and find that direction to be ideal. You skip a day jumping the International Date Line while crossing the Pacific, which is interesting. But the beautiful part about a westbound itinerary is the frequently rolling back the clock, which gives you 25-hour days!
Throughout a westbound journey, you’ll have 24 nights in which you get an extra hour of sleep! That’s a great perk about traveling slowly by sea around the world. You won’t experience jet lag! Meanwhile, it’s the opposite traveling east, as you lose an hour of sleep during each time zone crossing. Doing it little by little does ease the jet lag effect, but you’ll still feel this loss of sleep when having to change the clocks forward night after night.
There’s an old travel expression that we found rings very true: “East is a beast, west is the best.”
Here’s A Real Itinerary To Form Your Own Cheap World Cruise 2018-2019
To truly show how this can be done on the extremely cheap, here are some cheap repositioning cruises that you can book right now for your own cheap world cruise using a westward approach.
Each of these are very cheap transpacific cruises that will get you from Vancouver to Tokyo at very low rates with stops along the way throughout Alaska and Japan:
- Celebrity Millennium, 15 nights, departs Sept September 14: $849
- Norwegian Jewel, 19 nights, departs Sept 17: $899
- Holland America Westerdam, 14 nights departs Sept 30: $799
Spend the winter traveling throughout Asia. You can enjoy colder winter climates like we did in Japan, Korea, and China. Or breakaway to cheaper and warmer climates by catching a cruise or even a ferry or two to get down to Southeast Asia. Bask on tropical beaches and stay at inexpensive resorts throughout Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia, before ultimately a catching a repositioning cruise from Singapore to Europe in February.
Currently, you can book this exotic route from Singapore to Italy sailing across the Indian Ocean and through the Suez Canal. There are other cruises making this route but they are currently priced quite expensive. This cruise is a great rate for the month-long voyage:
After arriving to Italy, enjoy the summer in Europe traveling by rail. Head to Eastern Europe to get out of the Shenzhen Zone and to linger in cheaper countries to help keep your budget down. Eventually, make your way to the west where you can catch a final transatlantic back to North America. Popular ports to depart from include Copenhagen, London (Southampton, Dover), and Barcelona.
Cruise back across the Atlantic Ocean to complete your trip around the world without flights. There will likely be several cheap cruises making this journey across the Atlantic in the Fall and prices will likely drop from current rates. At the present, this is the cheapest Fall 2019 transatlantic that you can lock in, which is an attractive rate and includes an overnight in Lisbon:
Total Cost of Sample Cheap World Cruise 2018-2019:
Here’s how much it would cost if you were to follow the above-suggested itinerary, using those three repositioning cruises to travel entirely around the world over the next year after adding in all the mandatory taxes and port fees:
$3,700 per person + expenses when in port and traveling overland.
Key Strategies To Pull of a Cheap World Cruise
To keep costs low and actually accomplish a cheap cruise entirely around the world, there are so many critical strategies to success. Here’s a recap of what we found to be the most important to keep in mind:
🚢 Book inexpensive repositioning cruise deals, rather than pricey world cruises.
🚢 Be comfortable and skilled at independent travel whenever not on the cruise (extremely important).
🚢 Research things to do and travel logistics in destinations you’re visiting.
🚢 Use public transportation whenever possible.
🚢 Have a travel partner. Single supplements are usually imposed on solo travelers on cruises.
🚢 Take a digital detox on the cruises, as wifi can be very cost prohibitive. Use Internet on land.
🚢 Don’t run up a high bar bill while onboard the cruises. It’s easy to do, but just as easy to avoid.
🚢 Pack as light as possible, yet for multiple climates. See what we packed here: Ultimate Packing List.
🚢 Take time to research & find low-price accommodation.
🚢 Book far in advance in popular destinations and/or high season.
🚢 Make concessions to stay at budget-friendly places occasionally, when necessary.
🚢 Have fun! This all takes a bit of planning and strategy to organize, which all leads to an adventure of a lifetime, cruising around the world without flights!
Additional Costs: Insurance, Visa, Health, & Phone
We did have some minimal additional costs which we felt didn’t belong in the travel budget we outlined earlier in the article. For example, along the way we sent out some Christmas gifts to family, bought wedding presents and shipped a few baby gifts, none of which has anything to do with our travel cost. Hence these were omitted from our budget.
We had some health expenses, like a dental check-up while passing through Thailand (great & cheap dental work!), that we also left out of our budget. Other health expenses, such as cold medicine or Advil, were actually allocated in our eating & drinking costs.
Laundry also erroneously got baked into our eating & drinking costs. Tip: In ports with lengthier stays, do laundry while ashore. Laundry on cruises is very expensive as it can be as much as $50 for a load and many ships charge by the piece. Only one ship we were on, the Volendam, had self-service washing machines. Otherwise, we actually brought laundry with us onshore in places like Thailand, where it only costs a few dollars to have your clothes laundered for you.
We also have a US-based T-mobile phone data plan that includes unlimited 2G worldwide coverage in almost every country. We pay $59 per month for it. The $2/day cost has been invaluable during all our travels and not having to buy multiple SIM cards.
Visa Costs & How To Obtain Visas the Cheap Way
During this cheap cruise around the world, we also needed a few different visas to legally enter some countries. Holding a US Passport, we’re fortunate to be able to enter many countries free on arrival. Other countries have a more complicated and bureaucratic approach, which can take some advanced planning to sort out.
One interesting aspect about cruising is that some countries actually waive the required visas and associated fees for cruise passengers as a way to lure cruises to come there. For example, the costs associated with the letter, stamp, and fee to procure a single-entry visa to Vietnam in advance is $100. That fee and the process is completely waived for cruise passengers. This is yet another way how cruises can really save!
Yet not all countries are quite that nice. We had to pay a $32 fee to enter Cambodia, which the cruise handled entirely for us at this fair rate. Meanwhile, a visa was also required for India and the cruise was charging a very inflated rate (hundreds of dollars) to procure. We instead secured the e-visa ourselves electronically for $77. It was still a hefty price to enter the country for only a single day, yet it could have been much more had we not gotten it ourselves.
The other visa we required was the toughest and the most costly: China. We spent many hours over the course of serval days at the China embassy in Seoul to secure this ourselves. Again, there are services that can do this for you very effortlessly. But they charge fees for their convenience. As per usual, we don’t mind doing a bit of extra research and work to ultimately save what amounts to a few hundred dollars. Visas are always cheaper if you go through the hurdles of obtaining them directly. Just be very careful that all i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.
The China visa was $179 plus some photo costs, printing, and expenses traveling to/from the embassy. Thankfully, it is a 10-year visa so we won’t have to jump through these hoops again unless we return to China after 2028. But that’s also why we didn’t attribute the costs to our overall budget, as this visa will be used over the next 10-years to (hopefully) return to China. It is not a one-time trip cost.
Bottom line: Research any required visas for any countries being visited. Plan accordingly.
Travel Insurance: A Must-Have
Another worthy expense that we strongly urge for any worldly adventures is travel insurance. If you were to encounter any sort of major disaster along the way, travel insurance will have you covered. Whether a nasty car accident or a violent earthquake, travel insurance can cover your foreign medical expenses and help get you home. Unexpected emergencies are our primary reason for having this coverage while traveling. But travel insurance has many additional benefits such as rental car insurance, petty theft, minor medical issues that may arise, trip cancelation, missing passports or credit cards, and so much more.
For long-term travel, we use and recommend World Nomads. Tip: We found they give the lowest rate when getting a 6-month plan. The per-day rate becomes higher when getting longer or shorter coverage. The coverage we took out added $320 per person to our overall budget.
Thankfully during our cheap world cruise, we never had any major incident requiring us to use the travel insurance we purchased, despite being hit by a typhoon in Japan. But we have used it on previous trips to cover rental car damage, illness, and lost luggage, in which we found the claims process was efficient and just.
So Is a Cheap World Cruise Really Possible?
We hope this post has demonstrated that for a mere $60 per day, a world cruise absolutely is a realistic possibility. We find that to be a very cheap way for such a luxurious and effortless way to travel entirely around the world without flights!
We hope the financials and strategies we’ve detailed in this article may help to spur some ideas of your own, whether you’re considering such an epic voyage or simply dreaming about taking the plunge one day.
If you want some further reading about cruise tips, you can check out this related posts:
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We’d also love to hear what you think about our cheap world cruise in the comments and any questions you may have about this crazy idea we lived out over the past year. Otherwise, bon voyage! 🚢