Mythbusters: World Travel is Only for the Upper Class

Welcome to Nicaragua
Welcome to Nicaragua

Before you penny pinchers, backpackers, and budget travelers start flipping tables and asking for my head on a platter, understand first that I didn't say those words. A lot of people have actually said it; possibly your parents when you were a child or that boss of yours that seems to only have a cashmere wardrobe and boasts about his alpaca rug at the company holiday party. However, in this instance, it was a commenter who recently said that world travel was only accessible by students and the upper class. My first reaction was to fight back; however, it got me to thinking. Is world travel really only accessible by the wealthy? Now I'm not talking about people who sell their homes and possessions to backpack through Southeast Asia. I'm talking about a standard trip, where someone takes a week or two off of work to travel abroad. Is this only for the upper class?

I can't exactly answer this question by comparing it to my own world travel experiences this past winter, since I didn't have things like rent and a car payment. However, I can use it as a point of reference. To answer the question of whether or not world travel is only for the upper class, I've decided to compare some of my weekly expenses in Costa Rica to typical living experiences and see how it stacks up. However, first, a couple notes. Note that Central America is one of the  cheaper destinations in the world. However, Costa Rica is the most expensive country in Central America. Also, I'm looking at this based on how I travel. I'm not a backpacker, nor am I a jet setter. I don't stay in hostels, nor five-star hotels. I don't eat five-course meals, but nor do I eat Ramen for lunch.

  • Round-trip flight: $374
  • 1 checked-in bag: $25
  • 2 over-priced airport sodas: $8
  • Airport transfers: $50
  • Weekly condo: $400
  • Zipline: $75
  • Day trip to Nicaragua: $150
  • 2 bottles of Flor de Caña rum from the border to take home: $14
  • Groceries: $50
  • Happy hour beers/rum: $35
  • Taxi rides to local beaches: $60
  • Rodeo: $5
  • Eating out: $75
  • Lizano salsa to take home: $5
  • Churro and kebabs from the beach: $12

Total: $1338

Are you surprised by these numbers? These numbers will vary, but I think it gives you an idea of how much you could spend over a week in Costa Rica.  Airfare is less than what you would typically find for a round-trip flight; however, I found this deal on a Tuesday afternoon using Hipmunk. Also, a weekly rate for a condo in Costa Rica runs about the same price as a monthly rate. My monthly rent was $450.


Two of the biggest things that I saved money on was lodging and airfare. These could easily have been double. Since I rented a condo, most of my food prices were cheaper. Because I typically cook my meals at home, I also like to cook meals when traveling, while also experiencing local cuisine. When you're in Central America, you'll see a lot of beach bars and restaurants. These are often owned by expats, and therefore, more expensive than the typical sodas, which are run by locals and half the price.

$1338. What is this comparable to? Well for many Americans, that's a rent payment. I looked at the Social Security website and it said that for 2009, the national average wage was nearly $41,000 per year or just under $3,500 per month . Using the recommended formula that your rent shouldn't be more than 35% of your income, this comes out to just over $1,200 per month. For some, this number may approximately be your tax refund.

Back to the original question: Is world travel only for the upper class? My answer is a resounding no. Of course luxury travel is for those that are more wealthy, but you can travel abroad without it costing an arm and a leg. Just the cost of rent and maybe some pocket change. If there's something I've learned in my short 28 years of life, it is this: If people really want to do something, then they'll do it. With the destinations that media like Travel + Leisure Magazine and the Travel Channel feature, it's no surprise that people don't travel because they think it's too expensive. However, you can save money and make lifestyle changes that allow you to travel abroad for cheaper than you may think. If it's cheap destinations you're after, Tim Leffel has tons of great advice and suggested destinations on his cheapest destinations blog.

Do you think world travel is only for the upper class?