So what does it cost to sail around the world (and RV across North America) and how in the heck can we afford it? Well you need two things for sure, a boat that floats and money to cruise on.  Let’s look at Sundowner’s cost and refit first then the funding of the trip itself including the monthly cruising costs in 6 month blocks (with newly added RV costs).

Cost of a Cruising Boat Refit

In the planning stages of our trip we scoured the web for information on good seaworthy boats.  We want to cross oceans!  We both fell in love with the Westsails or Wetsnails as they are refered to due to their sluggishness.  We were lucky enough to find Sundowner, our Westsail 32 for sale close by in Slidell.  She was in obvious need of some refit, but had sailed around the world 3 times already and we fell in love.

We paid an initial cost of $30,000 for Sundowner in May-2010 and estimated another $30,000 in refit cost for a total cost of $60,000.  The estimated refit cost soon grew to $70,000 as costs typically do for a total cost of $100,000-ready to go offshoreWe have been doing everything we can ourselves only needing to hire outside help for things like the bottom job and crane use for the engine removal.  This has and will save us TONS!

We created a budget which outlines all of our estimated refit areas and try very hard to stay within those numbers and not add too many non-essential items that will bring the cost over $100,000.  In December 2014 we finished Sundowner’s Refit! We kept a detailed record of everything we spent on the boat

Here is the FINAL Cost Breakdown by refit category  (as of Dec-2014):

Categories  Totals
Anchors/Chain  $         2,077
Boat Cost  $       30,248
Boatyard  $         5,883
Canvas  $         1,174
Dinghy-Motor  $         2,650
Electrical  $         5,583
Electronics  $         3,572
Engine Room  $       15,025
Galley/Propane  $         3,233
Interior  $         1,255
Materials  $         3,786
Plumbing  $         2,676
Rigging  $       15,860
Safety Gear  $         4,128
Sails  $         1,289
Spares  $            512
Tools  $            770
Final Actual Cost 12-01-14  $       99,720


Click on the links below for our detailed excel sheets.

  1. Sept-2011 $50,885 End of Phase 1 (Initial price, engine and related systems replacement)
  2. June-2012 $61,240 End of Phase 2 (Electrical, dinghy and outboard, anchor, air head)
  3. Mar-2014 $82,298 End of Phase 3 (Rigging, Interior improvements)
  4. **Dec-2014 $99,720 End of Phase 4 FINAL REFIT COST (Windvane, Solar, Propane, Spares, Misc)

Funding the Trip Itself

There are many different ways depending on your personal situation but here are a few:

  • Save for a lifetime then start your trip once retired, utilizing savings and social security;
  • Come from a well to do family with plenty of financial resources to fund it;
  • Work while traveling so you can pay for your trip as you go;
  • Obtain sponsorship through blogs or services to help fund your trip;
  • Work and save as much money as possible before you quit work and start your trip.

We are doing the last one and savings all of our pennies.

A breakdown for those in similar situations:

Tate and I are both college grads and have been working since graduation.  Tate turned 33 November-2014,  I turned 32 May-2015 and we have no children or dependents. We bought Sundowner in May-2010 and have been refitting and saving for the trip since then.  Tate sold his house in December-2011 and we moved into a rented condo in the New Orleans area.  We worked hard and have been totally debt free  since August-2012!

From everything we’ve read and people we’ve talked to we decided that $3,000 a month was a conservative estimate and should cover all our cruising expenses including boat maintenance, insurance, medical visits, food, alcohol, pleasure, diesel and so on, We are also setting aside $7,000 for the passage through the Panama Canal.  So $115,000 for the sailing trip.

We initially estimated 3 years to complete the trip, although we are having thoughts of extending it to 5 years if we can be frugal sailors and live on about $1,500/month with some months costing more.

We (I) also feel like we need money for when we return to land, so we are striving for $35,000 to make the transition back to land which will include housing, clothing, transportation, travel and anything else needed while we seek employment.

Next we sat down with pen and paper and figured out how much we money we could spend each month while still saving enough to fund our trip. Combined we take home about $10,000 after taxes each month and figured our bills to be $3,800 a month so the remaining $6,200 a month goes into a separate account for the trip and boat refit.  This account cannot be touched unless it is within the budget for boat refit.  Keeping our monthly spending account and saving account separate makes it easy to resist the urge to spend more money than allotted for that month!

All went as planned and we saved $108,000 for our sailing trip, $7,000 for the Panama Canal, and $35,000 for our return to land. $150,000 total.

Monthly Cruising Costs

I don’t think that our 12 month cruising costs are going to be an accurate reflection of what cruising actually costs per month. The real monthly cost of long term cruising will show itself I think sometime at the end of year two when we make it to New Zealand. There are lots of unforeseen conditions that can arise in the next year like a major boat problem, a medical emergency or a marina stay.

As well we have sailed to places known to be cheap and have stayed away from the more expensive islands like in the Lesser Antilles. However if you take the route we did, have a sound boat capable of the passage and have similar spending (and drinking/smoking) habits then you can likely expect the same costs that we have incurred. Truthfully we feel we have a lot of money each month and get to go out to eat and to bars a couple to few times a week. We don’t feel like we are missing out on a lot. I think we could be a lot more frugal, cutting the budget in half, if we really wanted by drinking less, Tate not smoking and eating out less.

Our monthly budget of $1,500 is fluid. Sometimes we don’t need the whole $1,500 and so we don’t spend money if it isn’t necessary. In fact we are getting to the point of trying to spend as little as possible while still being comfortable (“comfortable” is a really relative term). If there is something in particular we want to buy in the future, like snorkel gear, provisions, gifts or expensive checkin/out fees for the next destination, we “earmark” a certain amount of money to reserve it for that. I do that as soon as the want is identified so that our whole monthly budget is reduced and it’s as if we don’t have then money to spend.

*We cut the dock lines with about 6 months worth of provisions including alcohol. As we sail we try to provision the boat in little pieces to always keep her about 6 months cruising ready. We buy more if we have extra money and items are cheap. We are also so to speak “collecting” alcohol when possible to use in the Pacific where it’s expensive and hard to come by. Provisioning the boat in little pieces lets us take advantage of good prices and reduces the stress of a “huge provisioning trip”.

I use an app on my Andriod phone called “Spending Tracker”. In this app I have set up a core bunch of categories and allocate all of the costs among them. I don’t often carry my phone with me so while out spending money I keep receipts, write it down or just try to remember everything we spent that day for later when I input the costs in the app. I do this DAILY so that I don’t lose track. I also tally everything in the local currency but I input the costs into the app in USD based on the exchange rate for our credit card or cash while accounting for any transaction fees. So the costs you see below are what, IN TOTAL, we have spent in these foreign countries.

I tried to pick a variety of categories that would encompass anything we could spend money and plan to keep these the same throughout the trip. They are sorted in a more logical order based on type instead of just alphabetically. I have added a few examples for each one to help give an idea of what is included:

  1. Alcohol – bars, grocery bought and sometimes restaurants if a large percentage
  2. Eating Out – restaurants
  3. Grocery – food or household items
  4. Books – kindle unlimited, ebooks, physical books
  5. Entertainment – tours, park entrance fees, horseback riding, movies
  6. Gifts – presents for family and friends
  7. Tobacco – Tate’s pipe tobacco and accessories
  8. Water Sports – snorkel gear, spearfishing gear, wetsuits
  9. Communication – Delorme InReach, internet, phone, postcards, blog hosting
  10. General – miscellaneous items for household
  11. Laundry – pay laundry service on shore
  12. Medical – doctor’s visits, dentist, medicine
  13. Travel – taxi’s, buses, ferries, planes, cars, hotels
  14. Cruising Fees – checkin/out fees, visas, permits, copies, insurance
  15. Fuel – diesel, gasoline, propane
  16. Maintenance – boat products, parts, labor fees, boatyards
  17. Marina/Anchoring – marina fees, mooring fees, dinghy docks

2015 Cruising Costs

Jan-Key West
Feb-Marina Hemingway Cuba
Mar,Apr,May-Isla Mujeres MX,
Jun-Providencia CO

2015 CategoryJanFebMarAprMayJunTotal
Eating Out6312933681733922252,082
Water Sports360----152512
Cruising Fees-143220-78142583

Jul,Aug-Providencia CO

2015 CategoryJulAugSepOctNovDecTotal
Eating Out18139263244279601
Water Sports1,410512-554744643,014
Cruising Fees--37060--430

$21,782 – total cost for 2015 (average monthly cost of $1,815)

This year was a bit more expensive than we had hoped for ($1,500) but this includes $3,500 spent on spearfishing equipment and water sports accessories like wetsuits etc. There is also about $1,500 in items that we purchased from Amazon and had our friends bring to us to make the boat more comfortable like different clothes, electronic gadgets and kitchen ware. We feel this cost was well worth it and will give us many years of fun activities and eating well.
During our first year we didn’t feel restricted in our budget or the amount of fun we had. Honestly we could have spent a good bit less, but alas we like our toys.
I think others out there hoping to plan can cruise like we did for much less. It’s all personal preference.


January through June 2016
States visited: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington

2016 CategoryJanFebMarAprMayJunTotal
Eating Out791985315061194735
Water Sports-------
RV parks/fees68140127175124115749
Subtotal 116369381,3462,3362,0741,73010,060
Boat storage1,1193063063063063062,649
RV purchase11,010-----11,010
RV refit5,16737856776--6,836
Moto purchase--4,100--254,125
Moto refit-----607607
Subtotal 217,2963435,2621,08230693825,227

We put our boat Sundowner on the hard (in storage out the water) in Panama for 2016 and we flew back to the States to take advantage of low gas prices and traveled the country. These are our costs for the first 6 months. I’ve separated costs such as Boat Storage, RV and motorcycle purchase, and the Heavy Refit and one off costs for the RV and motorcycle since these things are highly subjective and will vary from person to person. The cost up above are what I consider “true living costs”.  With that we’ve spent:

$10,060 for 6 months (average of $1,676 a month)

All of the other costs amount to $25,227 but this will be offset as we plan to sell both the RV and the motorcycle this fall and then return to the boat.

Life in the States feels way more expensive but I guess when just comparing living costs in the RV to the living costs on the boat we actually live a bit cheaper in the RV. But really I think it’s a wash at this point.

Hopefully this will help all you penny watchers like myself out there and give a real basis to use in your budgeting. Happy Saving!