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I Ran A Marathon On Every Continent For The Price Of Your Parking Spot

On the heels of my recent TEDx Talk, I’ve been getting emails from people excited about living more adventurously, but uncertain how to get started.

This is common—I’ve gotten these emails since starting to wrie about risk and adventure more than four years ago. One recurring theme is the uncertainty about money. “I want to travel and do adventurous stuff, but I just don’t have the money to do it.”

My first reaction to this is that adventure comes in many forms and not only can, but should be incorporated into your daily life. Exploring your own environment, meeting new people, and starting personal projects rarely costs anything, but it can have a profound effect on your life.

When you change the small details, the big ones start to morph as well. It’s how the habit of adventure is built.

Of course, I understand the desire to travel. To see faraway places. To understand different cultures. To do big things.

Action point #1: Go outside and do something. Anything!

I’ve spent the last four years trying to showcase how world travel can be  inexpensive and enjoyable, but now that I’ve finished my mission to run a marathon on every continent, I actually have a nice case study to point to when the question comes up.

Take this recent email I received from a reader, Oscar:

Hi Tyler,

First of all, I loved your TED talk the other day, one of my favorites!

Recently, I was engaged in an argument with my brother about the importance of money when planning and executing the kind of adventures you’re involved in. His argument was that one would need to be making at least $150,000 per year to remain afloat. I disagreed.

What is your opinion on the importance of money when living a life of adventure? Can one really pull off all this traveling on a shoestring budget? Our yearly income is around $50,000. Would that be possible?

Regards,
Oscar

So, just how much does it take to travel the world, living a life of adventure? Do you really need to earn $150,000/year to have any hope of surviving financially?

Spoiler alert: **** no!

How Much Does It Cost To Run On Every Continent?

Running a marathon on every continent has, to understate it, changed my life. It gave me a challenge to focus myself on. It lead me to new friends, new opportunities, and new ways of understanding the world and my place in it. If you’re a distance runner and you want to travel, I think it’s a mighty fine goal to pursue.

Even if you aren’t a runner, just going and seeing the world is worth the treasure of experience you’ll come home with.

But how much does it cost?

While traveling for the last four years, I actually did a good job of keeping track of my expenses. I built this little spreadsheet to display the overall costs of running on all seven continents:

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 11.28.38 AM

There you have it. In four years, I spent just over $11,000 getting to all seven continents. That works out to $8/day. Here in Portland at The Riskology Lab, that’s about what it costs most folks to park their car just to go to work each day.

If you live in Portland and ride your bike to work for four years, you’ll be in the same financial spot you are now, except you’ll have superhuman health and, oh yeah… you’ll have run a freakin’ marathon on every continent.

Of course, if you live in a super fancy city like San Francisco where—on a recent trip—daily parking downtown was around $20, you’ll get the same benefit in 1/5 the time!

Side note: You’ll notice from the chart above that over 40% of the cost of my years-long adventure was in getting to Antarctica. Turns out, it’s still pretty remote! Skip that trip, and you can be lazy and just bike to work half the time.

Are Those Numbers Real?

As you looked over that spreadsheet, you might have waved your hand at it in disbelief. When I tell people how much I spent to do what I did, they often have one of two reactions:

  1. They can’t believe I spent $11,000. That’s so little!
  2. They can’t believe I spent $11,000. That’s so much!

It’s fun to see the reactions I get because they vary so wildly. Yes, if you think about $11,000 as one big chunk of change, it sounds like a lot. But I never took on the challenge thinking like that.

Instead, I went one step at a time, traveling to one continent and finishing one marathon. Then, coming home and figuring out how to get to the next.

The average American will spend more than that just on movies and other entertainment.

On the other end of the spectrum, $11,000 seems an unbelievably low number to those accustomed to traveling on a whim and sparing no expense for accommodations and other travel luxuries.

How did I spend $1,500 total on airfare when the typical traveler would spend at least that just getting to one continent? Travel hacking, of course! I take advantage of big deals for frequent flyer miles when they become available. In my quest, I only purchased a cash ticket once to help me get to Antarctica. Otherwise, all flights were booked with miles and the only money paid was for taxes and fees.

And what about lodging? $500 while traveling all over the world? That number doesn’t tell the whole story. In some cases, lodging was covered by the cost you’ll see under the “Tour/Marathon” column. Total? Probably closer to $4,000. But I wasn’t precious about where I laid my head. I spent many nights in cheap—but clean and convenient—hostels. Many times, I avoided booking a room by traveling overnight and napping on planes and in airports.

This journey wasn’t always glamorous, but that was never the aim. The aim was to have an adventure. Mission accomplished!

Side note: Thanks to travel hacking, I could have used more of my miles/points to book nicer accommodations, but that’s not something I’ve ever cared about. I prefer, instead, to use them for travel.

Whether $11,000 seems like a lot or a little depends on how you look at it. Either way, I’m quite pleased with what I accomplished on the budget I did.

What If I Have A Family/Full-Time Job/Other Random Barrier?

My educated guess is most people who want to be traveling and adventuring but aren’t doing it are less concerned about the cost itself and more worried about other things they see as a barrier:

  • Do I have to multiply the cost by four if I have a family?
  • What if I have a normal job and only get two weeks off each year?
  • Who’s going to look after my dog/cat/pet turtle?

If you want to take your family, then yes, it’s going to be more expensive. But it doesn’t mean each person will cost that much more. An “economy of scale” will make things less expensive in certain aspects like lodging and food. And the longer you stay in one place, the cheaper it gets.

If you have a normal job, then perhaps your adventures need to happen during vacation time. Even though I’m self-employed and can work anywhere in the world, I prefer to travel as if I’m not (because let’s be honest—not a lot of useful work is getting done while I’m away). Besides Antarctica, all of my marathons were organized around a one week trip schedule—gone for a week (or less), and then back to work the next.

So, How Much Do You Need?

To get back to Oscar’s question, how much do you really need to live a life of adventure? Do you really need $150k/year to sustain yourself?

I’ve never made that much, and the question was specifically about my adventures, so that number is out.

Looking at the breakdown, though, I don’t think you even need $50k/year. If you lived a life of frugality (one of my specialties!), you could live a great life at home, enjoy some luxuries, save for your future, and still do everything I did on about $25k/year.

That’s an amazing life had for very little! The more you earn, of course, the faster it all comes together.

I ran a marathon on every continent for the price most people pay to park their car at work each day, and I never felt like I was giving anything up to do it. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Based on the above, I’m confident you can do the same. Go forth and adventure!