I know this is going to be a hard-if-not-impossible-to-answer question, and probably does not have one unique answer, but I do think it is relevant at some level for many people visiting this site.

What is the absolute cheapest means of travel, if the objective of the journey is the journey itself? This means at least the following:

  • a small amount of people (friends, wife+kids, ...) will be traveling always together

  • the various destinations are usually improvised, far and widespread. E.g., there is no predefined course or plan to it

  • The total duration of the journey will be several years

With these constraints, hitch-hiking is out of the question (who'll take on 4-7 passengers? it's unpredictable where you'll end up, e.g., virtually impossible to plan anything, etc.).

I have read many stories about sailing trips with this philosophy. It makes intuitive sense -- sailboats do not require fuel, hence the distance can (when the winds are right) be covered at no cost at all. But somehow I question whether this is true from an end-to-end perspective -- in general, sailboats at the size you'd need them don't come cheap (you'd have to rely on selling the boat when you're "done" traveling), there are costs for harbors around the world, you'd have to bring "special" food that stays well longer, the boat also requires fuel, etc. Plus you'd be kind of limited to islands or places near the shore.

An alternative I thought of would be to travel by car, e.g., buy a cheap car, travel, and sell it again (possibly at higher value). This of course assumes cars are much more easy to sell; not an unreasonable assumption I'd say. The only costs would then be fuel, which is only cheap in the US and some smaller states scattered around the globe. End-to-end, would this be cheaper?

In summary, I'd like to hear reports/stories/etc of the true globetrotters reading this question, regarding the cost of their means of transportation, how they compare, and in the end, which means of travel (or combination thereof) is generally the cheapest.

  • 1. Be independently wealthy. or 2. Split up into smaller groups while hitchhiking, but make sure each group has one of the people that drivers are most likely to stop for (female and/or blonde and/or young). If one group has only shabby hairy old bald guys it will be difficult to meet up in a given timeframe (-: Aug 12 '12 at 10:17
  • Sorry but I have to vote to close for now because as you expressed it doesn't have one right answer and our bosses, the good people of Stack Exchange, specifically tell us such questions are not allowed here but belong either in our chat room, or in a travel forum (as opposed to Q&A site) such as Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree. Your other option is to edit your question to focus. Aug 12 '12 at 10:25
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    What about Cycling? You can go fairly long distances, you have complete control over where you go, it works well for medium sized groups, buying a bike is fairly cheap, and on-going maintenance is pretty cheap too
    – Gagravarr
    Aug 12 '12 at 10:44
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    I think you've pretty much answered your own question Rody. There simply isn't one answer for this. Besides, unless you wife is one of those traveller types let's just say she's not going to be very happy about hitchhiking or cycling for miles with kids. :)
    – Ankur Banerjee
    Aug 12 '12 at 12:56
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    @RodyOldenhuis: This question may be of interest to you - Long-term travel without being wealthy - how is it possible? Although now that I think of it, you'll probably know all this anyway.
    – Ankur Banerjee
    Aug 12 '12 at 13:07

As you point out yourself, this is rather impossible to answer constructively and satisfyingly; there are just too many undefined paramaters involved.

Still, purely theoretically, it's probably hard to beat the cumulative cost of traveling by campervan. Sure, fuel is more pricey, but as it provides accommodation while allowing you to cook yourself, assuming you're carrying some kind of stove, it could actually be cheaper than staying at home and paying rent on your property.

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