Everything comes down to money: whether you have it, you don’t, you think of it as a means to an end, or an end in itself (hint: don’t do this). Throughout university, I saw money as the goal. Coming from a rural town where big money was a rarity, I was taught to pursue a stable life of financial security.
My first long-term experience abroad came when I moved to South Korea following graduation. For the first time, I had a regular income that allowed me to actually save money. After saving over $15,000 in a year, I was both hesitant in spending and completely unprepared (too disorganized to keep a strict budget). I found myself eating into my savings in Australia and New Zealand, and becoming saddened by the fact that I would come home with very little after working hard for that money for a year.
Today, I find myself saving to travel long term again. I’m not a pro-saver, but I manage to live frugally. That sadness of coming home with nothing turned into depression that I could have lived happily on the road for a couple more months if I’d been a little more practical. To that end, here is my guide for constructing and sticking to your own travel budget.
You know all that go-with-the-flow, take-things-as-they-come, be-spontaneous travel lifestyle stuff? Well, all of that is dramatically easier when you’ve got your budget locked down. I know, sounds weird: plan ahead so that you don’t have to plan ahead. Having a budget in mind is the best way to decide where you will spend your money, it will keep you from underestimating how much you need, and will allow you to make quick decisions, as you are in tune with your own financial situation.Coming up with your budget always leads to more costs than you expect at first. Here are the obvious expenses (if I’m leaving any out, let me know!):
- Transportation within country (bus, taxi, train)
- Travel insurance
- Necessary vaccines/medications
- Specific gear
- Entrance/admission fees and activity costs
- Extras: toiletries, replacements
Before you book anything, you should have an idea of how much money you’ll need to make this trip happen. Do a few quick Google searches and write down some average costs: flights, accommodations, food. Pick 5 activities and destinations that are at the top of your list and write down the costs of those things. Finally, throw an extra $200-$500 on top of that number to account for a few of the other necessities. Account for the number of days (weeks, or months) you’ll be away. This is a (very) rough idea of how much money you’ll need. Now that you have it, you can work on breaking it down.
You’ve got a few questions to ask yourself at this point:
- Am I travelling alone?
- How comfortable am I with staying in dorms? With couchsurfing?
- Could I possibly work in exchange for food and a bed?
- How about a working holiday visa?
- Do I have reward points that could be used for a flight?
- (If travelling long term) should I consider selling my belongings?
- Where should I look for tips, or connections that might save me some of these costs?
- What experiences could be swapped for something cheaper? What am I not willing to miss out on?
I’ll be delving more deeply into things like accommodations, food, free and cheap activities, in later posts. It’s always good to be aware of alternative options when coming up with your budget, so I’ll link to a few relevant sites below.
- Work Exchange Sites: WWOOF, Hippohelp, HelpX, Workaway (my tips here)
- Picking a travel credit card: Nomadic Matt
- Sail Away – Trip Planning: The Budget Discussion
- My sample budget-planning worksheet
- Read the first part of this planning series here: Destinations
Do you plan your budget in advance? What are your tips and tricks? Let me know! Don’t forget to tweet it!
(feature photo by epSos .de)