Making a plan for your expenses on your trip is easy and will save you time, money and stress when you travel. Here is a step by step guide to creating you travel budget.
Why make a travel budget plan for your trip?
There were times when I used to travel without a concrete budget plan. I knew more or less how much money I had in my savings, and as a digital nomad I knew I was making an income while travelling. Other than that, I didn’t have a clear idea about my travel budget.
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While it’s possible to travel without a budget plan, it’s not ideal. There’s a level of stress that comes with travelling that way. You may not even be aware of, but it’s there.
I also failed to check the cost of living in the countries I was travelling to. When I arrived in Australia, for instance, I had a vague idea about it being an expensive place, but was pretty shocked to find just how expensive.
A quick search online in advance and a simple travel budget would have solved that problem.
You can easily find out the cost of just about anything online.
I’ve since learnt from my mistakes and now I make a spreadsheet for each city I’m going to visit and have most major expenses laid out clearly on the screen way before I get on the plane.
If you’re going on a long trip, it’s sometimes hard to anticipate exactly what you’ll be doing in the coming months.
Still, having a general plan as a base is extremely useful. I always include a section for unexpected expenses and can also change my plan along the way of course.
Planning ahead helps so much in giving you peace of mind.
How to check prices at your destinations
There is a popular travel planning strategy that says: Go to places you can afford. Another version of it would be: Go to places where you can live like a queen! But how do you know where those places are?
First make a list of places you’d like to visit.
Look at the price of things like a cup of coffee, an average meal, groceries, public transport and rent. This will give you a general idea.
Here’s a screenshot from Numbeo showing the cost of food in Turin, Italy. As you can see it’s pretty detailed.
After doing this search, you might discover that although you’d really like to visit Oslo, perhaps Madrid would be a more feasible option.
Narrow down your list and decide on destinations that you can actually afford.
Another trick is to search for posts by other travellers detailing the cost of their trips. There are many blog posts like that, and they’ll give you a good idea of what it’s like to travel in those places. Do check though that their style of travel is similar to yours.
Now you have a much better idea of the cost of visiting each place. This is useful both for short vacations where you visit just one destination, or longer trips with multiple ones.
Now let’s break down the main expenses.
Budget for transportation costs
How are you going to get to your destination?
Budgeting for flights, trains, buses or driving is your obvious next step in making your travel budget, once you have a destination in mind.
That can be a huge part of the budget, but not necessarily. With low cost airlines, it’s become easier to go places, and I sometimes change my route according to which cheap flight I can find.
Getting to the city from the airport
This can also be a big expense in some cities (like London) or a very cheap ride on public transport in other cities (like Porto or Riga).
Most airports have instructions on their own websites, but if they don’t, consult the “Get In” section on WikiTravel. It will normally give you a clear overview.
There may be lots of options for airport transfers, especially in big cities, and the last thing you want to do when you’ve just landed is to navigate between all of these options.
I’ve done this in the past and I’m sure most people have as well, but just a few minutes of online research can save you time, stress and potential confusion. It can also save you money and help you avoid local scams in some places, like unlicensed taxis.
Getting around within your destination
First, check if the place is walkable, simply by Googling this question. If it’s not, then you want to look at the price of public transport at each destination you go to. Again, in some places it can be very cheap, in others not so much.
There may be different types of tickets that give you discounts, like weekly cards or 10-ride tickets etc.
You can sometimes ask the driver what ticket to get, but often you’ll have to buy it before boarding, at a kiosk or a ticket machine for example, and you’ll need to know what to buy.
Ticket machines can be confusing and often they seem to be designed for people who already know how they work, not for someone who’s new to the local system.
It is so much easier to arrive at a new place and know exactly what kind of ticket to buy.
That’s why I’ve now made a habit of checking the official public transport site for each city, because the info elsewhere on the web may not be up to date.
Those sites will detail the different types of tickets, how long they’re valid for, what discounts are available and so on, and will sometimes have pictures of those tickets too.
Make a budget plan for accommodation expenses
Accommodation costs can be the largest part of your travel budget in many places around the world. It’s one of the easiest things to budget for, as you often have to book your accommodation in advance.
First, you want to decide on the type of accommodation that suits you. Some look for hotels but some prefer hostels or guesthouses; Others can only afford hostels, but can’t stand being woken up by that snoring guy on the top bunk (there’s always one!); Some would go for Airbnb as it gives you an excellent selection in many places. What’s your preference?
Do a search online for your preferred type of accommodation and get an idea about the average price per night.
Important tip: Remember to enter the dates you will actually be travelling on (or at least dates on the same month), because accommodation prices change throughout the year.
You can also find free accommodation with a bit of luck (click to read my guide: 4 Ways to Find Free Accommodation When You Travel).
Even if you choose one of those 4 ways and get a free place to stay, I suggest setting aside some money to cover accommodation costs in case your arrangement for free accommodation doesn’t work out.
Travel budget for food
Food can also be a big expense, depending on where you travel to. In most of Western Europe, Australia and North America it would generally be expensive to eat out every day.
If you’d like to eat out every day, then you should add the average price of a meal to your travel budget. You can find it easily on numbeo.com. It’s also a good idea to ask on a local Facebook group or on any travellers’ group “What is the average cost of a meal?” You will get plenty of replies.
Asking on groups has an added advantage, as you might get local tips. For example, the menu del dia at restaurants in Spain is an amazing deal that lets you have a 3 course meal for the price of a main course. That’s the kind of tip you can easily get from a local or a fellow traveller.
If you want to be even more thorough (or if you’re just curious), search for some restaurants that have nice reviews at your destination and take a look at their menus. You’ll find the menu on their official websites or Facebook pages or apps like Zomato.
Note the differences between lunch and dinner menus – dinner might be more expensive.
If you can be flexible about eating out, and are willing to cook your own meals from time to time, then it would be a good idea to get an Airbnb flat with a kitchen or stay at a hostel that has a kitchen.
Also, take advantage of street food when you travel. It can be half the price of a restaurant meal sometimes, and no less satisfying.
Tipping at restaurants and cafes is different from one country to the next. In some places you don’t tip at all, in some you just round up the amount on the bill and in others it would be rude not to tip a certain percentage. Find out what it’s like at your destination. It’s simple just to Google it or ask on a travel group on Facebook or TripAdvisor.
Plan a budget for activities
Do some research on each of your destinations to see what tourist attractions, museums, tours or other activities they offer. Pick the ones that interest you and check how much they cost.
Museums normally have their admission fees listed on their sites, as well as the days of the week or the month when admission is free. If you happen to be there on the right day of the month, you’re in luck 🙂
Tours and popular tourist attractions should also have their prices listed on their sites, and if they don’t, you can email them to ask.
If you’re into more adventurous activities, like scuba diving, surfing and the like – you can shop around and see what companies offer the best prices. It’s easier to make price comparisons in advance than at the last moment.
Consider if you want to take a course on your trip, maybe learn the local language or do a cooking workshop. How much will it cost? Find out in advance and add it to your travel budget plan. You can always change your mind later of course.
Budget for shopping
If you’re into shopping, your travel budget plan should include a general estimate of how much you’ll spend. It’s hard to know in advance of course, but you can again do some research online.
Have a look at the websites of the shops you’d like to go to and check prices of souvenirs online.
Remember you can always ask locals on any travel Facebook group or on a TripAdvisor forum who will give you advice both on current prices and on where to go shopping in their city.
Make a rough estimate and try to stick to it when you’re on your trip.
If you’re planning on doing a lot of shopping, then consider the additional fees you will have to pay for luggage on your flight back.
Even if you travel with hand luggage only on your way there, you may have to buy another suitcase and check it in on your way back. On low cost airlines, this can be a considerable expense, so make sure it’s in your travel budget plan.
In many places around the world you can find free wifi which is a great help. But I don’t always want to rely on that.
Whether you buy a local sim card or use your own international plan, it should go into your budget.
I normally get a local sim card when I travel. One of the most useful resources to look at before you buy a sim card is the Prepaid Data SIM Card Wiki. It will give you a very detailed breakdown of the options for buying sim cards in each country.
If you travel around Europe, the Roam Like at Home scheme makes things very easy, as you can use the same sim card with the same rates in most EU countries.
For international phone calls, I always use apps like WhatsApp, Skype or Facebook Messenger. If you use them over free wifi, then they’re practically free.
Other things to consider when you plan your travel budget
- What’s the cost of your travel insurance?
- How much will your bank charge you when you withdraw cash in a foreign country?
- What would it cost to replace any broken or lost gadgets you take with you (say, a mobile charger or a new memory card for your camera)?
Put the budget plan together
The previous sections were all about collecting data. Now you want to put everything in one place.
One useful tip is to round up the numbers. Some prices, like a public transport ticket, are fixed, but others are just estimates, and you want to give yourself some leeway.
Also add an extra section for unexpected expenses. There may be activities that you didn’t think about when making the plan.
For example, you may find an interesting tour that you want to join, or you might meet some locals and go out partying and discover that alcohol costs much more than you budgeted for… so to be on the safe side, give yourself a little extra.
I use Google Sheets to make my travel budget. It’s simple enough to use and it syncs across all your devices, and has an offline mode too. You can use any other spreadsheet you like, any budget planning app or even just a notebook and a pen, as long as you’re comfortable using it.
To recap, here are the main budget items:
7. Travel insurance
8. Bank charges
9. Unexpected expenses
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