A Backpacker's Tale

Planning A
Travel Budget

Planning a Travel Budget

By landing on this page, you’ve taken a step closer to planning your travel budget and reaching your goals (someone pop open the champagne)! At the end of this post you will no exactly how much you need to save heading out on your adventures backpacking Europe, Asia, or anywhere your heart desires. 

I can already hear the groans from some of you (you know who you are). And I understand, I mean, in what world is crunching numbers fun? 

But it is important for a variety of reasons. Having a number we can physically see, even if it is a rough estimate, fuels us to stay driven, focused, and excited. Saving money is like a marathon and planning a budget is knowing where you’re going to finish. 

If you look at it in this context then learning how to travel on a budget is a blast, because it inspires us to keep saving, and eventually take that trip we have always dreamed about..

Do I Really Need A
Budget?

My first few trips abroad I didn’t bother having a planning a holiday budget. Can you guess what happened next? The countries I visited were more expensive than I thought, I never tracked my spending habits, I partied till my liver hurt, and I went broke fast.

I went from having the time of my life to being handcuffed by finances. This led to borrowing money from my family back home and repaying that money meant it was months before I could start saving for my next trip.

Let me make one thing clear. A travel budget isn’t the end all be all. You’re not going to come up with some magic number you need to stick to religiously

How is This Budget
Post Different?

There are an overwhelming amount of budget post on the internet. Most of them will tell you to come up with the amount you plan to spend a day while traveling, however, I take a slightly different approach.

I focus on coming up with a weekly budget. Why? Because every day is different! Someday’s you will spend less than your budget, others you will spend more.

It irks me when people say ” I have $60 a day to spend.” Wouldn’t you rather say, “I have $420 for the week”?

If you blow through the majority of your weekly budget by Friday then you know the next few days you’re going to have to live poor.

A weekly budget helps keep you in check and deter needless spending, plus, it is easier to track.

This also allows you to plan for specific destinations where you know you will spend more. I.E. I have $400 a week in Italy, but only $200 a week in Thailand. 

Step 1 -
Research the Price Of Where You Want to Visit

When it comes to the all mighty dollar, not every country is equal. For example, for the price of one night at a hostel in Paris you can stay for about four nights in India. A meal in southeast Asia only sets you back a few dollars while the price of a meal in Australia will bring tears to your eyes.

The first, and most crucial, step to planning your travel budget is to research the costs of the countries you are traveling too. You do this by figuring the cost of transportation, accommodation, activities, and food. (I go into this in more detail later on)

  • Price Hikes - Prices on everything from tours to hotels rise during peak travel seasons, during festivals, and major holidays.
  • Weekends - Hostel and hotel prices often go on during weekends.
  • Book Early -The best way to avoid paying extra is to book as much as you can as early as you can.
  • Cities -Tourist Taps, and Big Cities Cost More to Visit.

Step 2 -
Pick a Destination that Fits Your Budget

Working hard to save money, traveling thousands of miles, and realizing upon arriving that it is WAY more expensive than you anticipated is one of the worst feelings for a traveler.

This is a problem that is easily solved. Just pick a destination that is obtainable within your allotted time frame. Can’t afford a month driving the east coast of Australia? 

Then, don’t be afraid to put that trip to the back burner and pick a destination that’s in your budget. After all, a month island hopping around Thailand is as unforgettable and will save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

The important thing is to get out there and travel.

Step 3 -
Budget for Your Comfort Level

Choosing your level of comfort is one of the first steps to planning your budget. Do you want to save a bunch of money sleeping in the cheapest, dirtiest hostel, or bask in the luxury of a five-star hotel? Or you going to pig out at Michelin Star restaurants or eat at hole in the wall shops? 

These questions might seem obvious but you cannot start to get your head around how much you’ll be spending until you answer.

Whether you land at cheap, expensive, or somewhere in between make sure you are honest with yourself about how that level of comfort will affect you, and in turn affect your trip. 

If you can only afford loud dirty hostels in Europe, but that sounds like a nightmare, then delay leaving until you can afford nicer places. Another option is to switch up your trip to a cheaper destination. 

Unless you are master of finding deals the most inexpensive way is the least luxurious way.

Step 4 -
Book Things As Your Saving Money

This is the single most important step that works for me.. Which is booking tours, flights, and hostels in advance. I love the feeling of excitement of paying significant expenses before leaving home.

Why?

Well, for three major reasons.

1- It means the money I land with is the money I have to spend! I won’t be surprised by any major expenses.

2- It does wonders for saving! No matter how far your trip is away, booking things in advance relieves stress. Whenever saving seems impossible you whisper to yourself  ”The next few months of saving might suck, but I know the date I will be on a camel touring the Sahara Desert, it’s already booked and paid for.”

This not only keeps you amped up about your trip but also reinforces good saving habits. Cutting out your daily Starbucks doesn’t seem so bad when you realize you’re earning an extra beer to cheers with fellow friends on your tour!

3- It lets me search for awesome deals on flights, travel insurance, city passes, day trips, car rentals, and tours while I am at home, instead of wasting my time trying to find a bargain while on the road.

Step 5 -
Utilize Websites to Budget Your Trip

Thank Zeus, God, or whoever you pray too that we live in the internet age. There are a lot of useful sites out there that can save you a lot of time and research. 

There are a lot of great website and travel forums that help you discover the cost of the places you want to visit, give you insights on what to expect, and also gives you advice on what to see and do. Why not budget travel online and make your life even easier!? 

These are amazing websites for budget travelers.

Step 6 -
Figuring Out Your Travel Budget

Now we get to a major step in planning. How much you need to save! Regrettably, there isn’t a crystal ball somewhere that says trip A is going to cost X amount of dollars

But we can go over the major expenses, combine them with the steps we already talked, and come up with an actionable travel budget. Let’s start with an example. Let’s figure out how much a week of visiting Rome, Florence and Venice will cost. 

Now, I bet some of you are saying. “But Stephen I don’t want to know where I am going. I want to land, and see where fate takes me! 

Me too! Spontaneity and freedom are a couple of the reasons why I fell in love with travel. Heck, they are two of the primary reasons I have dedicated my life to helping people travel!

That’s why this plan can be 100% tentative! It’s just baseline for figuring out prices of traveling around {insert your country of choice here}. So what things do we need to plan in our budget? Let’s look below. 

Sample Budget

Hostels

7 days of hostels in Rome, Florence, and Venice = $102.19

Food

$22 a day (a backpacker food budget) =$154 a week

Trains

Taking a train from Rome - Florence - Venice = $64.43

Sightseeing

Sightseeing the Colosseum, Forum, Vatican, 2 Museums in Florence = $74.50

Misc

Guesstimate a little extra for buses, metro, etc. $30 a week

Total = $425 a week

Sample Budget for 1 Week in Italy

Sample Travel Budget

How to Budget For Multiple Countries

Once you have your baseline for that sample week, you can just multiply it by the number of weeks you are in that country. Just make sure to adjust your budget depending on how many times you are taking a train or flight. 

So let’s keep going with an example! Let’s say we are going on a six week trip with two weeks each in country and our trip covers Italy, Spain, and France. 

We know now that traveling in Italy cost around $425 a week. We use the methods above to learn the Spain cost $375 a week and France cost $500 each week.  But we also have to take in account getting between the countries. 

CountryBudgetWeeksTotal
Italy$425X2$850
Spain$375X2$750
France$500X2$1,000
Flights  $98
   $2,698

Pro Tips

  • Pro Tip - I always set my baseline in the capital and major tourist cities as they tend to cost more. Therefore, my budget will always be high. I’d rather my goals be a little higher and have extra money than go broke.
  • Don't Forget to Budget For Smaller Transportation. -A critical part of your of your expenses is something that is often overlooked like cabs to and from the airport, and the cost of subway tickets getting around the city. If you don't put aside money for these fees, it will scrape away at your weekly budget!
  • Capitalize on Passes -Travelers who know where to look can score some awesome deals that will help you keep your bank account in the green long after leaving home. Many companies offer passes to travelers. A prime example of this is Eurail which lets you book a set amount of train days within different countries across Europe. If you are moving around a lot, this is a gem! Similar companies offer passes in many countries like Australia, New Zealand, the US, and Japan ( a country notorious for the price of train travel).

Step 7 -
Expenses You Need to Add To Your Budget

So what expenses do you need to watch in your planning? For starters there are the basics like the flights, travel gear, visa’s, and possible vaccines.

 I’m not going in-depth on these since they are specific on the regions, and countries you are visiting. Instead we are going to talk about the expenses we need to watch out for once we have arrived.

Travel Insurance

I never try to pressure people into getting insurance, that is a choice between you and your body.
But I am amazed at how many people travel without insurance. Well, maybe not, since I traveled without insurance for a long time.

I broke that bad habit fast after a couple of unwanted hospital visits.

Hospital bills will wreak havoc on a budget; unfortunately, I know this too well. And there is nothing more depressing than watching the money you fought blood, sweat, and tears for go to a bill because you thought insurance was a waste of money.

Trust me; insurance is a lot more affordable than hospital bills. Coverage ranges from general travelers to daredevils who want to skydive or run with the bulls. (I fall into the daredevil category myself)

I never try to pressure people into getting insurance, that is a choice between you and your body. If you are interested, then I recommend WorldNomads. They are the leading travel insurance provider and have affordable plans.

 

Transportation

Transportation is a tricky part of your budget to pin down. Train and hotel tickets can skyrocket at a moments notice.

This is why I tell my readers to have a travel plan so you have a good handle on what to expect pricewise. A great sight to help you research and plan transportation is Rome2Rio.

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Budgeting for Food

My definition of a satisfying filling meal is probably different from yours. So how much you need to save on food depends on the quality and size of the meals you eat.

One good habit to lower your travel budget is cooking. Many hostels have kitchens that let you put together a massive feast for a fraction of the price of eating out. You can also pitch in with other people staying in the hostel to make a gigantic, slightly nicer meal. When I was living in a hostel in New Zealand every Sunday, we would all pitch in and make a Sunday Roast dinner. The food was excellent, and the lively atmosphere made it easy to make friends.

Bakeries are another favorite of mine. you can get a fresh meals that fills your belly for around $5.

I always plan on eating out at least a couple times a week. I like to combine staying cheap, but also experience the food the country has to offer.

Accommodation.

Hostels offer less privacy but are a lot cheaper than hotels. Airbnb’s fall somewhere in between with more privacy than a hostel, but the price is a little higher. Like transportation, rates for accommodation fluctuate at a moment’s notice. (psssst… save $40 off your first booking with Airbnb)

I prefer to stay in hostels because I love the atmosphere, making friends, and the price tag. So when I am figuring out my the price of hostels, I usually hop on hostelworld. I find good hostels and check their prices for an entire week. I do this for enough hostels in my given country until I until I can figure out the average price. You can also do this with Airbnb’s and hotels. Accommodation is one of the biggest travel expenses so getting knowing the prices is vital.

Stash Some Cash

A good rule of thumb is to always leave a little wiggle room in your budget. It is always better to have some emergency cash. While traveling, you are on cloud nine. You’ll be tempted to buy things you don’t need, check out that restaurant someone recommended, have that extra glass of wine, or add that new stop into your itinerary. 

The point, it’s insanely easy to go over your daily budget while on the road. I always set aside some emergency cash with the goal to not touch that money at all cost. 

If you don’t use that cash, great, that means you can have an awesome last week going on a spending spree. Or better yet put it towards your next adventure when you arrive back home.

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