Never have another travel budget disaster again!
The most common question that travellers ask me is "How much will my trip cost?" While I know what my per diem costs are in Sydney, Quebec City, Paris, and Singapore, it's much more difficult to predict what the same trip will cost YOU.
But whether you rough it or seek out satin sheets; and no matter if you are taking a jaunt to the next town or heading out to parts unknown; this budget template should cover every eventuality and help you gain an accurate estimate of your total trip cost. Remember that the cost of a trip isn't just the bottom basement flight you found on the internet -it's the sum of every cup of coffee, the new backpack, those dour passport photos, and every single carton of Chibuku.
So here's to trips you can afford, locations worth saving for, and never suffering from post-travel credit card shock again!
Travel Budget Notes
Getting Ready to Go
Before you go anywhere you might have to pay for:
Money Saving Tips: Dedicate time and effort to research the best possible flight prices - this is a huge expense with huge potential to save. Small measures of flexibility in departure dates and airports can save significant money. Read the fine print of your credit card insurance to learn exactly what is included and excluded for health, car rental, trip cancellation, and other forms of coverage.
Passports and Paperwork
Money Saving Tips: Looking to save $25-$50? Visit national chain stores, like Wal-Mart or Shoppers Drug Mart, to get your passport and visa photos. Photography studios and camera stores charge double the price for the identical service. Scan new passports and visa documents and email a copy to yourself and leave a hard copy with a trusted friend to save hassles on the road.
Money Saving Tips: A lot of these expenses can be reduced by choosing to access certain services overseas, such as getting travel vaccines in Bangkok, You need to do thorough research to determine if the cost savings are worth the convenience and risk. If you are due for a routine vaccine like tetanus you can often get it for free through your family doctor or community clinic.
Special Household Costs
Money Saving Tips: Remember to set up a way to transfer cash to roommates for your share of common bills while you are away. If your household and pet needs are being tended to by a volunteer friend, remember to budget for a generous thank you gift.
Gear and Packing
Money Saving Tips: Invest in quality, not quantity. If you are making several small trips, try to space out gear purchases to one item per trip. Considering buying gently-used products instead of new. Personally, I often under-estimate gear expenses - don't let them sneak up on you!
Money Saving Tips: With a little luck, you can spend very little on electronics, for both the sake of your budget and the safety of your gear. Old and dull is much less appealing than new and shiny when it comes to thieves. If you travel with valuable gear, register each item with your insurance company.
At the Airport
Money Saving Tips: Novels, magazines, candy, and snacks are much more expensive at an airport than your neighbourhood drug store. Stock up before you leave home. A quality filtration-style water-bottle will soon pay for itself over the cost of post-security bottled water. If you are saving on transportation when a friend wakes up early to drive you to the airport remember to buy them a souvenir to say thanks!
Money Saving Tips: Hop-on bus tours rarely excel at transportation OR tour guiding, let alone both. You can save money by buying a regular city bus ticket, as most cities have a bus route that covers all major attractions. Airport taxi costs are often prohibitive. Make friends on the plane and split the costs to the city center (or help each other figure out the subway system and use your savings on a pub night!)
Money Saving Tips: Never be afraid to negotiate! On several occasions, I have saved 10% at 'fancy' inns and cottage (even those guaranteed to sell out) simply by asking for an early booking discount. Most urban hotels and hostels are more expensive on weekends, while campgrounds and national park lodges are the same price every night but offer steep 'low season' discounts.
Food and Drink Costs
Money Saving Tips: Buying groceries is less expensive than visiting restaurants, but not if you are changing locations and always leaving food behind. Make new friends and take turns cooking. Buy ingredients that easily lend themselves to multiple recipes and bring along Ziploc bags to transport leftovers.
Money Saving Tips: I live by the motto "If it's free, I go and see. If I pay, I stay away". Explore every free option you can! But take comfort: even paid attractions have discount days. There are discount movie nights, cheap previews at the theatre, and free days at the art gallery.
Money Saving Tips: Many longer term parking lots offer online coupon codes or special discounts for autoclub members. Before departing for your trip, hide $100 in cash at home for your back-home grocery purchasing. You'll be happy you set aside some money just for this!
Money Saving Tips: Embrace doing laundry on the road! I sure do. I'm happy to spend a relaxing hour or two reading my book while the laundromat hums away. And with the money I've saved compared to hotel dry cleaning, I can pay for days of treats.
Special Long Term Costs
Money Saving Tips: Not all long term travellers sell their belongings, so I did not include these "earnings" in the budget. I did, however, include storage costs for everyone, as even the purgers will likely need to pay for the costs of gas to drive those final special boxes to mom's house - and buy mom a thank you meal! If you are leaving an apartment before your trip (and can dig deep for some super human discipline), tuck away the money saved from your last months' rent and damage deposit to mitigate those costs upon your return.
Take a deep breath.
Add up all the costs above.
Add 10% for emergencies.
And that's how much your trip will cost you!!
More Than Expected? Travel Can SAVE Money!
While rent, mortgage payments, insurance costs, car payments, and electricity bills go on as usual, several routine household costs are severally reduced while you travel, including:
Notes: Sometimes the money saved from these reduced costs cannot be transferred over to a travel budget as there are always pre-departure tasks that suddenly seem more urgent when you know you are going to travel, like fixing little things broken in the house, servicing the furnace and air conditioner, or cleaning out the gutter. Upon your return, your first week of grocery, gas, and household expenses will likely be higher than usual.
Reworking the Numbers? Consider This!
You might already have access to multiple ways to save and trim costs even further.
Staying on Track
Planning out travel costs is one thing - but keeping on budget is another. A lot of travellers simply buy an open ended ticket and take things day by day, heading home when the money runs out. Others have a vague number in mind for their daily spending limit and they are willing to adjust accommodation standards and incidental costs as time goes on in order to stay on track.
Personally, since I am obsessed with lists, it makes sense for me to plan things out! I create a mini list for each day of the trip, detailing the estimated costs I will incur for accommodations, food, transportation, and entertainment, as well as a master list of more generalized items (like souvenirs and laundry). If I'm over or under, I'll note it at the bottom of the page and I'll try to even things out the next day if I'm running over budget (and if I'm running under budget - well, I'll always find a way to splurge!)
Once again, remember that a trip budget is not the same as a cash flow template. Some trips will require a significant amount of the cost to be paid long before you leave home (like purchasing that airfare & all inclusive package 5 months in advance), while others will require very little advance spending. You have to choose what makes the most sense for you, your finances, and the type of trip. Just keep in mind that every trip will have some advance-purchase expenses and no trip is truly all-inclusive and there will always be in-the-now expenses.
Does a comprehensive travel budget cramp your style or kill spontaneity? I don't think so. The peace of mind in knowing I won't be facing a massive credit card bill when I return home is tremendous. The satisfaction I get from coming in under budget one day and then being able to splurge worry-free the next is fantastic. Destinations I assumed would be too expensive to enjoy, like London and Sydney, suddenly become accessible when I do some research and understand the true costs involved. I've likewise been forewarned when "cheap' destinations have been anything but. I want to travel as much as possible and see as much as possible and knowing the numbers helps me do that.
I hope you can take this template as a guide, customize it to your own style and needs, and make it work for you and your travels. Bon Voyage!
I'd love to hear from you - has any budget category caught you by surprise? Do you create a trip budget? And do you stick to it?! What advice would you offer a new traveller looking to stay on track?
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