Travel is a bit different for a few reasons, namely (1) you’re likely still paying for rent, despite not occupying the space, and (2) there are too many unknowns to know exactly how much you will spend over the course of your trip. If you’re not careful with your budget, traveling can run your wallet into the ground. But when done right, traveling by the seat of your pants is a lot of fun—and worth it in every way.
Here are some tips I’ve gleaned to help you plan your budget well:
For each place you’re visiting, find out the average daily cost of everything (daily lodging, food, activities, and transport), and then add one-third. Your daily allowance is not allowed to exceed 90% of this number. For clarification: Your daily budget = [ (Average Daily Cost x 1.33) x .90 ]. (The margin of 10% is a built-in safeguard for emergencies. (And no, the really hot girl at the bar wants me to buy her a drink isn’t an emergency. It’s poor judgment on your part for not spending less money earlier in anticipation of the possibility of a hot girl standing at the bar.)
Pay very, very close attention to the money you’re spending. Write everything down. Make two columns on a piece of paper and write each purchase in one and its cost in the other. At the end of the day, tally it all up and see if you hit your mark. If you’re over, adjust accordingly.
Integrate a system of rewards and penalties. Did you come in under budget one day by cooking for yourself or being invited to a communal hostel dinner? Rollover that day’s leftover budget into the next one and mini-splurge on something you’ve been eyeing—but be careful not to dip into that 10% margin. If you’re traveling with friends, having them hold you accountable is a great way to keep abreast of your budget: if you spend more than your allowance one day, you have to buy the first round of drinks for everyone the next night you go out. This works doubly well, because you’ve really got to skimp that next day if you’re allocating funds for your friends’ top-shelf cocktails.
Set up a plan for making money during your trip. If you have any translating or teaching experience, contact an agency ahead of time to inquire about the availability of short- or long-term work. If you’re a performer, try your hand at busking—musicians are the usual fare, but unique performace-based talents have tremendous capacity to surprise and delight passers-by. Hell, you don’t even have to be a talented dancer to busk. Sometimes it’s just the willingness to look like an idiot. Additionally, check out this great list of ideas from Matador Network.
What money-saving practices do you use? Do you want to send me some of your money? If so, send a check to…