Smart choices and tracking your expenses will make traveling on a budget easier
“Expenses tracking, oh yes please tell me more!” – said no one ever. I’m the first to admit there’s nothing exciting or sexy about budgets or tracking your expenses. But what IS exciting is that by dedicating a bit of time and effort to your travel budget you can not only ensure that you can keep traveling, but also stay on the road for longer.
Keeping track of your travel expenses can actually be done very quickly and easily. Something that takes maybe a minute or two each day can save a whole lot of hassle later and ensure you can stick to your travel plan and budget. There are also many small things you can do on the road to help you stretch your dollar and your travel budget further. Small adjustments to your travel spending habits can have a big impact long term.
By managing our travel budget carefully and understanding the impact our travel choices make on our budget, we’re actually tracking well under our initial travel budget. This encouraged us to extend our career break gap year by another three months to a total of 15 months – and at the end of it we’ll still be under our initial budget.
It’s also quite interesting to see what we have been spending our travel budget on (ha! ‘interesting’ and ‘budget’ in one sentence!). As we track everything by category, we’re able to see for example how much we spend on wine. I won’t reveal the figure but let’s just say we decided to go for cheaper reds after the first six months (because, obviously, it wasn’t about how much we were drinking but about the types of wines we were buying).
Keeping track of your travel budget may sound boring but it’ll ensure you can keep traveling (and may help you cut down your wine consumption). Here are our top travel budget tips we’ve picked up over the past 13 months of travel.
10 tips for keeping your travel expenses on track
- Have your total travel budget and a set daily budget worked out well before you travel. Use travel budgeting tools such as Budget Your Trip, or one of the many fantastic travel blog resources such as Eliot Peper’s handy excel tool.
- Keep track of your expenses every day. It’ll help you to not go over budget and also give you an idea what you’re spending your money on. There are many expense tracking apps that are super helpful and easy to use – we use iXpenseIt.
- Stick to your allocated daily budget whenever you can, but don’t forget to have fun either. If you have a big day or two because you really wanted to go volcano boarding or skydiving, that’s ok. You don’t want to make it ALL about sticking to your budget all the time. Just try to go under budget the next couple of days to even it out.
- Small adjustments to your travel spending habits make a big difference. Even if you are not on a shoestring budget, the choices you make on the road have a big impact on your budget, especially on longer trips. We utilize public transportation, stay in airbnb or similar accommodation rather than hotels, cook whenever we can rather than eat out, and do a lot of ‘self-guided’ tours. For example the free TripAdvisor City Guides app has some great self-guided walking tours in many cities around the world.
- Stick to your ‘travel budget principles’ – aka ‘the art of choosing the marginally less attractive but cheaper option’. Even if there’s just a few dollars’ difference, we always choose the cheaper option from two relatively comparable items. For example a slightly smaller motel room doesn’t really make a difference in your level of comfort and can save a few bucks. It all adds up over time! And sometimes the differences can be substantial. We have chosen to fly with some less than ideal connections (e.g. longer lay-over times or super early flights) and saved hundreds of dollars between the two of us. When you’re traveling long term, a couple more hours spent at an airport is not a big deal.
- Avoid popular destinations during peak periods, if you can. Favor traveling to popular destinations during shoulder or low seasons to keep costs down. The busiest periods can see a huge peak in costs. This is an obvious one but I had to list it as it’s tempting to think peak season price differences wouldn’t be that great. We were well aware how popular European destinations are in summer but what did we do? We still went ahead and stayed in Europe over the summer months. It pretty much felt like the whole population of the planet was in Paris at once, and prices were certainly reflective of that.
- Don’t forget to check for national and local holidays and events in your planned destination. We stayed in Samara, Costa Rica all of December and over the Christmas and New Year period. What was a charming, small and quiet town for the first three weeks of our stay suddenly transformed into a party town the week leading to Christmas. And it wasn’t just the foreigners flocking in, but the Costa Rican tourists that really packed in because there was a popular rodeo in town. Tents were erected on the beach and in backyards, the local Pali supermarket ran out of some goods and there were traffic jams on the little road snaking through town. The cost of accommodation skyrocketed that week and there wouldn’t have been a single room available in the whole town. Luckily we had booked our accommodation over the whole month so didn’t get caught out, however the busyness and sudden peak in prices was a surprise. We can only blame ourselves for not doing our research on local events.
- Keep purchases on the road to a minimum (or allocate a portion for shopping in your travel budget if you must). What a killjoy, I know. But this really helps save your budget for the essentials. I would have loved nothing better than to shop to my heart’s content in Paris and New York but it would have ruined our budget (and made my luggage too heavy – see my ‘Tips for Packing: How and What to Pack For Long-Term Travel’ post for my no-room-for-shopping packing list).
- Don’t be afraid to adjust your travel plans as you go. If you’re worried about going over budget, heading to budget-friendly destinations and traveling slow will help you immensely. For example we were quite set on going to South America initially, however we were experiencing a little travel fatigue after a whirlwind first six months of travel. So we decided to leave South America for another time in favor of traveling slower in Central America. This decision helped us to both recharge our ‘travel batteries’ and really rein in our budget. Note: If you are planning on purchasing round-the-world (RTW) tickets this may not be quite as easy to do as you will have significantly less flexibility. This was the main reason we decided against RTW tickets and instead have just purchased flights as needed on the road. See more on RTW vs pay as you go flights in Steve’s post on ‘Gap Year Travel Planning Part 1‘ (under Question 4).
- Pick and choose not only destinations but things you do in places you visit. You can’t see and do every single thing everywhere. Trying to cram it all in is not only stressful but expensive.
Traveling on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun. It just means you need to make some choices along the way. When you track your expenses you get the full picture of your budget and spending. This allows you to take control of your travel finances, have an early intervention if your spending is getting out of hand, and ensures you can keep traveling.
For more travel budgeting and saving tips see our ‘Travel Budget: Tips and Tools for Budgeting and Saving for Your Big Trip‘ page.
Let us know if you have travel budget tips you want to share with us, we’d love to learn more!