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How to Plan Your Travel Budget
Calculating your travel costs before you step out the door
Preparing a travel budget is a thankless task, with endless calculations and often iffy results. It’s a bit like throwing a handful of hay to the wind and expecting it to fall back to the ground in a perfect pattern. In other words, the outcome is often unpredictable.
Perhaps you already have a room like this one at home... if you don’t, you can always save up for one by trimming your travel budget, right? Just kidding. (Apollo Gallery, Louvre)
Travel can be expensive - but there are ways to bring costs down.
Where do you start? By using other travelers' experiences, of course, tips and advice from people who have done it before and are sharing what they know.
To make your travels easier I've compiled a list of some great blog posts and tools that take you step by step through planning and adjusting your travel budget.
Spreadsheets and checklists to help you calculate your total budget
You have to start by laying out what you think you'll be spending. Instead of illegible scribbles on a scratchpad, these spreadsheets and checklists will help organize your thinking.
- Independent Traveler: a simple budget calculator that tells you what your next trip will really cost – in USD and British pounds. It’s also a handy reminder of some things you might have forgotten.
- Practical Money Skills: similar but throws car trips into the mix. (You can also estimate the cost of a road trip with Travel Math.)
- Transitions Abroad: also shows you how to create a reliable checklist for your travel budget but comes with plenty of additional advice.
A more extensive and sophisticated approach can be found on Take Your Big Trip, which provides additional resources for your budget and shows you exactly how to figure out your daily costs.
Cost of living in countries: figure out how much things cost abroad
A number of sites provide information on travel costs by country or by region. These are especially handy if you're visiting several countries at a time. (Because some of these sites provide information in local currency, drop by xe.com if you need to convert to your own currency.) Here goes.
- Budget Your Trip: helps you estimate, plan and track your travel expenses to over 2000 cities.
- Travel Independent: provides country summaries (and all sorts of other great information) on individual countries. I've been using this site since its early days.
- Solo Travel: this calculator tells you how much you'll have to spend in Europe, Asia and the Americas - and not at the backpacking end of the spectrum.
- Expatistan: compares the cost of living in thousands of cities around the world (mostly for expats but great information for travelers too).
- Saving for Travel: this one is simple - it tells you how much you'll spend in a certain country depending on the number of weeks you stay.
And now let's break it down
The sites above help you compare countries or look at global costs. The following posts dive deep into each country or region - the specifics! Not for every part of the world, of course, but for quite a few.
Europe: As always, you can count on Transitions Abroad for solid information (like the cheapest seasons for airfare, for example). Here is yet another calculator - this time, though, it's for Europe only (from Route Perfect). Desperate to see Paris? 20 Years Hence provides a budget breakdown for a couple. Budget Traveller, the Savvy Backpacker and Rick Steves all provide some great budget tips for Europe, each from a different perspective. Scandinavia isn't easy on a budget - but The Fashion Spot provides some hope. Even the New York Times's Frugal Traveler can't bring costs too far down here.
Southeast Asia: Here's a backpacker budget from Indie Traveller. This discussion thread on Travelfish (a great Southeast Asia site) will provide some on-the-ground info. Digging deeper, here's Travel Freak's budget take on Thailand, GoNomad looks at the Philippines, Borders of Adventure costs Myanmar, Hippie in Heels travels India on the cheap and Nomad Travel Girl counts pennies in Vietnam.
Northeast Asia: Japan Guide has a detailed breakdown for all budgets in Japan. For China, here's an overview from Goats on the Road, while China Mike provides a snapshot of various price points.
Africa: Africa, in all its diversity, is hard to budget for but... Helen in Wonderlust provides some clues and for South Africa, check out Be My Travel Muse.
Central and South America: Expert Vagabond posts costs for Honduras and Go Backpacking shows us an affordable Costa Rica. Lengthy Travel looks at costs overall for South America.
North America: Nomadic Matt excels on this part of the world (he's got some good tips for Canada, too).
Australia and New Zealand: Here's a New Zealand budget from Our Big Fat Travel Adventure. Y Travel Blog shows you how to keep costs down in (expensive) Australia.
Long-term, full-time or RTW travel
The longer you plan to travel, the harder it is to estimate your costs, especially if you'll be visiting a number of countries. Not only do costs vary from country to country, but over time they might change - a massive devaluation or economic crisis, for example.
These reports are all valid for the time at which they were reported, so bear that in mind as you read. Even the older posts, however, are worth reading; some contain excellent resources or additional budgeting tips.
- A Little Adrift: an extensive resource with an incredibly useful spreadsheet of Shannon O'donnell's own expenses. You'll find her 2008-2009 11-month budget here but make sure you download her blank RTW budget spreadsheet for your own use!
- Bootsnall: 11 RTW travelers share their exact budgets for travel.
- RTW Expenses: showcases real costs of a couple traveling around the world for three years (2010-2013)
- Globetrotter Girls: expenses for six months of backpacking in the Americas in 2010.
- Gigi Griffis: a one-year budget for a full-time traveler (posted in 2014).
- Breakaway Backpacker: two years and 30 countries (posted in 2013) on a backpacker's budget.
- Le Big Trip: a year through Asia and the Americas (posted in 2015).
- My Funky Travel: travel cost estimates on a sliding scale from least to most expensive countries.
How to actually plan your travel budget
What do you actually include in your budget? What proportion should go to accommodation, and how much should you set aside for food? Is there anything you can do without, or substitute? What steps do you actually have to take to get your budget done?
- Bootsnall: an amazing planning resource. While it tends to be angled at longer-term travel, that doesn't matter. This is the gold standard and wildly useful.
- Wild Junket: a step-by-step process that shows you exactly what you have to do to end up with a travel budget.
- Maphappy: this article shows you how to prioritize high-ticket items and isn't aimed at the backpacker crowd.
Tips, tips and more travel budget tips
You know those things you forgot to budget for? If you read these posts there's a good chance you won't forget - and plan for a few extras too.
- Budget Travel looks at 7 outreageous travel fees that can blindside you and how to prepare for them, and Lifehack suggests 10 travel expenses to include in your budget. There are a few overlaps but - at least you won't forget.
- These tips from Gadling are just reminders. You know all this - you just needed to remember.
- Finally - do you love apps? Can't live without them? These two should help your travel budget: Trail Wallet and Google's Trabee Pocket.
Have you got any other great travel budget resources? If so please do share them below.