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A Solo Female Guide to Planning Your Travel Budget Before You Go

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. I often find that women who travel solo have the mistaken belief that just because they are on their own, their trip will cost less and that worrying or planning is pointless. I couldn't agree less!

Solo travel can be expensive and drawing up your travel budget ahead of time is one of the best ways of keeping those costs as low as possible.

Louvre Apollo GalleryPerhaps 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 and you can often travel even if you're almost broke.

Where do you start? By using other travelers' experiences, of course, with 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 budget for travel. 

But first, a brief look at startup costs

As sources, I've used solo female travelers where I could, but where I found no information, I tried to stick with solo travelers generally. Occasionally, the only breakdowns I could find were for couples, so I've used those as well.

How to budget solo travel: things to think about before you even start

Remember that in addition to budgeting for your actual travel, there's also what you'll spend getting ready to leave - the startup costs, the upfront expenses. Here are just a few examples of the kinds of things you'll have to keep in mind:

  • You'll have to choose a backpack, which can set you back anything from $30 to $300 and more.
  • Then there's the rest of your travel gear and accessories: clothes, good boots and shoes, and the various products - creams, toothpaste and other toiletries. My travel packing list can help you decide what to take.
  • Your international travel vaccinations can be quite steep if your insurance doesn't pay for them. Check with a local travel clinic or your doctor.
  • Don't forget to cost your first aid kit checklist if you're heading out into the wild.
  • The various visas to different countries can cost hundreds of dollars, not to mention the photographs you'll have to provide for each visa.
  • You'll have to factor in the cost of travel and health insurance, especially if you come from a country like the United States, where health insurance is private and costly.
  • What about what you're leaving behind? Any rent to pay while your place sits empty? Pet care costs? Furniture storage?
  • And finally, there's the cost of international transport, your flights, for example...

This gives you a taste of the kinds of things you'll have to keep in mind. All of these may not apply but if you're heading out for any length of time, you will have to be organized.

Trip budget planners and budget calculators

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.

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.

How to travel on a budget: 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.

Planning a trip to Europe

South and Southeast Asia travel

Travel budgets for Northeast Asia

Africa travel budgeting

Central and South America travel budgets

Trip budgets for North America

Australia and New Zealand travel budgets

How to travel the world on a budget - 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 travelers share their exact round the world trip budgets.
  • 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.
  • Do you love apps? Can't live without them? These two should help your travel budget: Trail Wallet and Google's Trabee Pocket.

Some final travel budget considerations

A word of warning: In some places these travel costs will be way off for safety reasons. This is especially true where being a solo woman is difficult, for example in a low-end hostel in a riskier part of town. Most often this is not the case, but be forewarned - if the region you're visiting on your own is unsafe, plan to stay in more secure - and therefore more expensive - accommodation.

You'll also have to contend with additional costs - safari entrances, canopy tours, cookery courses and the dreaded single supplement. You may not know how much each of these activities will cost, but I tend to budget $100 per activity. They may be cheaper but this keeps me in the ball park.

Once you've figured out how much to take with you, you'll have to decide how to take it with you. There are plenty of ways you can carry your money (these days I tend to aim for prepaid or credit cards) but I also carry cash. Remember to hide any money, cash or otherwise, in a travel money belt or similar accessory.

And remember, you might be able to stretch your money... You could find a job or work online to earn money on the road. You could sign up for volunteer work: not only will you be doing some good and making a difference, but if you volunteer locally, chances are you'll be able to stay with a family in the longer term at very little cost. If you do continue to be a paying traveler, there are plenty of budget hostel accommodation options along the way.

I left home for a one-year RTW trip with $11,000 to my name. I ended up traveling for more than three years on this amount, working along the way as a writer (with a few less glamorous jobs thrown in). Had I run out of money, I would have simply come home sooner or found more work. 

Do you have other great travel budget resources to suggest? If so please do share them below.

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