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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
And finally, here are some great travel budgeting tips from some of the world's top travel bloggers: see what they have to say about getting the most out of your travel funds.
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.