I get a lot of questions about travel in my inbox. Often the questions are simply “what’s the secret to traveling” and “how can I do what you do“. Lately, I’ve been getting some questions about budgeting and making the money last. How is it that I’ve made my money last so long? This a great question and an important thing to discuss so this blog post is long overdue.
Telling people I have been traveling for three years usually makes them think I am rich- how else could I afford to travel for so long. Well, I’m not. (Though I wish I was!) There’s no secret to travel and there is no real secret to making the money last. The way to make your money last is to be smart about how you spend money and realistic. When I first started traveling, I watched every penny and cut every corner. I also sometimes lavishly spent money like it was going out of style. But no matter how I spent, I always stayed on budget. Because it all starts with the budget. In order to make your money last, you need to start with a good, realistic set of spending expectations.
When I travel, I don’t budget a lot of money for accommodation, tours, or even transportation. I find the cheapest accommodation around or Couchsurf. I don’t do a lot of tours and I walk everywhere. I do budget a lot of money for food and drinks. Lots for drinks. Why? Because that’s what I want to do. I didn’t spend every night at home so I could fly to Australia and not go out or head to France to make meals in a hostel every night. No, not me. I came to live. I came to eat and drink in the culture. Sometimes I go over, sometimes I go under but I always balance out.
The surest way to stay on budget and make your money last is to know what you want to spend it on in the first place. So often travelers get blind sided by unexpected costs that their budget cracks quicker than humpty dumpty. There will always be something you didn’t predict – I didn’t predict having to buy a new camera after falling into the ocean with mine or taking a last minute flight to Fiji from New Zealand to meet friends. Stuff happens on the ride.
But people mostly get blind sided by stuff they should have anticipated. “Wow! That tour is so expensive. I blew my budget.” “I didn’t expect to drink so much!” “This place is more expensive than I thought.” You hear these comments on the road a lot and my response is usually “Why? What did you expect to do on the road?” If you do your research well, you will know exactly how much things cost and you can plan you budget accordingly.
And with that starting question, you should plan a budget and how you will make your money last. If you can eat all your meals in a hostel kitchen then a small food budget is for you. If you plan on Couchsurfing every night of the week, then you don’t need to book for accommodation. If you are flying to Europe and know you love to drink wine, you should expect that you’ll probably buy some wine. Budget for it. Be realistic about what you want to do with your travels.
Moreover, track all of your expenses. I write down everything I spend money on. This way you can keep track of your expenses and know if you need to reduce your spending. The people who have to go home early are always the ones that have no idea how much money they are spending on the road.
Your budget will only last as long as you planned it to last. If you planned your budget well it will last until the end of your trip. And, I can’t say this enough, the easiest way to stay on budget is to know ahead of time exactly what you want to do and the type of trip you want. If you love outdoor activities, over budget because they cost a lot. I know I will eat and drink a lot so I budget accordingly. Do I go over budget? Sometimes. I make it up on other days. But it’s a lot easier to make up an extra drink then a tour to Great Barrier Reef or constantly going over your accommodation budget.
Keeping to a budget is obvious but sometimes the most obvious things are the ones most forgotten.