One of the most common questions I get asked about my ability to travel long-term is how I can afford to travel so much? Am I rich? Did mom and dad pay? Do I have a rich uncle? Did I win the lottery?
Before I was able to transform this blog into a business, I spent years traveling the world by doing one thing: I kept track of my spending.
It’s simple and boring.
At the end of the day, just like there’s no secret to travel, there’s also no real secret to making your money last on the road either.
The way to make your money last is to be smart and realistic about your budget and to do your research.
It’s boring, but it’s true.
When I first started traveling, I pinched every penny and saved money every chance I got. While I sometimes lavishly spent money like it was going out of style, I made up for it on other days by staying in and cooking pasta.
In short, I balanced my budget.
I kept a journal of what I spent so I could track my spending and be sure I was staying on budget. (I love when I see travelers keeping a spending journal to track their budget. Those are the travelers who end up staying on budget!)
While on the road (just like at home), there will be unforeseen circumstances that chip into your savings, like missed flights, a lost camera, or a change in plans that leaves you having to pay extra for accommodation. You can’t avoid these sorts of things, but you can plan for them. You can be prepared, know your budget, and make sure you can afford your travels.
Here are five ways to make sure you never run out of money for your trip:
Step 1: Know what you want to spend money on
When I travel, I don’t budget a lot of money for accommodation, tours, or even transportation. I find the cheapest accommodation around and I walk everywhere I can. If I need a ride, I’ll take public transportation or hitchhike!
But I will spend a lot of money on food and drinks.
Because that’s what I want to do! I didn’t pinch pennies back home and avoid going out so I could fly to Australia and spend my nights watching Netflix, nor did I head to France just to cook meals in a hostel every night.
No, not me. I came to live! I came to eat and drink in the culture! I want to go out.
And I’m willing to sleep in massive dorms, on a floor, or walk seven miles to ensure I have the funds to make that happen.
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 account for accommodations. If you are flying to Europe and know you love to drink wine, you should expect that you’ll probably buy some wine.
Be realistic about what you want to do with your travels and budget accordingly.
Step 2: Research and plan before you go
When you know yourself and what you want to spend money on, it’s easy to create a robust budget that will cover you for the duration of your trip. This is where pre-trip research comes in.
Will you be taking any tours or cooking classes?
Going bungee jumping or dancing the night away at a club?
Once you know your interests (at least a bit), you can set your budget.
When I started planning my trip in 2005, there wasn’t a lot of travel information online. I spent a lot of time reading guidebooks and searching for any information I could find about prices. I pieced together an intricate spreadsheet of how much I would spend each day in various places based on how much I could save and what I found online.
These days, you don’t need to go that crazy when you plan your trip, because there is so much information available online about prices. You can literally Google the price for anything you want!
If you want to make your money last, you need to know exactly how much you think you’ll spend.
Too often I see travelers get blindsided by unexpected costs, breaking their budget to pieces. Sure, something will always happen that you don’t predict, but people mostly get blindsided by stuff they should have anticipated.
“Wow! That tour is so expensive. I blew my budget!” “I didn’t expect drinks would cost so much!” “This place is more expensive than I thought.”
I just shake my head when I hear these comments, because these are people who clearly didn’t do any planning.
Don’t be like these people. Do your research, plan ahead, and avoid the pitfalls that will send you home far sooner (and far poorer) than you want.
Step 3: Create your ideal budget
Create a budget for what you think travel will cost. Write down all the things you want to do, where you want to do them, and how much they will cost. Account for your food, insurance, transportation, flights, accommodation, booze, activities, and anything else you think will be relevant.
If you need help budgeting or don’t know how much something will cost, ask someone from our online travel forum — somebody will definitely be able to help!
Step 4: Match your expectations to your economic reality
I cut a lot from my ideal budget and itinerary based on how much I knew I was going to actually save for my trip. If I wanted to do things that totaled $10,000 USD but was only going to save $7,000 USD, then I had to make cuts to match my financial reality.
Step 5: Keep track of all your expenses
Finally, after you have created your realistic budget and set out on the road, you need to track all of your expenses. 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.
By tracking every expense — from hostel dorms to that snack you bought — you can see if you’re on track or if you’re overspending (in which case you can correct your spending).
This is the most important thing you can do to make your money last!
If you only do one thing, track your spending! Sure, you have to remember to do it, and it’s easy to forget, but actively doing this will ensure you become a better budget traveler, and soon it will become a habit.
You can keep track of it all in a journal (I use a Moleskine notebook) or use an app like:
- Trail Wallet
I suggest tracking your expenses for a few weeks at home before your trip to get in the habit. That way, when you’re on the road, it won’t feel like a chore. Here are some free budgeting templates you can use to get started.
Your budget will only last as long as you planned it to last. If you plan your budget well, it will last until the end of your trip. No matter what you do, write down your expenses!!! Keeping track of your expenses will allow you to make adjustments as you go and ensure that your travel money lasts as long as you want.
Do I ever go over budget?
Of course. But I make up for it on other days. Because it’s a lot easier to make up an extra drink than a tour to Great Barrier Reef or constantly going over your accommodation budget.
By planning and tracking like a financial ninja, those things are not likely to happen. That means more days on the road, more adventures, and more awesome travel experiences.
The better you know yourself and create a budget based on that, the longer your money will last when you travel!
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