What is the number one barrier that comes to mind when you think about traveling for an extended period of time? Chances are finances come to mind. “I don’t have enough money” is one of the top reasons why people put off dreams of travel. Often people don’t even allow themselves the possibility of long-term travel because it’s already written off in their minds.
We are here to bust the myth that traveling is only for the wealthy, with some practical and realistic tips on how to budget for your perfect trip. Chances are, it’s far more possible to travel than you think!
Myth debunked - travel is only for the wealthy
Let’s face it, travel when you have a large supply of funds can make the experience more streamlined and luxurious. If it’s 5-star travel you’re after, then yes, your finances will need to be built up and managed accordingly prior to your trip. The more money you have, the less advanced planning you need because it’s more likely that you can simply afford what you want and you have room for change. You can book your tickets at any time, for any destination, and you have more choice.
But, most people do not have this luxury. We are here to help you create your dream travel experience from a place of financial empowerment, no matter where you are today.
If you want to stick to a particular budget during your trip, you have to plan. You may have to decide on some trade-offs – giving up some comforts, doing some extra leg work before you depart, and being willing to let go of some expectations. Doing this can actually enrich your travel experience, as it means you have to think outside of the box a little. What counts is to have an unforgettable trip and to have fun, and you don’t need a lot of money for that – just a few tricks on how to spend less and still see a lot of places (or a lot of a single place).
Planning is the key to successful budgeting
If you’re traveling on a specific budget you will need a lot of planning and preparation before your trip. That doesn’t mean that you need to plan every single hour of the day, but you need to have a clear idea of where you are going, how long you’ll stay, how much it costs (and what you are willing to spend), and the quality of the experience you’d like to curate for yourself.
As a reference, Goats on the Road put together a list of their daily budget by location during their long-term travel. The dollar amounts are from 2013 and 2014, but they’ve included over 40 countries and the list can be a good starting place for understanding the relative cost of different countries. Check out their post on Travel Style as well. Coming up with your own Travel Style can help you make some budget decisions before and during your trip.
In addition, finding the right balance between booking in advance and leaving room for improvisation is key! Book as much as you can in advance. See if you can take advantage of promotions or reduce your per-night cost by extending your stay in certain places. Last-minute purchases can get very expensive but they are also sometimes inevitable (and see the note below about booking last minute with travel points). So know how much certainty you’ll likely need to have, and how much freedom you can afford to build into your budget.
Another reason why having a budget helps? Simply put, the less money you spend, the longer your trip can be! So if you are hoping to travel for an extended period of time, and you have a limited budget, ensure you are fully aware of your finances so you can plan accordingly.
Keep in mind: If you need to travel by plane, consider planning a few layovers on the way to your destination. Breaking your trip up can save you some money, although it will cost you time. Traveling on a budget can take longer than flying direct to your location. Choose what is more important to you – time or money.
Time to take advantage of those points!
If you’re planning on traveling, it’s time to look into credit cards with travel benefits. Points are another type of currency you can use to build out your budget.
The keys to travel points are:
- Commit to paying off the balance each month so 1) you are not accumulating debt before you are about to leave, and 2) you are getting the full benefit of the points vs. paying interest to earn them.
- Use the credit card for purchases you would have made anyways. Earning points is not a reason to spend more, especially as you’re planning to spend time away.
- Understand whether the value of the annual fee of the card is worth it for you. Will you use enough of the benefits of the card so the fee is worth it to you? This can be a sabbatical budget item in and of itself, as annual fees can range between $95 to $700 or so.
That being said, points can add up and if you have the opportunity to cash them in for a sabbatical experience, it can feel extra nice to get these points back during your trip!
Tips to Accumulate Points:
- Take advantage of bonus point offering. Want to learn more about potential current offers? Check out One Mile at a Time.
- Accumulate with a goal in mind – earn points for specific things you want to do/places you want to go/stay
- Select which card to pay with for your normal expenses – determine if the card:
- Rewards certain purchases with multiplier points (3x points): Dining, Travel , Gas
- Has certain preferred categories, for example, internet advertising, telecom charges
- Has a rotating category: Grocery, Pharmacy, Gas
PRO TIP: There are also card-dependent benefits for travel that can help cut down on certain expenses, including:
- Travel Credit (automatically refunded) – you can use some cards for travel expenses and have a certain amount credited on your next statement
- Global Entry fee – if you’re planning to apply for Global Entry, get the cost covered through one of your travel credit cards
- Lounge Access – this is a great perk for time in airports. Not only will you be able to sit down in a more comfortable, private area of the terminal, lounges often offer free snacks and drinks to enjoy during your stay.
- Automatic Hotel Status – this often means an opportunity to get upgrades without an increase in cost per night
- Baggage Insurance – if your luggage gets lost, this can cover expenses to replace clothing, etc. until your bag is found
- Rental Car Coverage – know what’s covered so you may be able to skip additional insurance offers from the rental company
Some disclaimers around travel credit cards: Applying for credit cards generates credit inquiries and can negatively impact your credit score. And credit card companies can have rules around how many cards in a certain amount of time they will allow you to qualify for. For example, Chase has a 5/24 rule. Make sure you understand the impact on your personal situation before you apply for any travel cards.
Also look into reward points from airlines or hotel websites such as hotels.com or booking.com.
- You may be familiar with earning airline points for flights, but in some cases, it might be more cost-effective to purchase airline points (even better if they’re having a sale) so you have enough for a specific airline ticket.
- Award Mapper is a nice resource that can help you see what hotel chains are available around the world at various point ranges.You may decide to stay in one particular hotel chain on your upcoming travel to start accumulating points that you can later use during long-term travel.
- With hotels.com, after 10 night stays you get a free night up to the average cost of your prior 10 stays. This is simple to redeem and offers accommodation options all over the world.
Considerations when creating your travel budget
Thinking about budgeting under normal circumstances can be overwhelming, let alone planning for expenses in new cities and at a time when your income might be lower than you’re used to.
So keep it simple. Find an organization system that works for you – a chronological spreadsheet, a tab for each location, a document that tracks your points accumulation plan, or using the “My Maps” feature on Google Maps to track your destinations are all good options. And plan to the level of detail that makes you feel comfortable that you’ll be able to accomplish your sabbatical goals.
When it comes to outlining the numbers, start with categories. Imagine your trip from start to finish, focusing on how you’ll spend money along the way. Then fill in any gaps in the organization system that you’ve decided on above. Consider the following categories as you think through your planned expenses:
This includes how you get to and from your destination and how you get around when you get there. These days, many people are opting out of airplanes and trains in favor of more personal forms of travel, like rental cars. Make sure you’re taking these choices into consideration when you budget for things like gas, food pit stops, and prepping your car for a lot of road time. Then check out your options for how you’ll travel when you arrive—taxis, Lyfts, public transportation or just walking. It could be a good idea to add in some cushion in case your transportation needs shift once you get there. Want some ideas on how to get between two destinations? Take a look at Rome2rio.
Be sure to include taxes and fees for all accommodation while you are away. This is often the part of your trip that requires the largest budget, but when booked in advance (or with points) you’ll rest assured knowing it’s all sorted.
Set yourself a daily budget when it comes to food and drink. If you want to save money, consider staying somewhere with cooking facilities and cook for yourself. It is often a fun adventure to explore local markets and grocery stores, with an added benefit of lower food cost! Another idea can be booking accommodation with breakfast included!
These are all of the ‘doing’ parts of your trip including excursions, treks, tourist activities, classes, tickets, tours, national park fees, gym passes, etc.
Are there any gear items that you want to buy before or during your trip so you’re ready for your planned activities? Things like camera gear, camping gear, new luggage or carry-ons, footwear, and outerwear can add up, so be sure they’re included in your overall budget. For ideas on gear that can make your travel experience just a little nicer check out this post.
This includes all the admin stuff in travel life, including health and travel insurance, visas, SIM cards, annual credit card fees, and other expenses.
Think adapters, extra chargers, clothing for different climates, wellbeing essentials, etc. Any extra bits that are needed for your travels.
PRO TIP: Don’t forget any payments that need to be made back home while you’re away such as rent, bills, insurance premiums, taxes, phone contracts, subscriptions, etc. Ensure these are a part of your budget so that you can return home stress-free with no unexpected (or unpaid) expenses. And if you’re leaving for an extended period of time, ask yourself if you can reduce any of these costs.
Decide on your ‘splurges’
With all the talk about budget, many people start to try to think in terms of reducing costs as much as possible. But true budgeting allows for real expenses, including splurges! Decide what parts of your trip you want to splurge on – maybe you want nicer accommodations in certain destinations and you’re willing to cook more and eat out less at other points during your travel? Maybe food is your priority and you aren’t so bothered about staying somewhere luxurious. Whatever it is, know what elements of your trip you want to really invest in.
The power and importance of a financial ‘buffer’
In a perfect world, we would create our budget, and stick to it, and all would be well, but sadly life can get in the way. Once you’ve finalized your full budget, make sure you have room to maneuver.
Unexpected costs are highly likely to occur -shipping things home, replacing a broken cell phone or laptop, insurance premiums that you still have to pay, extra travel costs (new plane ticket, extra nights in a hotel) when your travel plans go sideways, last-minute adventure excursions – you’ll find that once you are away you may need a little more than you think.
One way to account for this is to add up your expected expenses and then add a percentage to the total – maybe 10-25% – as a buffer. This is an amount that’s not allocated to anything specific, but that can be available in the case that the unexpected occurs.
PRO TIP: Remember to build in a buffer to help you transition back to life at home too. For example, a few months’ worth of rent and living expenses so you can have time to find a job upon your return, increased car insurance expenses since a gap in insurance can increase costs, a budget for new clothing since travel can be tough on clothes, a new phone or computer since yours may be outdated by the time you come back, etc.
Save on travel costs by putting extra time in to do your booking
One way to save on travel costs is to put in extra time. This includes time researching historical costs, tracking price trends, and waiting for sales or reduced seasonal pricing.
It can also include time researching how best to use any travel points you may have accumulated. When cashing in points, it can be helpful to determine the dollar value you are getting out of it. In some cases, it’s actually worth paying cash and saving your points for another part of your adventure where your points will go further. A great resource to learn about the value of different credit card points is The Points Guy.
Here are some specific tips when it comes to booking flights and lodging:
- To compare different ways to get from one destination to another with points, check out the Travel Codex Award Maximizer. You may even find options you didn’t see on the airline website.
- You may have to call the airline to book flights, especially on partner tickets. The airline can help you piece together a cost-effective or efficient itinerary.
- Consider the option of buying a one-way ticket if it will reduce your travel cost
- Look to see if “saver” tickets are available. These are essentially cheaper good seats.
- Take time to look at other departure/arrival airports. For example, try SEATAC vs. PDX vs. Vancouver, B.C.
- Avoid potentially costly surprises like visa restrictions, travel warnings, etc. by checking out WikiTravel.org for each destination.
- If you’re booking Hyatt hotel nights with points, check the box on Hyatt website to get points options to show up.
- Look at all the pictures for an AirBnB property. Make sure your accommodation will be what you expect by ensuring that all “bedrooms” are really a place you can sleep. And double-check that any common spaces or amenities will meet your travel needs. It can be a bummer to have to find last-minute accommodations when your booking doesn’t meet your needs.
3 ways to save money on the go
We’ve talked about ways to save while planning and booking, but there are also ways to save while you’re away:
1. Buy a local sim card instead of using your carrier from home
Using your phone abroad can be costly. If you are going to use it while away, ensure that you know exactly how much it will cost you. You can also consider unlocking your phone and purchasing a local sim card to save costs and any unexpected roaming fees! See this Wiki on prepaid data sim cards for more information.
2. Find free excursions and experiences
Not all experiences require money. Depending on where you are, you can see and experience a lot by simply walking around, and avoiding guided tours. For example, getting out in nature often doesn’t cost a penny. Check out local hikes, walks, and parks, and truly immerse yourself in your location. Plus this is a great way to discover hidden gems that many tourists don’t see when crammed into buses.
3. Use local transport
The cheapest way to get around any country can be by using local transport. This isn’t always doable, especially on longer road-trip style travels but when it is possible, consider using it. Buses, trains, overnight trains, scooters, country-specific transport, etc. – utilizing these options can save you a ton of money and give you an entirely new experience.
If you give yourself enough time to properly plan your trip, and you do your research, traveling within your decided budget can be possible.
If you need help to support your traveling dreams and want to make sure to get your finances ready for your big trip, let us help! Contact us for a 30-minute discovery call and see how you could benefit from the help of a financial planner.
Like this article? Make sure to Pin It so you can go back to it later!