Trip Budgeting 101: Organization is Only Half the Battle

Trip Budgeting 101

If you’re anything like me, you want to make the most out of your time and your money when you’re traveling. Accommodations, transportation, food, those must-do-activities definitely add up, and it’s nice to be able to save money when you can. This is why it is very important to come up with a realistic trip budget, and account for all of your spending. You don’t want to end up without a cab if you need one – because you forgot to account for transportation costs.  Read on for a dose of Trip Budgeting 101.

Trip Budgeting 101:

When I am coming up with a budget for a trip, I typically have a number in my head that is based on my previous travel experience, any knowledge I have about the place I’m thinking of going, and the amount of money I feel comfortable spending. This number is usually somewhere around 2500.00, as I feel that with my personal travel style, I can comfortably get by on this amount almost anywhere. The number will obviously go up or down based on how expensive my destination is, and what I feel comfortable with. Throughout my planning, I will keep this number in mind, and try to stay as close to it as possible.

  • The first thing I do is list the necessities of the trip. Those necessities include:
  • Airfare
  • Hotel
  • Significant travel costs (such as a train ride, another flight, a ferry, or anything that costs more than your standard metro ticket.)

These necessities are things you cannot compromise on. You cannot compromise on getting to your destination and you cannot compromise on having somewhere to stay (well, maybe some of you can – but I don’t sleep outside unless I’m camping.)

Next, you want to have an idea of the things you would like to do while visiting your destination. Do you want to climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower? Go on an overnight safari camping trip? While there are a lot of free things to do while traveling, like exploring and taking pictures, a lot of the things you will want to do are going to cost money. You should have a very good idea of how much your activity budget will need to be. Here is where you can start compromising on things to fit the budget you want to work with. I also recommend including a little bit extra in your activity budget for anything you didn’t think of. You may find something you are dying to do, that you didn’t budget for.

The reason I build my activity budget second, even though there is a lot of room for compromise, is because the things you will experience will make your memories! They are arguably the most important part of your trip!

I accounted for significant travel costs above, but don’t forget about your minor transportation costs. Things like cabs, metros, busses. They may be much cheaper, but they can still add up. In some places you can purchase a pass which allows multiple trips or can be reloadable. (For example, London’s Oyster Card.) Depending on how much walking I plan to do, or how large the city is, I will either buy a preloaded card or by my tickets on a trip by trip basis. Decide what works best for you and budget for that.

Next, you will want to come up with a food and/or daily spending budget. There are many ways you can go about organizing your budget, and the amount you will need depends highly on you, your preferences, and your travel style. Some travelers don’t shop or buy anything extra they will have to carry, some choose to eat as cheaply as possible, some choose to have a separate food budget per day.

Personally, I like to combine my food/souvenir/extra/however-you-want-to-refer-to-it budget into one “daily spending” budget. The reason for this, is that I find it is much easier to keep track of my money than it would be if I had to mentally remember where I’m at with 4 different budgets. Especially when I can only look at one number when checking my bank account. (I’m not even slightly interested in all that mental math.)

So, based on how expensive my destination is, and how much shopping I plan to do – I will choose a designated dollar amount that I am allowed to spend every day. This number includes the food I eat, the things I buy, the extras I did not budget for, that sweatshirt I needed because I was freezing, the extra 5 euro I put on my oyster card (or equivalent) because it ran out a little too soon.

Doing it this way also allows me to compromise on some things for the benefit of other things. I can see what really matters most to me on that day and set my budget priorities accordingly. There is also no fear that I will spend all of my money before the end of the trip – because I know that tomorrow my “daily spending” will be replenished.  Again, your daily spending budget will depend highly on your travel style and shopping and eating habits. If you’re ok with eating nothing but street food and local McDonalds, and not buying any extras – then maybe you will be fine on 30.00 a day.

The important thing to remember when crafting your budget is to account for everything, and bring what you think will make you comfortable.

You don’t want to be scraping by and be miserable, but you should be able to distinguish where you are comfortable cutting some luxuries. I, personally like to shop and bring home things that catch my eye, I’m also big on experiences and food. So I make sure to budget for those things. You should also consider your destination’s local currency. How far is your money going to take you, in the place you are going?

Taking all of that into account, and the fact that I have a small shopping problem – I typically budget around 100 USD  per day. I’m currently planning a trip to Thailand and there it will be much much less, as the USD is worth more, and things are much cheaper there, in general.

I can also say that of all the times I’ve brought 100.00 with me as my daily spending budget, I have almost never spent it all. Unless of course I purchase something expensive (like the leather bag I bought in Florence. Worth it.)

Here’s a blank copy of my budget spreadsheet which I work on in Google Docs. Feel free to download it and fill it out with your own budget, if it works for you! Don’t be afraid to make edits that suit you!

Trip Budget Spreadsheet

So how do you set a budget? Do you prefer to get by on the basics, or are you a shop-o-holic like me?

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