You’ve worked hard for a few years, diligently saved every cent you could, and now you are ready to start that big travel adventure! The research has been done, flights are booked and before you know it you’re sipping cocktails on a beach in Thailand with no end date in sight! You’re finally living the dream! But the hard part is far from over. Now that you’ve taken that incredible step towards a life of long-term travel, you need to learn how to stretch your money out as far as possible. Certain parts of the world like Southeast Asia and Latin America are famous for being cheap, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible to spend all your money in only a few weeks. That’s where you need to learn how to stick to your travel budget.
We have been travelling for a long time now, and have finally started to figure out the best ways to manage a sustainable budget on the road. But it didn’t come easy. We made a lot of mistakes as we stumbled our way around the world. At one point we even ended up $25’000 in debt – all on credit cards! Yes we had an incredible time, but most of the debt didn’t come from ticking off bucket-list activities; It came from being careless with our money. After a lot of hard work we managed to get out of debt, save some more money and get back out into the beautiful world. We’ve learnt our lessons, and discovered that the biggest thing we want to do is to travel indefinitely. To help make sure you don’t make the same mistakes we did, we have put together this collection of our 10 best tips for sticking to a travel budget while you’re out on the road. Stick to them and you’ll even manage to check out some expensive parts of the world like backpacking in Japan or travelling across Europe!
Keep Track Of Every Dollar Spent
Every single dollar we spend we write down in a little pocket diary. Every. Single. Dollar. At the end of the week we add up how much we have spent and use it to keep track of where our money goes. Doing this helps to keep us focused on our goals and see where we need to improve on ways to stick to our travel budget. Having the numbers in front of you makes it seem real and really gives direction in your spending habits.
Make A Daily Travel Budget
Yes the biggest tip for sticking to your travel budget is to actually have a budget to start with. Work out how long you plan to be away for and make up a budget. Then stick to it. Our travel budget here in Southeast Asia is $25 a day each. Some days we go over it, but we always make up for this by having a few quiet days to even it out. If you stop caring then you may run out of money a lot sooner than you wanted to.
Cut Back On The Alcohol
Don’t get us wrong, we love a drink or two. But alcohol will cut deep into your travel budget. For an example, the average cost of a beer in Southeast Asia is about $1.50 (give or take). If we have 5 beers each, every night of the year when we are traveling, that works out to be $5,460 annually. That’s nearly 30% of our yearly travel budget! We do love a night out every now and then, but through lots of experience, we have learnt that travel is much more fun without a hangover!
Slow travel has a lot of benefits, but the one we are focusing on now is that it saves you a lot of money. Staying in one place for an extended period of time allows you to work out where the cheapest places are to eat and drink. Depending on your bartering skills, you can make a deal with your accommodation and get a better price for a weeklong stay. You are no longer taking transport every other day, which can really cut into a traveller’s budget. There will be the chance to take a few rest days, where you don’t go to museums or check out awesome tours. This means you can relax by the beach or go for a walk, enjoying the downtime by doing some free activities. Trust us, the slower you travel, the less you spend.
Catch Public Transport
If the locals do it, why shouldn’t you? This can be one of the biggest fears for first-time travellers to developing countries, but 99% of the time the local bus or train is great. Not only are they really cheap compared to taxis or tourist buses, but they can be very entertaining! Nothing quite like sharing your seat with a local family of 4, their luggage and a goat to give you a fun travel story! Sure it might be a bit less comfortable than taking a private car, but remember – you have a travel budget to stick to! Embrace the public transport, or if you are really adventurous, try hitchhiking.
Eat Where The Locals Eat
Whether it is street food, a hole-in-the-wall eatery or a sit-down restaurant, the locals usually know where the best and cheapest food is! If a place has a crowd you can almost guarantee it will be good. Western-style meals in third world countries are usually expensive and very rarely as tasty as what you can get at home. Don’t avoid the local food just because you think you may get sick. Both fancy restaurants and street vendors all buy their food from the same markets. If the locals are eating there, it is probably safe.
Stay In Cheap Accommodation
Accommodation is usually the biggest day-to-day cost of any traveller’s expenses. In many countries dropping a few hundred dollars a night on a nice hotel room is very easy to do. But this is counter-productive to your long-term travel goals! If you are travelling indefinitely you should be outside exploring everything that the world has to offer, not sitting around in a robe watching TV back in your room. If you are on a holiday, then of course, take a much-needed break and relax. But long-term travel is not a holiday – it is a way of life.
Choose to stay in small locally-run guesthouses or homestays, or find cheap hotels on the edge of town. In many countries these cheap accommodation are pretty clean and comfortable, and offer the basic necessities a traveller would need such as a bed, running water and a door. Really, what more do you need? To help keep your costs down as well try CouchSurfing. Just remember though, CouchSurfing isn’t just about free accommodation.
Shop At The Markets
Local markets are great, and usually very cheap! If you are looking at buying anything from fresh fruit, to souvenirs or new clothes, the markets are the place to go. The stalls usually have far lower overheads than stores do, and as a result their products are cheaper. If your accommodation has a kitchen, or you travel with a portable stove, you can buy all your meat and vegetables from the markets to cook yourself. Two great travel budget tips in one!
Don’t Buy Things You Don’t Need
This should be obvious, but you’ll be surprised how hard it is to not buy that funky trinket or custom-made shoes as you travel along. If you are only on a short holiday, then go for it! But if you are planning on being on a long-term adventure, seriously consider holding off on any impromptu purchases. If it is something you have always wanted, then that is a different story. But if we had bought every single wood carving and painting we had liked, we would be broke. Plus we would need a truck to carry all the extra gear! For souvenirs we collect small denominations of money from every country we travel to. Takes up far less room and sometimes only costs 5 or 10 cents.
Don’t Give Up!
Trying to stick to a travel budget is hard work, but don’t lose sight of your goal. After a few months on the road staying in basic accommodation it can be very tempting to go out and splurge on a fancy hotel room and a 5 course meal. To be honest, sometimes you deserve it. Just don’t make it a regular occurrence. The longer we have been on the road the more we appreciate how far we can stretch our money. Remember, you will never remember that great night’s sleep you had in a $200-a-night hotel, but you sure will remember only forking out $10 on a room so you can spend $190 on a once-in-a-lifetime activity. Long-term travel is hard, and so is sticking to a budget. The rewards however, are always worth it.
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