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How to Create a Travel Budget (So You Don’t Run Out of Money Overseas!)
Creating a travel budget for your first trip can be hard and time consuming. BUT, the pain you’ll experience from not doing it will be so much worse.
By not having a detailed travel budget outlined before you go, the chances are that you’ll:
- Run out of money before you’ve really started
- Stress about all the extra unanticipated costs you’ll incur during your trip
- Have to ask family for help to get you home
- Have to end your trip early with your tail between your legs, because you didn’t budget your money appropriately
Trust me, it’s not fun.
Not budgeting enough money is one of the surest and fastest ways to ruin your entire solo travel experience.
And if travelling solo, there’s little ways to share costs…
This means that you must be extra diligent in tracking your expenses and planning appropriately for your trip.
In this article, I’ll share with you how I create a solo travel budget that actually works.
What You Need to Account for Before You Travel
Before we even consider the fun stuff of booking flights, accommodation and tours, the #1 thing you should be considering is :
- What do you need to pay for before you even board the plane?
This is common #budgettingfail of many solo travellers and is commonly overlooked.
Here’s a Classic Example:
You work out that you have $20K MAX to put towards your first solo trip.
You book a 4-month tour and estimate that it’s going to cost you approx. $5K per month.
You carefully calculate the cost of accommodation, food and transport in your monthly budget and feel pretty chuffed with yourself.
Yet, 2 weeks before your departure date, SHIT HITS THE FAN!
You realise that there’s so much more than you thought that you need to buy before you leave! Most of which you didn’t even consider.
- A new backpack: There goes $400.
- Vaccinations: There goes another $100.
- A new jacket: There goes another $300.
- The list goes on….
Before you know it, you’ve spent $5,000 in those 2 weeks alone. This leaves only $15K of your original $20K budget to split over your entire journey. It’s now very apparent that you’re not going to make it the distance…
Now, obviously, these numbers are just for demonstrative purposes.
Please don’t start messaging me being like “Well I can travel for less than that per month … blah blah.”
No shit Sherlock.
Travel budgets can vary a lot depending on:
- Where you’re travelling
- Your preferred travel style (luxury vs. backpacking)
- Whether you plan to work or not during your travels and also
- How long you plan to travel
Regardless, working out your pre-travel expenses before you have left for your trip is the first place to start.
TRAVEL BUDGET PART 1: Pre-Travel Expenses
Before I left for my trip to backpack around the world solo for a year, I did a lot of planning into what I needed for my trip. You can read more about my story here.
Key pre-travel expenses for my trip included:
- Travel insurance
- Police checks if volunteering / workaways
- Flights to your first destination
- Bucket List Adventures & Experiences
- Clothing & Equipment
1) Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is a common pre-travel expense that many people try to save as much money on as possible.
Often people will opt for the cheapest insurance they can get, but this usually doesn’t give them as much cover as they think, or value for money.
In my opinion, I like to look for a healthy balance between cost and value provided.
It’s usually in your best interest to keep as much money as you can for your trip, whilst also ensuring that you’re going to be protected and covered if something was to go wrong.
Whether it relates to:
- Driving a car or motorbike in a foreign country
- Riding horses by the beach
- Scuba diving
- Public transport accidents etc.
- Natural disaster
- Bungy jumping
- Sky diving etc.
Travel insurance is something I 100% recommend you spend time on researching, even though it can be boring as hell reading all the T & C’s.
When I travelled, I used CGU Travel Insurance. It cost me $1134 AUD for 12 months, which was quite reasonable.
If you’re needing to find good travel insurance, I definitely recommend that you read this article below;
2) Visa Fees
Before you travel ANYWHERE, you should ALWAYS check if you need a visa.
In most cases, you’ll need to apply for a visa BEFORE you arrive in the country. However, depending on your nationality, there are some places that allow you to get a visa on arrival.
Regardless, it’s always good to check and be proactive.
For my trip, I needed to get 4 visas for Africa (which cost me $250) and also the European Schengen Visa ($80).
If planning to do a big trip (like I did), the costs of Visas can add up quickly. Especially if you don’t account for them.
If unsure on whether you need a visa for a country or not, here is one of my favourite websites that you can check out for advice:
- AUS: https://visalink.com.au/visa-quick-check
- US: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_requirements_for_United_States_citizens. (You may want to find a more reputable source though…)
3) Police Checks
If you’re considering doing a volunteering project whilst overseas, especially with kids, you’ll likely be asked to get a background or police check.
These babies do cost, and yes it can be annoying if you leave it to the last minute.
When I got my police / background check in Australia, it cost me $98.
I’ll admit, it was a fair slap in the face…Particularly, given I’m a typical “do-gooder”.
BUT if you want to enjoy the experience of volunteering (which I 100% recommend everyone to do at least one), then you’ll have to suck it up buttercup and get it done.
4) Home Flights
If you’re Australian, then you’d understand that no matter where you go, you’re probably going to need a sizable chunk of money for your leave & return flights.
Yep, we’re definitely down under…
This means that it can cost us a fair portion of our budget to simply leave the country, if you’re travelling outside of Asia anyway.
Before you start working out your trip’s monthly budget, it’s important to set aside a portion of that budget for your big flights.
This will ensure that no matter what happens, you will always have a buffer to play with, and can always afford the flight back home.
- How to find & book cheap flights (Coming Soon!)
5) Bucket List Adventures & Experiences
If you’re anything like me and enjoy brainstorming your trip before you leave, then this one’s for you.
Most travellers choose a travel destination because there’s something there that they really want to see or experience.
Given this the case, I like to work out what activities or tours are a “must do” for me, or are on my bucket list.
That way I can include them in the travel budget accordingly.
Before I started my world trip, I knew that I wanted to:
- Hike Table Mountain in South Africa
- Visit the Sossusvlei Desert in Namibia, Africa
- Go quad biking in Swakopmund, Namibia, Africa
- Go scuba diving in Zanzibar and the Seychelles
- Have a traditional Hammam Steam Bath in Morocco
- Ride a camel through the Sahara Desert
- Visit the Parisian theatre that inspired the Phantom of the Opera Set
The list goes on.
Having a clear idea of the activities that I wanted to do, and the associated costs of doing them, allowed me to effectively plan $1000 of my travel budget towards them.
It also helped me to save money during my trip and enabled me to say no to other experiences or activities.
6) Clothing & Equipment
If you’ve never travelled overseas before, the largest chunk of your pre-travel budget will probably be taken up with travel clothing and equipment expenses.
Before my trip, I spent $1500 on clothing, equipment and accessories. And, that’s despite having travelled and been overseas before.
If you’re a brand spanking newbie, you may need to spend more than that, but it does truly depend on:
- Where you’re travelling
- The season that you’ll be travelling in
- The length of time. You’ll be travelling for
- What you can afford
- How much you can carry
- Whether you’ll be taking any technology with you
You really do want to consider this when creating your travel budget.
Although some may classify this as travel equipment, I wanted to address first-aid separately.
In my eyes, it is really important.
As part of your travel budget expenses, you MUST account for buying a first aid pack or at least buying the individual products to make your own.
You will want to have:
- A pack of band-aids
- Wound dressing
- Plastic Gloves
- 1-2 Bandages & bandage tape/clips
- Mini Scissors
- A couple of safety pins
- Chlorine Dioxide Tablets (to purify dirty water)
- 1-2 emergency tampons
- Imodium tablets for Diarrhoea Relief
- Gastrolyte powder (Electrolytes to help hydrate you when you’ve been vomiting or have gastro)
- Anti-Malaria Tablets (if needed)
- Worming tablets (yes a bit yuck, but can be really helpful)
- Dettol / Antiseptic cream
- A copy of your vaccinations (if any)
- A list of your allergies / health conditions
Let’s hope that you rarely have to use it, but either way it will always come in handy for blisters, small cuts or if a travel buddy falls and grazes their knee.
No matter where I’m going, I will always pack a small first aid kit.
You should too.
TRAVEL BUDGET PART 2: Travel Expenses
In Part 1 of our Travel Budget segment, I outlined 7 Pre-travel expenses that you should never overlook when creating your budget.
In this section, I’m going to expand on this further by outlining 7 other travel expenses you MUST account for throughout your journey.
If wanting to have an enjoyable and successful trip, creating a travel budget that actually works is imperative.
8) Big Flights
If you’re planning on backpacking rather than staying in hotels, flights will probably be the largest expense in your travel budget.
This does of course, depend on:
- Where and when you’re travelling
- The airline you choose
- The amount of luggage you’ll have
- How far ahead of time you book
In peak travel times airlines bump up the prices.
This means that you’ll pay a lot more for flights during certain times of the year (eg. Summer & School holidays), versus off-peak times.
Before you leave your home country, I encourage you to either:
- Plan and book your main flights in advance, or at least
- Have an idea of how much they’re going to cost you
This allows you to successfully account for them in your travel budget.
I also have several tips to help you save money when booking flights. If this is something that interests you, ensure to check out the article below:
- How to book cheap flights when travelling overseas (Coming Soon!)
Here are my favourite flight booking websites to get the best deals:
9) Domestic Transport
The cost of domestic/ local transport can vary significantly depending on where you’re travelling.
If travelling in Europe for example, you can often find domestic flights as cheap as other forms of transport.
In Europe, everything is super close.
You can book a flight, opt to drive, catch a train or even catch an overland bus for a reasonable price.
Whereas in places like Africa… there’s much less flexibility.
When creating your travel budget, here are some things you’ll want to consider:
- Does the country have a good public transport system?
- Is it safest to book private transfers from the airport to your hostel/hotel?
- Does your hostel/ hostel include airport transfers?
- How do the locals get around?
- Could you save money by buying a local bus or train card?
- Do they have Uber or Taxis?
- Is it cheaper to hire a car?
These are the questions I often ask myself before travelling to a new destination.
It also helps me to estimate how much of my budget is likely to be spent on getting around a country or city.
Here are some of my favourite websites and providers that I use to get around:
- GetTransfer.com (Worldwide)- Cheap transfers for all over the world. Reasonable prices & safe.
- RentalCars.com (Worldwide) – Hire a car so you can have complete flexibility when you travel
- FlixBus (Europe) – Save money & relax with an overland coach to your next destination (Europe only)
- Rail Europe (Europe)- Travel by Train through Europe
Accommodation will probably be your next biggest travel expense to account for in your travel budget.
Again, this will depend on whether you’re planning to stay in hotels, hostels, airbnb’s or save money by couchsurfing or even camping.
If you’re travelling solo, want to save as much money as you can, meet people, stay in cool places and stay safe.
That is why I start first by looking at positively rated hostels, especially if you’ll be travelling alone for the first time.
Before I travel, I like to do my research and get an idea of how much accommodation is going to cost me. I also like to book some of my accommodation in advance.
You can usually cancel free of charge if you change your mind or change your travel plans (within the free cancellation period).
Here are some of my favourite accommodation websites:
- Hostelworld or Hostelbookers:
- Both websites are great for booking hostels. Personally, I prefer Hostelworld as I feel it’s more user friendly, but the choice is yours.
- A good website to use if you have no idea what type of accommodation you want to stay in (eg. Hostel, Hotel or other)
- Can find some really unique and cool places, because it has a lot more variety
- Similar to Booking.com but I feel that there’s less pop-ups and alerts all the time, with a similar range of diversity.
- Sometimes you can also snap up a nice coupon here and there to get discounts.
- Great if you’re wanting to live like a local, or share a room within someone’s house
The next section of your budget should consist of any tours that are “must do’s” or that you’d love to tick off your bucket list.
It’s good to have an idea of what these are going to cost you, so that you can plan around them.
Tours are a great way to meet other travellers, and you can relax whilst the tour guide organises all of the activities and transport. It can be a nice way to have some down time during your trip.
My favourite websites for researching tours are:
- Viator / Get Your Guide
- Both websites are great for researching and booking tours/ activities in your target destination
- Personally, I prefer using Viator because I feel that it’s easier to use, there’s more filtering options and some of the tours look to be cheaper than Get Your Guide.
- This is a great website to use when looking to book a tour of some kind.
- It shows you tours from 3 -21 days plus, and compares tours from multiple providers and agencies
- This saves you from having to go into each individual tour provider’s website. Instead you can compare all tours in one place which is freaking awesome.
- Intrepid Travel & G-Adventures
- These 2 are my favourite tour companies because they focus on ethical, sustainable and conscious travel.
- They also like to use local guides and support local business/ communities in the countries you visit
- Their tours are also listed on TourRadar, so I just use the filters accordingly.
To get an idea of how much you should budget for activities during your trip, follow a similar process as above.
Whether you’d love to explore the Louvre Museum, climb the Eiffel Tower or visit the Great Wall of China, it’s always good to allow space in your budget for your “bucket list” activities.
To get inspiration or ideas for your trip can check out these awesome websites below:
You can also check out these websites too:
Food is something that, if not properly monitored, can easily blow out your budget.
There are many simple ways to prevent this from happening.
My favourite money saving tip for food is to eat out AS LITTLE as possible, especially if travelling alone.
Rocket science ey….
In locations where food is expensive I will typically:
- Buy groceries and cook my own meals at my accommodation (esp. Breakfasts & Dinners) or
- Treat myself to one meal out per day to try local cuisine
The cost of food does vary from country to country though.
In places like Asia where food is super cheap, you can get away with eating out a lot without feeling a major dent in your budget.
But in places like Australia, I promise that eating out for every meal will swallow up all your pennies before you have time to say “tough titties”.
A good way to budget for food is to strive for a $ amount per day.
So, for example, you may set a budget of $50-$100 per day for food.
An additional sneaky tip is to get an insight into the typical cost of living for different cities on Numbeo’s website.
Although the website looks old school, it’s a fantastic way to gain insight into the prices of common goods and living costs in your travel destination.
Here’s an example of the Cost of Food in Melbourne, Australia versus Chiang Mai, Thailand.
I have changed the currency in AUD, which gives me a really good insight into the % difference and how much I should budget per meal.
It also gives you a breakdown of transport, standard groceries, utilities and rent. This can be handy if you are considering living or studying abroad somewhere for a while.
14) Exchange Rates / Bank Fees
Another often overlooked expense that travellers experience whilst overseas is exchange rates and international bank fees.
Every time you change money from one country into the currency of another, you “lose” money from the conversion rate.
This is either because currency doesn’t always convert perfectly into one another and sometimes it is the profit of the vendors who buy and sell the currency from you.
When travelling overseas, your key goal is to reduce your losses as much as you can.
You also want to obtain local currency in a practical way.
Some ways to save money on exchange rates when you travel are to:
- Change money in your home country before you travel
- Use a prepaid/preloaded cash card in US dollars, Euros or Pounds
- Get an International Credit Card
- Get an International Debit Card from your bank
In general, a fair exchange should be around 2-3% difference between the buying and selling prices of a main currency (eg. US Dollar, the Euro, and Pound) and 5-6% for secondary currencies (eg. Australian Dollar, Swiss Franc).
Although it may seem convenient to use your local bank cards overseas rather than exchanging currency or using an international money card, you will pay for it in the long run.
Especially if you plan to be travelling for a long time.
Many banks will charge significant conversion fees when you make purchases on your card internationally.
You may have experienced this already If you do a lot of online shopping… like me!
Travel Expenses that you should include in your Travel Budget
In addition to your pre-travel expenses, creating a travel budget that takes into account your biggest travel expenses will help you to accurately determine how much you’re going to need for your trip.
It will also prevent you from maxing out your budget early.
- Travel Insurance
- Police checks if volunteering / work-aways
- Flights to your first destination
- Bucket List Adventures & Experiences
- Clothing & Equipment
- Big Flights
- Domestic Transport
- Bucket List Tours
- Bucket List Activities
- Food / Cost of Living
- Exchange Rates & Bank Fees