No matter which way you spin it, travel costs money… and, usually, it costs quite a bit of it.
Depending on the type of traveller you are, this post may or may not be of any use to you. I considered, at first, writing this post about “how to budget / plan for travel” in general, but then I realized that approach was WAY too broad. Depending on how you like to travel and what your priorities are, etc., it would have potentially left you thinking, “Okay, that doesn’t apply to me at all”. So instead, based on the numerous times I have been asked the question, “How can you afford to travel so much?!”, I’ve decided to just share my methods of madness with you, and you can take what you want from it — Maybe there is a thing or two in here that can be of use to you!
So, without further ado, here are 10 steps I take for planning my travels!
Analyze my funds
Now, usually this step takes place around end of August / early September. As a student, I’ve usually spent a great deal of my summer working and saving as much money as I can — So, during this time, I tend to have an actual lump sum of money I can work with – big or small. The first thing I do is write a list of all the usual expenses I have in 1 month. My “monthly expenses” list generally includes things like: tuition, rent, food, and an “ish” amount I’m likely to spend on going out with friends, and on ‘extras’ (factoring in any other income that might be generated during the month, like a part-time job, of course). I multiply this total by the number of months I need it to last me (this obviously changes depending on my situation and where I am) and then subtract this from my lump sum to find my ‘potential travel funds’.
So, basically: lump sum of saved money + extra outside monthly income – monthly expenses x months I need to survive = POTENTIAL TRAVEL FUNDS!
Schedule vacation times
Next is to take a look at my calendar for the year. Like I said, as a student, this usually revolves around a September-September calendar for me. I find where I have time off school for holidays, important events, long weekends (I can take advantage of these a bit more in Europe since most flights are much shorter, AND CHEAPER, than those leaving to go pretty much anywhere from Canada), etc., and these dates obviously then become the dates that give me open windows to travel.
The next thing I do is research the absolute crap out of places I can fly to during my scheduled time slots. Now, like most people, I do have a bucket list. I have specific places that I have always wanted to go to, and I have destinations I have dreamt about visiting time and time again. But, the way I look at it is, I have a lifetime of travel to do and, ultimately, a never-ending list of places I want to see (since, you know, my bucket list actually contains nearly every country in the whole world). Therefore, while I’m a broke student, why not visit all the places I can actually ‘afford’ for now and save the luxury dream vaca’s for later in life when I don’t have student loans? Not to mention, a lot of these ‘more affordable destinations’ have been places I never previously considered visiting and, in the end, have completely and pleasantly surprised me!!
This decision has worked for me so far and, I believe, has allowed me to travel way more than I could if I were doing it differently. So, when I am researching where to go, I look at three main things:
- How expensive is it to get there?
- How expensive is it to be there? (click here for numbeo – a site I use to compare cost of living amongst prospective countries)
- What are the main things I would want to do, and what do they cost?
Factoring in these 3 things generally bumps my list down pretty quickly. In addition to this, I’m currently traveling quite a bit with my partner and we’re trying to visit places neither of us have been. He’s quite a seasoned traveler as well, so this shortens the list even more.
Set the budget
Considering my list of prospective countries, I factor what each of the locations might cost me for X amount of time. Then, I compare prices with my budget and take a look at what can work and what can’t. I set my budget for the trip and I choose my destination. Also, for the record, I always OVER-budget. I’ve learned, by this point, that things always goes wrong when you travel, no matter how experienced you are — cab rides, unexpected meals, or other extra expenses are just a reality. It’s better to end your trip having spent less than you budgeted than having blown your budget, and feeling awful about it once the post-travel glow wears off.
The budget has been set. The destination has been selected. It’s time to make this trip a priority! I’ll set a picture of my destination as the background on my laptop, or as the lock screen on my phone, if I have to, but either way, I always try to find some way to keep in mind what I’m looking forward to!
In order to accommodate travel more, I’ve also made tiny adjustments in my day-to-day routine. Making these adjustments has added up to small- and big- savings. For example, this girl loves her coffee — I really do! But, when all of my classmates were purchasing their 1 euro espresso at school every day of the semester, I was drinking from my thermos of coffee I made at home in the morning. Think about it, even 1 euro a day… that’s 5 euros a week – 20 euros a month! All of the, what seem to be, ‘tiny expenses’ add up! You can usually save money here and there by just doing something differently. Maybe it’s not with the coffee, but it could be something else!
The other thing that I try to remember, is that I can’t do everything. Sucks, I know. It’s hard to say “no” to things, especially the things I want to do – the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is real. But, priorities need to be set and choices need to be made. I’m not saying to forget having dinner with the crew, or skip date night with the partner, or bail on a friend’s birthday, etc. But #1) This is what the “extras” are for in my monthly budget, and #2) If something unexpected comes up, or my priorities suddenly shift, that’s ok — I just re-evaluate the situation and readjust my budget accordingly. But, regardless, I always try to have my priorities for the month straight and clear to keep me on track.
During this entire process, I’m continuing my research. I always seek out what the best hostels are in the area, and what day trips are available through them – do they offer any kind of discounts or special rates? I also research the things to enjoy that might be free or of little cost. What are some of the potentially more expensive things I want to do? — Are there any Groupons for these things? Are there certain days of the week these things are available to the public for free? (This can be quite common with museums, depending on where you go). Additionally, while looking into these things, I always make sure to check out the best and the worst reviews. This can be a good indication of any warnings I should maybe consider, or can give me the, “oh… that’s it?” *eye roll*, and the confidence to add it to my list. Either way, you get a better taste of what to expect by looking at both!
For me, I’m mostly interested in cultural activities that help me learn about the country and its history. However, I’m not much of a museum person. With this, I tend to focus my research on what the most traditional food and beverages are that I need to try, and any local landmarks of significance, including man-made architecture and impressive natural landscapes. I love reaching out to other travellers through social platforms and “travel groups” (on Facebook, for ex.) to see what other travellers’ recommendations are – or even better, if a local can recommend something!
Keeping in mind that I also love photography, my research always includes places / things I might like to photograph. A lot of this inspiration comes from Instagram, Pinterest, and other blogs.
Book in advance
When I’ve found something hot, I BOOK IT. Especially if it’s during peak tourist season, I try to make sure that I do all my research far enough in advance that I can get into the hostels I want, and get on the tours that I want. If you aren’t 100% on your accommodation, some places, like Hostelworld let you pay a couple of dollars extra for “flex-booking” – something that will totally be worth the peace of mind for some flexibility or cancellation, should you need it. Some things are worth waiting for, others aren’t — Recognize this! Regarding flights, There are a lot of sites that allow you to request email notifications for changes in the prices of flights to a particular destination, but when you’ve got a good deal, don’t risk it. Book it.
Track my spending
This goes for both during my trips and in-between my trips. Have you ever heard of the app called “tricount”? If you haven’t, I’m about to blow your mind! It’s genius. Tricount is a free app that allows you to keep track of what you’re spending, on what, and when, in categorized folders. Not only this, but you will also have the ability to share your individual tricount link with up to 29 other people who are sharing the expenses with you.
For example: You and two of your friends go on 1 week’s holiday together. You paid for the flights, friend #1 paid for the hostel, and friend #2 says they’ll just pay for your stuff during the trip until you’re squared up. Rather than trying to keep a stupid, unlikely to be accurate, note in your notepad and trying to figure out the mental math, tricount just does it all for you! It allows you all to sync the specific account to your individual phones and enables you to each input what you are buying, how much it cost, what date it was purchased on, who paid for it, and who the cost was shared between. It takes no more than several seconds to input the data and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to keep organized! At the end of your trip, you can confidently go into the account and see all the expenses tracked and a clearly stated balance of who owes who how much money.
While this app is truly brilliant for people sharing expenses, I also just use it in my general day-to-day life in order to keep track of my own spending. So right now, I have a tricount that tells me how much I spent in the month of September and a new tricount open for my October expenses. I also do this for my individual trips (ex. “Trip to Bulgaria”– which I have coming up later this month).
I’ve done all the research, I’ve purchased my plane tickets, reserved my spot at my hostel, booked (if necessary) my day-trips or activities ahead of time, set-up my tricount, and all my trusty lists are organized. All that’s left to do, when the time comes, is pack accordingly, look into any last-minute details or co-ordinations with any travel partner(s), and get ready to go! This phase also includes scheduling and attending any medical visits or other appointments that may need to take place before the trip. I make sure that, at this point, I am aware of any cultural expectations, traditions, or ‘shocks’ I am likely to encounter, and I prepare myself for the journey that’s about to take place! For tips on how to prepare for your trip as a more responsible traveler, check out my last blog post here.
Last, but certainly not least, it’s TIME TO GET PUMMMPEDDD!! Heading to the airport and getting on that plane / train / bus / whatever method of transport I might be taking, has to be one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking moments. But, I’m always excited, and I know that whatever I’m about to experience is about to change me forever! I take a deep breath, and begin soaking it all in.
Well, there you have it, guys — 10 steps I take to budget / plan for travel. Please remember that this is very specific to me! I acknowledge that many travellers have different tricks and tips that work for them, but these are some of the ones I have found to work for me in my situation. Hopefully there was something in here that was useful to you in some way though!
Please feel free to leave a comment or send me a message about how you budget and plan for travel! I’d love to hear about it and hear your tips and tidbits — perhaps there is something that will help me out too! 🙂