- When travelling, creating and maintaining a budget is essential.
- From researching your destinations in advance to using money-tracking apps, there are many tactics that can help you do so.
- Here are seven ways to create and manage your travel budget.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
For more than two years, I’ve been living and travelling abroad, mostly in Europe. As a digital nomad, I work remotely and tend to switch countries every one to three months.
While many of my expenses are less than what I spent living in my hometown of Los Angeles, having a budget – and sticking to it – is still necessary. It’s easy to overspend when you’re not in your home country, and no one wants to have to cut a trip short because they have exhausted all their money.
So, coming from someone who’s made a living working and travelling abroad, here are seven my best budgeting strategies, whether you’re on a quick vacation or a long-term visit in another country.
Figure out what you can afford to spend and make goals in each major spending category
Everyone’s travel budget is different. For instance, as a budget traveller, I aim to spend up to $US25 a night or $US750 a month on housing, usually renting my own Airbnb or a room in someone’s house. With a little research and negotiating, I’m able to meet this monetary goal more often than not.
If I end up spending more than $US25 a night, I reduce my budget in another area, such as food. For instance, I’ll spend less per week on groceries or eat out less often. Or, I’ll stay with friends or family for a week, or a few, to make up for the unexpected housing cost increase.
Use travel and currency apps
Apps also come in handy while balancing travelling and budgeting.
One travel must is the XE app, so you can quickly see how your location’s currency measures up to your currency back home.
Meanwhile, Trail Wallet tracks your spending by the trip or month. You can set a daily budget, add your expenses, and see how you’re doing – and where you’re overspending, such as on transportation or food.
To see your whole trip at a glance, the TripIt app is helpful. Once you download it, each time you book something, like a flight or rental car, you forward the reservation to [email protected] and it’s added to your master itinerary. Not only can you access the app and your itinerary when you’re offline, but you can also share it with others to keep them in the loop.
To better track your spending, pay in cash
As someone who didn’t use credit cards during my first two years of living abroad, I learned to withdraw a certain amount of cash each week with my debit card – and I stuck to that amount. This way, I’d avoid extraneous ATM fees each time I used one that was out-of-network, which was 100% of the time.
Otherwise, I’m charged hefty foreign transaction fees – which add up fast – such as 3% with every purchase when using Chase’s Freedom debit card. So now, I use my debit card and visit ATMs as little as possible while continuing to pay in cash as often as possible.
In addition, certain cities tend be cash-only more than others. For instance, I was surprised how many restaurants didn’t accept cards in Berlin, whereas it’s the norm in Reykjavik. Also, if you find yourself at street fairs and farmers’ markets, or negotiating housing, having the country’s currency on hand will be to your advantage.
However, if you do use credit and debit cards on your trip, make sure the one you’re using doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. For instance, Charles Schwab’s Bank Visa Platinum debit card is a good option. Plus, the company will reimburse you for any ATM fees that were not in your network.
To save money, visit tourist hotspots during their off-season
An easy way to save money – and reduce your travel budget on everything from airfare to housing – is by visiting places during the off-season.
Not only will a quick search prove this theory correct, but I also know from firsthand experience.
I spent most of May to July 2017 in Dubrovnik, Croatia, which quickly became my favourite city in the world, from its charming cobblestone streets to the idyllic aqua-blue Adriatic Sea. However, it’s only my favourite city in the world from September to June.
There was a stark contrast between being there in May (off-season) versus July (full-on tourist season) – everything was cheaper and less crowded in May. In July, even restaurant menus had higher prices.
During the off-season, I spent about $US25 a night on housing in the city’s Old Town district – renting a room in someone’s home – and that price nearly quadrupled once tourist season hit, which was my sign to go to a more affordable city.
If you’re looking to stick to a travel budget, make sure you’re vacationing at the right time of year.
Research your top travel destinations in advance
While you may really want to go to Zurich, once you do some research and discover that it’s the fourth most expensive city in the world, you may want to reconsider. In case you’re curious, by the way, Singapore, Paris, and Hong Kong all tied for first place.
If your goal when you go to Switzerland is to ski, perhaps choosing a more economical region like Poland’s Tatra Mountains would be better for your budget.
Research your transportation options in advance, too
Do you know that there are no Ubers in Iceland? I didn’t – until I found myself there this past June and learned my lesson the hard way when taking a taxi a couple miles across Reykjavik – for around $US20.
In Zagreb, that ride would have cost me $US2 to 3 in an Uber. However, both cities also have several cost-effective public transportation options. And, of course, walking is free and a great way to see more of your destination’s hidden hot spots.
Take into consideration what types of activities you want to do
If you visit certain places during tourist season, you’ll probably have to wait in seemingly never-ending lines to get into certain attractions, like famous museums. Sometimes, you can get around this by buying tickets in advance – which may also save you money.
Other times, unless you book far in advance, you may not be able to see the one sight you really wanted to see.
For example, travel expert Rick Steves is a big advocate for buying tickets beforehand so that you’re guaranteed to get in and not waste precious vacation time waiting in long lines.
On Steves’ website, he also points out that certain attractions, like the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, require that you book weeks or months in advance, so it’s always best to do your research beforehand.
When crafting your budget, take into account what types of activities you want to do and how much preparation you’ll need to do for them, so you’ll have an idea of exactly how much you’re spending before your trip.
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