Budget to travel

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I’m really excited to be planning a trip to Thailand soon and thought that I’d share how I go about budgeting and planning for it.

There are really only two main factors to consider; how much can you realistically afford and how much will it realistically cost. If these two values are similar then you’re in for a great time; if not, something needs to give. Note the word “realistically” as it’s easy to let ones emotions and excitement take over.

So how do we go about calculating these values? Let’s start with the easier one.

How much will the trip realistically cost?

Demon guarding palace in Bangkok
Demon guarding palace in Bangkok

It’s worth your while to spend a few days (or weeks) researching your travel destination to get a feel of the cost of things. Flights, accommodation, food, beverages, traveling and tourist sites. It’s important to be realistic about what the whole trip will cost. It’s easy to say that you’ll just stay in a backpackers dorm room and only eat once a day to save money, but really think about whether you’re happy to do so. Also, if you’re travelling a long distance you really should make the best of your time and do and see as much as you can!

Some things to do in the next few days:-

  • Get a quote or two for flights
  • Find out whether you need any visas and what they cost
  • Check whether you need any vaccinations and find out the costs and procedures
  • Check that your passport is still valid
  • Find suitable accommodation online and calculate the full cost of accommodation for your trip (including tips if such is customary in your destination)
  • Find out the cost of transport to and from the airport – in your home town as well as in your destination
  • Read up on the cost food & beverages. Make sure that the blogs & sites that you’re reading are not older than 6 months. After reading several sites make a best guess estimate of a meal cost (including drinks). Breakfasts may be included in your accommodation, and lunches will generally be cheaper than dinners as you will be sightseeing and touring during the day. At the end of this exercise you’re looking for an estimated daily cost for meals & drinks.
  • Do your research on sights that you really want to visit and find the entrance costs. Also look at tours and other touristy things that you would like to do. Get the final estimated cost for all the sights and tours you know you would like to do and also allow for a few that you haven’t yet heard of.
  • Then, cater for some unexpected events. You never know what could happen when traveling so be sure to have some extra money for when things go a little wrong.
  • And of course don’t forget general spending money!

Finally, use a single currency (either your home currency or the destination currency) and add everything to get the final figure of what the trip will cost. Remember that this is just a best guess, but it will give you a good idea of the full cost of your trip.

What can you realistically afford?

This is slightly harder to calculate as ones emotions can often cloud the calculations. Firstly, ignore the cost of the trip that you calculated above. Let’s just look at what you can afford.

One rule that I live by is that I don’t take money out of investments or from my credit card in order to travel. Unless I have the cash, I won’t be going anywhere! Also, I don’t take any money out of my savings unless I’ve specifically allocated it to vacations, you don’t just drop a R20,000 on an overseas trip without even having thought about it!

So, now that you’ve ruled out any investments and savings that are allocated to other things, you probably don’t have any money left with which to travel. That’s okay, it just means that you need to seriously start saving from this very moment! Have a look at your budget and see how you can allocate money differently and where you can save. Look at what you can do without for 6 – 12 months and how you can make extra money.

Again, being fully realistic and level-headed, work out how much you can save over the next few months or even next year and see if you can tie it up to the cost of the trip.

If things don’t tie up, you have a few options:-

  • You can look at changing your travel plans (destination, dates, duration, etc) to find something more affordable
  • Reassess your priorities and change your spending habits accordingly
  • See if you can make more money by changing jobs, freelancing, starting a side hustle or some other creative way
  • And if you must, put your trip on hold until you’re in a better financial situation

Notice that borrowing money is not an option and really should never be. It’s true that life is short, and that you only live once, and all the phrases to that effect. However, getting into debt in order to travel is rather short-sighted as debt simply causes huge problems and stresses in the future! Although traveling is absolutely awesome, it’s not exactly a necessity to life. Having a level-head during this whole planning process should hopefully help you put things into perspective and help you to think of the future after you return from your travels.

Stick to the budget whilst on the trip

Once you’ve saved up the money, booked the tickets and about to leave you will need to reassess your budget and decide on a fixed figure. Sticking to this should be rather simple and only takes 5 minutes a day to calculate what you have spent versus your planned daily allowance. Some days will be over and some will be underspent, but keeping daily track of things will help you ensure that you have an awesome and stress-free trip!

For more on budgeting check out these 5 simple steps to start a budget.

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