Whether you’re on a much-needed vacation or a long-term backpacking trip, chances are you have a budget in mind for your travels. After all, you’ll want to find that sweet spot between affording longer travel and doing everything on your list!
You might think that coming up with a travel budget and saving money for travel is the hard part. However, actually sticking to your budget while traveling can also be challenging.
Trust me, I know how difficult it can be to stick to a travel budget. I’m currently on a year-long backpacking trip with my partner (who’s an accountant), and we’ve been tracking every single expense and monitoring our travel budget successes and failures along the way.
Read on for my best tips to help you stick to your own travel budget, while still having an amazing trip.
1. Have a Daily Budget in Mind
One thing that will really help you is to have a specific number in mind for your daily travel budget.
Personally, as I backpack through Central America, I’m trying to spend $1,500 per month, which is about $50 per day. Every day, I have that number in the back of my mind.
Throughout each day, I subtract my accommodation expenses, food, transport, tours, souvenir shopping, etc. and get a rough idea of whether I’m sticking to my travel budget that day or not. If I have one day where I go over budget, then I know to cool it on the expenses the following day.
This isn’t a fool-proof method, nor do I hold myself to spending exactly $50 every single day. However, having that number in mind each day helps me regulate my spending over the course of a month.
2. Have an “Over Budget” Fund
Let’s just say that some months (and countries) have been easier on my travel budget than others.
Luckily, I set myself a conservative travel budget and made sure I had extra savings (separate from my emergency fund) before my travels. This way, try as I might to stay on budget, when I inevitably do sign up for a bucket list experience (like living on a sailboat for five days), I don’t completely sabotage myself.
My advice is to try to stick to a travel budget that will leave you with some extra savings at the end of your travels. That way, it’s not the end of the world if you go over budget.
3. Track Your Expenses
My biggest piece of advice for sticking to your vacation budget is to track your expenses. All the little expenses (laundry, SIM cards, snacks, taxis, etc.) will definitely add up, and if you’re not paying attention then you will go over budget.
Personally, I track my expenses by hand. My partner and I track every single expense we incur with the app Tricount (more on that next). Then, at the end of the month we move all those expenses over to an excel spreadsheet that we made.
For each month we travel, we calculate our total expenses and a breakdown of each expense category (transport, accommodation, food, activities, and miscellaneous). This helps us know whether we’re on track with our budget or not.
4. Split Expenses With Tricount
If you’re traveling with someone else, then I highly recommend downloading a free app called Tricount.
With Tricount, you can split up any joint expenses and get an automatically generated amount of who-owes-who-what. You can even manage this in multiple currencies.
5. Stay in Hostels
Accommodation can be a huge drain on your travel budget. But don’t worry – hostels are here to help!
Without a doubt, hostel dorm rooms are the most affordable places to stay around the world. Many hostels also offer affordable private rooms.
In fact, traveling as a couple, we frequently book private rooms in hostels and end up spending the same amount per person as if we’d booked a dorm room.
6. Go on Group Tours
Another thing I (and my travel budget) love about hostels is that they often organize free or low-cost group tours or events.
Because these tours are open to anyone staying at the hostel, you’ve got other people to split the total tour cost with, which helps cut down on expenses.
Not to mention that you have some ready-made travel friends as well!
7. Save Money on Food
Food is another category where you can make some big savings while traveling.
In some cases, it’s cheaper to buy groceries at the local market and cook meals yourself. Lots of hostels offer shared kitchens, and I’ve cooked my fair share of hostel meals to cut down on expenses.
However, I’ll also warn you that in some areas, buying groceries can actually be more expensive (not to mention time consuming) than eating local street food. For example, when I traveled in El Salvador, I regularly spent $1-2 for hearty dinners of pupusas, the local specialty.
8. Use Local Transport
Taking private tourist shuttles or flights can really add up. One of the best ways to save money while traveling is to use local transport.
Personally, I’ve spent nearly a year traveling over land from Peru up to Mexico. I’ve saved a lot of money by crossing every border with local buses.
Yes, sometimes local buses are not as comfortable, or the journey takes a lot longer than a quick (yet pricy) flight. However, this mode of transport offers an insight into the local life and can sometimes lead to a good story – not to mention big savings for your travel budget!
9. Splurge Mindfully
Finally, sticking to your travel budget is all well and good, but try not to let it hold you back too much from enjoying the places you visit.
There have definitely been a few times that I had to mentally let go of my travel budget and splurge on a bucket list experience – like sailing from Colombia to Panama, ziplining in Costa Rica, visiting tropical islands in Nicaragua, snorkeling in Belize, and taking a pricy street food tour in Mexico.
Usually, I’ve been able to balance those big ticket items with a few low-budget days staying in dorm rooms and eating street food. And even if it does lead me to go over budget that month, I’ve had an incredibly memorable travel experience and left without regrets (thanks to my original “over budget” savings fund).
What to Do If You Go Over Your Travel Budget
Going a little over your travel budget here and there shouldn’t be the end of the world – especially if you planned for this by originally saving a little more than strictly necessary.
In fact, having met many other budget travelers, I would argue that going over budget is a “when,” not an “if.” As long as you track your expenses and make sure you never go too far over budget, you’ll be okay.
In the event that you do majorly blow your budget, you have a few options. First, you could cut your travels short and head home – knowing that you spent your money on some great experiences.
Alternatively, you could try volunteering at a hostel in exchange for a long-term stay, joining a WorkAway or other work-exchange gig, or getting a job or side-hustle online to boost your travel savings.
Sticking to Your Travel Budget: Final Thoughts
By now, I hope you feel confident in your ability to have a great travel experience on a budget.
All it takes is a little pre-planning (and mindful saving), a bit of admin work tracking your expenses while you travel, and some practice figuring out the balancing act of saving vs. splurging. It’s very possible to travel on a budget and have a memorable trip!