I have a travel budget in mind for an upcoming trip to Argentina.
However, I don’t yet know whether it’s realistic.
It’s time to go past my rough estimates and see what the trip will really cost.
It’s time to plan an actual budget. This is something that I find challenging as every country is different and I prefer to avoid it as I’d rather not be constrained by money. Just because I’m a budget traveler doesn’t mean that I’ll spend according to my financial picture.
So I do research and try to set a budget. Still, last year I went to Australia and the cost of living there broke my budget. Read: How to Avoid the #1 Travel Budget Mistake. When planning for Kauai, I was hesitant about confirming my accommodation. Procrastination cost me money. Read: My Travel Money Mistakes of 2016.
Despite traveling since I was 15 and despite writing this site since 2009, I still make mistakes and still struggle planning a travel budget. So I will review the process once again.
Let’s Consider Money and Meaning First
Travel, money, and happiness are connected. According to happiness theory, when money is spent on travel, happiness grows over time. However, when money is spent on things, happiness tends to diminish over time. So, yes, buy travel with your money. But…
Pay now, travel later. Don’t go into debt for travel. Credit cards are tools. They are not money. So while you may pay for your trip on a credit card, pay the card off before you leave. This approach to money not only relieves painful money woes after a trip (which often negates some of its joy) but also makes the anticipation of the trip that much sweeter.
Two Approaches to Your Solo Travel Budget
There are two basic approaches to planning a trip.
- Where and how you want to travel. If the where and how of your trip is really important to you (if the destination and your travel style – whether it’s luxury, eating at special restaurants, taking classes, or relaxing at a resort – are not flexible) then your planning starts with how much money the trip will actually cost.
- How much money you have. If the fact that you’re traveling is more important than where and how, then your planning is based on the money you actually have.
In each case, you need to know your budget.
If you want to go to one of your bucket list destinations come hell, high water, or tight funds, start by calculating the cost of the trip using the guidelines below. If it exceeds your budget the next step would be to shift your dates to the shoulder or off-season and see whether that improves matters. Read The Sweet Spot for Solo Travel: the Question of “When” If date-shifting is not possible or doesn’t make enough difference, then you may have to wait and travel later as you save the money for the trip. Read How to Save Money for Travel for a solid how-to approach on saving cash for travel.
If you’re focused on the second approach, traveling with the money you have right now, read When Travel Is the Goal, Not Destination. Truly, I’ve never met a destination I didn’t like. In that post, Tracey writes about how to choose a destination based on limited funds. Read the advice there then return to this post to calculate the full cost of your trip, trimming the expenses here and there until the trip fits your budget.
How to Set Your Solo Travel Budget
To calculate the cost of your trip start with the big expenses and work down to the smaller ones.
- Transportation or Accommodation. It’s a toss up. If you’re taking a flight, this may be your biggest expense. But if you’re taking a short flight to an expensive city, accommodation may be your big ticket item. Determine which is likely your biggest expense and calculate what the cost will be.
- Transportation: Cost of flights, bus, train, car rental and gas. Read: How to Get the Best Deal on Flights. I always check FlightNetwork. I know they’re not the first booking engine people think of but I have saved hundreds with them.
- Accommodation: Determine your average nightly rate and multiply it by the number of nights you’ll be there. You can read how I came in at an average nightly rate of $73.39 in Kauai even though I spent a couple of nights at a luxury resort in Budget Accommodation in Kauai: Four Ways to Stay. Also read: Save on Hotels? Yes You Can with These 10 Tips
- Food. What’s your pleasure? This is an expense that can vary widely. If going to the restaurants of celebrity chefs is your thing, plan for it. It will be expensive. If you’re happy cooking for yourself or eating street food, your food budget will be far less. Read Travel, Eat Well and Save on Food. Do your research and plan accordingly. Like I did with my accommodation in Kauai, you can plan to go cheap on some days so that you can splurge on others.
- Entertainment. Buy in advance? Whether it’s a kayaking day trip or attending a Broadway play, it’s rare to go somewhere and not incur additional expenses for entertainment of some form. It’s important to budget for these. Also note that it may be less expensive to purchase tickets before you go. Read Tickets to Attractions and Day Tours: How to Get the Best Deal. And definitely check out our 32 Tips section where we have posts on free and low-cost tips for many expensive destinations like London, Paris, Sydney, and New York.
- Walking-around money. You may need money for things like transit, a snack, or sun block. There are dozens of small things you’ll likely buy over the course of your trip. Set a small daily contingency fund for those little extras along the way.
- Travel insurance. I distinguish between travel insurance and trip insurance. The former takes care of you and the latter takes care of what you buy, though they are both available in one bundle as well. Travel insurance is primarily for medical insurance. Read Going Alone? Travel Insurance Is a Must and budget for it.
- Trip insurance. If you’re going out of the country, renting a car, or booking an expensive packaged tour you will want to look at your options regarding insurance. Sometimes it’s worth buying but often you’re covered in other ways. Read: When to Buy (and not buy) Trip Insurance. Determine whether you need it and, if so, add it to your budget.
- Souvenirs. This is not a line in my travel budget because shopping isn’t my thing. But if it’s yours, make sure you’ve calculated it as part of your budget. If you’re shopping in a currency other than your own, read: Your Currency or Theirs? The Decision Makes a Difference
- “Breaking the budget” money. Travel should be fun and it’s no fun being on too tight a financial leash. The amount of your “break the budget” money will depend on how long you’re traveling and your overall budget. I like to have at least 15% of my overall travel budget available for spontaneous purchases.
- Use a spreadsheet to calculate your budget. As you’re putting your budget together you’ll be changing your mind along the way. This is where a spreadsheet comes in handy.
- Click on the image below to go to the Travel Budget Google Spreadsheet.
- Don’t use this spreadsheet. It is public to the world
- Make a copy of it in your own Google spreadsheets folder and give it the name of your trip. To do this click on “File” in the upper left, choose “Make a Copy” and rename your copy.
- Work with your copy.