I pride myself on never having had to borrow money to pay for my travel. Budgeting is the key. I am frugal when I travel, but still like to splurge. Unexpected opportunities arise and I’d hate to regret not doing something further down the track, just because of a few hundred bucks. Some budgeting thoughts…
The annual travel budget these days is about $5000 (that’s $100 per week in savings), but I could be a lot more frugal on my trips if I chose to. I also save a lot of money staying with friends and just hanging out. I like to pay for my major flights before I go, then budget about $1000 per week for incidental travel, accommodation, food and entertainment while on the road. I try to save frequent flyer points for domestic travel or one-way international flights between continents.
My biggest and most expensive trip to date, was when I took long service leave in 2008. I was away for 15 weeks altogether – 5 weeks were ‘holiday’ pay at my full rate and I used a further 5 weeks of long service leave paid at 50%, to get an extra 10 weeks during the school term. Since I was away for over three months, I packed up my house, gave up my lease and stored everything in my parents’ garage (thanks Mum and Dad). This cut down on my living expenses and meant that I could live off my holiday pay. Online banking helped me to keep track of my income and I was able to come back with enough money to put a deposit down on my first home. All up the trip cost about $20000 for 15 weeks, with nearly half of that on airfares alone (I had already booked a round the world ticket when one of my friends announced he was getting married at home in India). Backtracking from Calgary to Bangalore cost nearly as much as travelling around the world! Totally worth it though.
Knowing my travel style
If I stay in expensive accommodation then I eat cheap, especially during the day, and rarely spend much on entertainment. I enjoy just walking the streets, checking out parks and free museums. When I am travelling alone I don’t like to spend a lot of money on accommodation, since I hardly spend any time in my room except to sleep.
I often prefer backpacker style accommodation over hotels in expensive cities. The advantages of hostels, aside from price, include location (generally close to the CBD and public transport), ability to meet other travellers (I find hotels lonely), sometime cheap or free meals as well as sources of good information and cheap tours (often organised and run by staff). The obvious downsides are sharing a bedroom with sometimes up to 20 other people and sharing a bathroom. I overcome the bedroom noise, by always travelling with an eyemask and good earplugs and have my ipod on standby for those very rare occasions when loud snoring needs to be drowned out.
I would rather enjoy a good meal than pay for a lot for a museum ticket. These days I rarely indulge in shopping sprees and the only tourist trinkets I now collect are fridge magnets because they pack light.
A word of advice, if you are travelling with a friend, make sure that you both have a similar travel style in mind for your trip, especially if it is a meet up along the way rather than doing the whole trip from woe to go together. The merging of two different budget expectations can be a challenge.
Friends and networks
The main reason I travel is to catch up with friends and experience different lifestyles. I would much rather sleep on a friend’s couch, eat a simple home cooked meal and do my laundry, than stay in an impersonal hotel. I want to experience how my friends spend their days doing the little things, not just the touristy things. Some of my best travel memories include having a twilight picnic in a park with friends while watching a summer Shakespeare performance, a backyard pool party making s’mores over a fire and riding bikes in Holland. I have no shame in looking up acquaintances through Facebook or sending out bulk emails and offering to detour for a catch up over a beer or coffee. Never fails to garner an offer of accommodation from a least a few in my network which then guides my itinerary. I like to think they my friends are chuffed that I have made the effort to travel all of the way from Australia to come visit, and in a heartbeat I would return the favour if any came here.
Public transport vs organised tours or airport transfers
I love public transport. I once gave up driving my car during lent, just to prove that even in my hometown, you can get around easily and relatively cheaply via public transport. I especially love ferries, and these tend to be a less expensive option than an organised boat tour. In Venice I bought a 24hour pass and travelled up and down the Grand Canal and every other ferry route over and over again – best money I ever spent.
Most major cities have a reliable and cost effective transit system from their airports. It is for this reason that I like to travel only with a carryon size suitcase and a daypack – a more mobile option for navigating train and subway stations, especially ones that only have stairs. The money saved on taxis to transport my unwieldy luggage can be better spent on other pleasures.
I hope you found these budgeting tips helpful. You might also like to find out why I love to travel.