Allow me to shout something from the rooftops for a moment:
Traveling does not have to be expensive.
Traveling does not have to be expensive.
Traveling does not have to be expensive.
All the glamorous photos of luxury safaris in Zimbabwe or hotel rooms overlooking the Siene are trying to sell you the idea that in order to travel, you need to have a pretty hefty wallet. We all know this, and more often than not, it's the #1 reason why people come to the conclusion that they "can't travel," or at least won't be able to for years (and a solid savings account) to come. While, yes, some places in the world will be more expensive to travel than others - there's just no way around that - I promise you that there are ways to bend and break the rules so that you can affordably travel and still be able to have all the amazing experiences you want.
How to Come Up With a Budget
After you have purchased your guidebook (or have spent a fair amount of time researching your destination on the internet), you should come up with a solid list of things you want to do, and then take your time gathering a vague idea of how much each activity is going to cost. If you want to go backpacking in the Andes of Peru, with some flitting through the pages of your guidebook or quick googling, you should be able to see how expensive permits are to backpack there. If you want to go bungee-jumping and abseiling and rock climbing in New Zealand, find a couple tour operators or guides to gather general quotes on how much those activities cost.
This does not mean that you have to know everything you want to do before you get to your destination. For long-term trips or people who like to wing it, it just isn't realistic. But it's a good idea to have a vague idea of how much "fun stuff" generally costs so you don't find yourself over-saving or without enough. If you find on a budget tour operator's website that most activities in Laos are between $40 and $100, bring an extra $300 for activities that may spring up while you're over there on a 2-3 week trip.
If you're traveling in Africa or Asia or some parts of South America, public transport generally won't cost you more than $50 on long-haul bus or train rides, but if you're planning on taking trains consistently through Europe or buses through New Zealand, those will most likely be a high expense. Use websites such as www.EurRail.com to get estimates on how much it costs to take trains to and from your destinations, and do Google searches regarding buses to get an idea of how much you should save for the typical distances you plan to go. And if you are renting a car, get a quote online, and ask your rental company what they recommend you budget for gas (depending on the length of your trip).
Insider Tip: Several countries in Europe, such as Switzerland, offer discounted train passes for students, or people under certain ages, or people traveling on their trains consistently. Check out your guidebook to see if any information is available on discounts.
Some hostels and/or campsites are $2 are night.
Others are $40, at their cheapest.
Sometimes CouchSurfing may be the best and most budget-friendly option. Often times, the prices of hostels and campsites depend exclusively on where in the world they are, and what time of year you're planning on being there (such as, getting a dorm bed in a hostel in Rio is usually about $12 a night, but during Carnival, prices for the same bed can skyrocket up to $100 or higher; be aware of what's going on when planning your budget and if you should expect dramatic changes in prices). To estimate how much you should save for accommodation, use any number of hostel/campsite searching websites to get an idea of how much hostels typically cost where and when you're going. That way, you can generate an average number, and use that number for however-many-nights you're going to be traveling. That will give you a generous allotted budget for accommodation expenses.
You can eat out at restaurants for all three meals a day and have it cost you a total of $9 if you're traveling in India. You can struggle to find a breakfast sandwich for under $15 if you're traveling in Switzerland. Unfortunately, food expenses are very similar to accommodation expenses in that they depend almost entirely on where in the world you are. That's why I say, ditch the breakfast sandwich. Eating on the road, no matter where you are, can be affordable as long as you know how to eat budget-friendly. While you may easily get away with a $10-a-day food budget in India, you're going to have to get more creative in most other places in the worth; especially pricier nations in Europe (I'm looking at you, Scandinavia and Switzerland), or the US and Australia.
Do not fret.
Most hostels offer kitchenettes that usually contain a stove, fridge, and maybe even an oven at the bare minimum. An extremely affordable way to eat cheaply on the road is by buying your own food and cooking your own meals. You can stretch a $3 bag of pasta and $4 bag of marinara sauce over the course of 3 dinners, and you can transform a $2 loaf of bread and a $5 jar of peanut butter and jelly into a week's worth of lunches. A box of granola bars, a $1 container of instant coffee, and a bag of bananas are a week's breakfast and snacks. Visit your destination's supermarkets or farmers markets, pick up whatever is delicious and cheap, and prepare your own meals. In most towns, no matter where in the world, you will be able to find some kind of general foods store that will sell anything from fruit to vegetables to bulk bags of rice, pasta, beans, and bread. While it may be cumbersome to carry a big bag of rice in your backpack as you move from location to location, buy smaller quantities of these staples, or leave behind whatever you can't carry with you (some other hungry backpacker will be eternally grateful to find leftover bags of fruit or beans in the hostel kitchen's cupboard). No matter what, buying and preparing your own meals will cut down on food costs significantly, and will leave you with the ability to proudly say that you're living off of a total of $10-$20 a day in Paris. This way, too, you'll have more money budgeted for the occasional special meal, where you can really enjoy the local cuisine and indulge yourself in a nice meal or night out trying the local bar scene without feeling like you're bleeding out of your wallet.
Extras (visas, gear)
Many countries will require foreign travelers to buy visas in order to enter, and while some visas cost $30, others can go up to $100 or more. Be sure you add in visa expenses into your budget, or even the purchase of a passport if you haven't applied for one yet).
Additionally, consider everything you may have to buy for the trip:
Do you need a backpack?
Boots and/or shoes?
Do you have all the clothes and toiletries necessary?
What about camping supplies if you're going camping?
Consider these as well so the price of preparation doesn't catch you off guard.
Once you have all of these numbers, add them up, and there is your budget. Congrats! Throw in your plane tickets, and maybe an extra hundreds dollars or so for additional expenses (it's better to be over-prepared than under, I am a firm believer in this), and pat yourself on the back.
Not so scary, right?
But How Do I Save?
The number one thing I recommend for people when trying to save for a trip is just to cut the junk out. The "junk" being everything not absolutely necessary.
- Perhaps this means forgoing your daily $2 cup of coffee. (That $2 is a night in a hostel in Kathmandu).
- Or not going out to eat once (or several) times a week. (That $20 meal is a bus ride from Uganda to Nairobi).
- If you really want to see stark changes, sell your tv and just use Netflix - or even get rid of Netflix. That costs money, too. (or do what I do and just use a family member's plan... sorry not sorry)
- Get rid of all the clothing you don't wear, unnecessary household trinkets, unopened gifts in the back of your closet, and sell them all at a garage sale or on eBay.
- Ride your bike or take public transportation instead of wasting gas in your car on local errands.
- Forego the expensive foodstuffs you may like to splurge on at the grocery store, such as fancy new products or $7 kale chips. Stick to cheap produce and staple items. You'll be surprised at how much you save by only buying and eating what's absolutely necessary.
- On top of selling the clothes you don't wear, avoid buying anything new and unnecessary. Saving for traveling is about considering how that money could be used elsewhere. (I mean, I know that sweater is only $30, but $30 is almost four days in Tanzania; think on a global, end-goal scale).
- Open a savings account specifically for travel savings so you don't tamper/drain it.
- Prepare at home your own weekly lunches so you're not tempted to buy sandwiches while at work or school. Same goes for coffee: invest in a thermos and brew your own stuff.
- When you do go out to the bars or a restaurant, really save drinks for special occasions. And when you do, stick to just one or two of whatever is cheap. When you feel yourself wanting to go for that third $12 cocktail, say no and instead deposit that $12 into your travel fund. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
- Lastly, get a part-time job. Even working a few hours here and there as a waiter or dog-walker or babysitter adds up. Of course this just is not feasible for many people as they may already be working full-time or too much, but if you find yourself lazing around on weekends or having wide-open days during the week, get busy. You'll be surprised at how quickly your travel goals approach.
With all these in mind, I'm not saying it's not important to be comfortable and enjoy the interim between trips. If all you do is sit in your house eating peanut butter sandwiches because you're afraid of spending money and it's impacting you negatively, then that's simply not worth it. But by eliminating trivialities and focusing on the end goal (that $100 pair of jeans is the equivalent of a week of backpacking up volcanos in Guatemala), then you should find yourself feeling excited and empowered by the money that's pouring back into your pockets; money that will leave you with incredible experiences soon enough.
Now. I'll see you on those volcanoes.