The world of travel planning can get complex, and by extension, stressful, if you let it. So, let's not complicate things here. We're going to create a budget-friendly trip in the most simplistic, and effective way possible so you're ready to begin working towards your goal!
Having a specific destination, and time in mind (even if it will possibly change somewhat), along with a fair idea of the cost will make saving and organizing for your trip so much more realistic.
It's like the half marathon I've been intending to run. I've been saying I want to for years, but haven't actually picked a race, and therefore date, or booked it. Since nothing was concrete, I never actually trained or worked towards my goal, because I didn't really have a specific goal.
Granted, I've gone on MANY trips in the past few years I've been contemplating that half marathon. It's all about what you make a priority.
So for now, I'll continue traveling, and showing you how to do so as well. I might suggest consulting someone else for how to get off the couch and tackle a running race.
Now, budgets! In this post I'll discuss the bits that will go into creating your budget. I'll also point you in the right direction to find the resources you need to nail down realistic prices, and I've packed it full of ways to save in your budget. (Wahoo! Savings!)
Now, before we go any further into the actual planning, budgeting, numbers, savings, etc., there's one thing you must, must, must do first!
Decide your trip is your priority
Yep, it's as simple as that. When something becomes a priority, it's always in your mind when making other decisions. Now, what job to choose, which vacation dates to pick from work, deciding if you should get the new shoes or not, will all related back to your trip, and you're more likely to make decisions that enable you to make your trip a reality.
Let's break down some of the biggest expenses first.
This is generally the greatest expense of any trip, and therefore the most satisfying place to find savings! To find a good flight price it's best to use flight search engines. Flight search engines take SO much work out of planning; they are your best friend. They scan the sites of a majority of airlines, and bring the prices all back to one place for simplicity. Now, something important to note is, the flight search engines don't all search the same airlines, so I tend to check 2 or 3 flight search engines before booking, to ensure I've browsed the vast majority of airlines available.
Tip: A lot of smaller, budget airlines don't appear on flight search engines. To find the budget carriers, Google "budget airline, country name" and a list should appear.
If you can find a budget airline that services the two airports you're looking to fly between, you've just struck airfare gold.
'The experts' have conducted a variety of studies on when to book your flight to get the best price. Huffington Post reported these to be the magic number of days before a flight to book.
- Domestic: 54 days before your flight
- Europe: 151 days before your flight
- Asia: 129 days before your flight
- The Caribbean: 101 days before your flight
- Mexico: 89 days before your flight
- Latin America: 80 days before your flight
Another handy thing to do would be to sign up for price alerts for your destination and dates, so you can start getting a fair idea of the trends for your specific flight.
For now, write down what the average price of the flight you're looking at is, and if you can get it cheaper, even better! More savings you can allocate somewhere else later!
This will be big expense numero dos. When looking for a place to stay, take a browse through www.tripadvisor.com for an idea of what is available in the area, the prices based on the location in the city. Is staying in the heart of NYC versus Brooklyn important to you? The price will vary, so decide where you would like to stay, and get an idea of price, multiplied by the number of nights you'll stay.
Now, if you'd like to cut cost on your trip, accommodation is a perfect area to do so in. While finding discount codes for a hotel is not very common, finding alternatives to hotels is.
Here is a list of hotel alternatives, from cheapest, to priciest.
- Stay with friends
- Generally, $0, plus the cost of a thank you gift or bottle of wine
- Be smart when picking a host couch - as a female, staying with other females is likely best, just to be on the safe side. This is another superrr inexpensive option, as in $0 inexpensive.
- House Sitting
- When people travel, and don't want to leave their plants and animals to fend for themselves, you can land yourself a full house, equipped with everything you need, for the price of feeding the animals and watering the plants. Also, $0.
- If you're traveling somewhere in the warmer months, in a safe area, camping can be very inexpensive.
- AirBnB is a website connecting you with people renting out a room in their home all around the world; you can find some very nice places to stay this way. Price is greatly dependent on location, but will basically always be a fraction of the cost of a hotel.
- A friend recently was heading out on a Europe trip. Instead of paying for accommodation in every city, and trains in between, her and her travel buddies split the cost of renting an RV, and cut their costs greatly by doing so.
- Don't knock it till you try it. Hostels can be incredibly social, and offer very nice accommodation! You must read this post, before passing over the hostel option. I've stayed in well rated hostels for as low as $15 a night.
- Bed & Breakfasts
- These are generally slightly cheaper than hotels, but are not quite as much of a steal as some of the others in this list. Bed & Breakfasts are a good middle ground between savings, and getting the hotel feel.
Tours, Activities & Sightseeing
This cost is very destination, and interest-specific; as such, it will vary greatly from person to person, and trip to trip. Now, don't skimp here too much to bring down trip cost. As you can tell, it takes a good amount of effort to plan a trip, so don't count on hitting up the Colosseum or Palace of Versailles next time when you have more money. Set the money aside from the beginning, and budget it in like the other necessities.
Some trips are planned with the intent to partake in a specific activity (eg. white water rafting the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, or diving the Great Barrier Reef in Australia). Others trips may not be so sightseeing specific, or pricey for the attractions available. For example, in London, just walking from one famous building to the next may take up a full day, and not cost a penny.
Again, TripAdvisor is a fantastic resource for determining the best activities in a location, and is plentiful with reviews from visitors telling you if they thought the cost of an activity/tour was a good value.
Pick the absolute must-do activities, check out the prices, and add 'em up!
You can look at food one of three ways. 1. Eating to survive 2. Eating to enjoy local cuisine, or 3. A mix of both.
Amount to set aside for food per day, based on common travel areas are below. Now, prices vary by country, and of course by city (think about the difference in eating in Los Angeles versus Buffalo), so while this is a general guide, some more specific searching on your destination might be handy too.
- Western Europe: $60 USD
- Eastern Europe: $45 USD
- Southeast Asia: $15 USD
- North America: $45 USD
- Central America: $25 USD
If you want to be a little more budget friendly, be sure to walk well away from any major tourist attractions before settling on a place to eat, as prices are always much greater in touristy areas. Alternatively, stop in a grocery store to buy some snacks or sandwiches to make your eating budget stretch a great deal further.
Also a fantastic way to save on the cost of eating is to pay a little more upfront by upgrading your accommodation to one which offers a kitchenette, or kitchen access. While upgrading from a hotel room to a suite with a kitchen, or a kitchen-less hostel, to one with a kitchen will cost you more to begin with, the savings will be great in the long run.
Within Destination Transportation:
This is another expense that could be very large or very small, depending on where you go, and what the theme of your trip is. If you're planning to do the European hop on, hop off train thing, within destination transportation will be a heavy little chunk of change, but if you're planning to head to one city and just take a few cabs or the subway within the city, this really won't set you back much.
This one is all up to you to determine the average costs. I'd suggest looking for blog posts from those who visited your destination, and also search out the public transportation the city or region offers to find prices.
Other Methods To Cut Down In Your Budget:
- Choose a destination based off airfare
- As airfare is generally your #1 expense, if you're not picky on where you want to go, and just want to get out to do some travel, test out skyscanner.com's search to 'Everywhere' feature to find the best deals on flights out of your city.
- Travel to locations with weak currency
Easily live like royalty, even with a regular travel budget. Xe.com is great for checking out exchange rates on different currencies.
There's the typically inexpensive countries (basically anywhere in South East Asia, and most Central American countries), or you might want to hop on the opportunity to take advantage of a country that generally has a strong currency but is currently weak.
Canada is a perfect example right now. Our dollar is generally on par with the USD, or just slightly lower. Currently, our dollar is lower than it was in the 2008 financial crisis, making Canada a fantastic country to visit before our dollar value goes up again.
- Plan a trip around other travel
A good majority of my trips tend to be planned around travel I'd be doing anyways. When I visited Chicago last year before Christmas, it was because I needed to fly through Chicago O'Hare to get home to Toronto for Christmas. If I broke the flights up by a few days, and spent some time in Chicago, the price was the same as flying right through without stopping. I basically mitigated the flight cost of the trip, as I would have had to pay it anyways to get home.
First, add up your airfare, accommodation, tours/activities/sightseeing, eating, and within destination transportation. You'll also want to set aside some money for smaller expenses.
These are very trip, and person dependent. Need to purchase a passport? Are you a shopaholic and will bring back a souvenir for every member of your family? Does your current health insurance cover you while abroad? Have an over-packing tendency, and will likely go over the baggage weight limit? Consider which of the above smaller expenses do or do not apply to you, and tack on a bit extra to your budget.
Then once you've taken some time to think about the areas you're happy to use some of the above savings tips in, subtract that out.
You'll be left with the number you will keep in your mind every day between now and Bon Voyage!
Your number will not exactly reflect the cost of your trip, but it will give you a general idea of the price, and from there you can set a goal of when you think you'll have it saved up, and will be ready to jet off.
What is the next trip you're dying to take? What do you think the cost will be around? See you in the comments!