How to Budget for your Travels

Fall colours on parliament hill

The wonderful thing about having a travel budget is that it doesn’t mean you have to do things cheaply: it means you’ve done some research on how you can afford to travel in YOUR style. I personally have adopted the “Budget Travel” mentality where I keep a low budget for my trips but experience as much as I can. That may mean travelling during shoulder seasons, buying groceries for most of my meals but still enjoying local cuisine at a restaurant, and experiencing smaller tourist attractions that aren’t as costly. It also means doing my research beforehand to determine if something is worth the hype: is it worth it to spend ¬£31 on the London Eye or would I be happy with the free Sky Garden?

I keep a personal budget year round, which offers me the opportunity to budget for travel multiple times per year as opposed to luxury travel once a year. Of course there are other factors to travelling like having a salary that allows you to save for travel, to take time off work, solo travel or family travel (I don’t have any kids to pay for), etc.

I am by no means an expert but I am passionate about budgeting and saving money to live my best life. This post is split in two parts: 1. How to Make a Budget for your Trip and 2. How to Make a Budget to Save for Travel


PART 1: How to Make a Budget for your Trip

For those of us with a limited income, planning a budget for your trip can help reduce costs while giving you a wonderful experience, without having to count every penny on your trip. I plan my budget with a bit of a “contingency” or “allowance” so if there’s something that unexpectedly pops up on my trip, I’ve preemptively budgeted for it and don’t have to fret about spending some additional cash.

Step 1: Check Flight Prices

My first step is usually to check flight prices. Sometimes you can get an amazing deal on a flight that may sway your decision for your destination. I use the Google Flights Explore page – you can select where you’re starting from, choose destination to somewhere like “Europe” or “North America” and choose “flexible dates”. It will give you a map that you can move around and receive flight prices for so many destinations. You can also check websites like Skyscanner and Kayak that browse all websites to give you the best prices.

Be sure to include the cost of trip interruption or travel medical insurance in your budget. You may be able to save some money if you look in to your credit card insurance policies: some cover car rentals, travel medical insurance and/or trip interruption insurance so you don’t need to double pay.

Step 2: Check BudgetYourTrip.com for estimated daily costs

BudgetYourTrip.com is very accurate to help plan a daily budget. You can choose from Budget, Mid-range or Luxury travel budgets, show a budget in your currency, check estimated prices for different trip lengths, etc. It also has estimated daily food, transportation, accommodation and entertainment costs with suggestions on where to stay/what to do for that budget. This tool may also influence your destination: I really wanted to visit Switzerland but the daily budget travel was $110 CAD per day whereas Prague was $48 CAD per day so I decided to save Switzerland to a time in my life where I don’t mind spending a bit more cash (I’ll definitely make it one day!)

Step 3: Transportation Costs

One thing that BudgetYourTrip.com doesn’t include is travel costs to other destinations (such as my train from Prague to Vienna), connections from the airport (such as my bus from Heathrow to downtown London) or car rentals. Some of these can be pricey so it’s good to add them to your budget especially if you’re planning on travelling to multiple locations in a trip.

Step 4: Accommodation Costs

Determine the type of accommodation you need (camp site, hostel, hotel, etc.) and look for deals. You can use CouchSurfing.com, airbnb.com, HostelWorld.com, book directly through a hotel you gain points at, or Google search to name a few.

Step 5: Research Festivals and Events

Be aware that a premium is added to accommodations and flight prices when there is a festival or event so it’s good to do some research to avoid those dates IF that’s not your intention in visiting that place. Some examples are: St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin, Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, La Tomatina in Valencia or the Holy Festival in India/Nepal/Pakistan.

Step 6: Contingency

After adding up your flight, travel, accommodation and daily budget costs, I recommend adding an additional 5%-10% of the total cost of your trip to the final budget. There is ALWAYS something that comes up while you’re travelling that you can’t plan for so having some “wiggle room” means peace of mind when travelling.

Don’t forget to enjoy your trip and recognize that you might not get back to that destination for a long time (or ever again) so make sure you get the experience you want!


PART 2: How to Make a Budget to Save for Travel

I started years ago by reading this blog and downloading the spreadsheet (making a few edits to make it my own). There are so many resources online to making a budget, it can seem overwhelming but there a few steps to get you started!

Step 1: Calculate Current Expenses

You’ll probably find you’re spending way more on categories like eating out or entertainment than you think but don’t let that deter you from starting or saving. By reviewing your current expenses first, you can find out where you may be able to scale back and save a little extra cash.

Review your online banking and calculate how much you spent last month. I really love the spreadsheet above as a starting point but you can make your own by dividing it into headings such as: housing; bills; eating out/delivery; drinks; savings; debt repayment etc. This will give you an idea of where you’re money is going.

This is much harder to do if you spend cash. Instead of looking back on the previous month, you can keep track of your expenses with apps like Mint.

Step 2: Create your Monthly Budget

A simple method to create your budget is the 50/30/20 rule of thumb: allocate 50% of your budget to “needs”, 30% to “wants” and 20% to your financial goals. Start by taking a look at your expected monthly income (after tax) and your NEEDS: food, housing, accommodations and bills are a good place to start. WANTS include categories like entertainment (such as eating out, going to the movies or a museum) and travel. FINANCIAL GOALS are whatever you set for yourself: saving for retirement, debt repayment, etc.

Next, take the values you calculated in Step 1 and put them next to your 50/30/20 budget and see if there are areas you’ve overspent or undersaved and adjust accordingly. You can make small adjustments (like walking or riding your bike to save money on gas/transit) or large adjustments (like buying a used car instead of a new car) to make those savings add up. When I started budgeting, I overspent the first few months before I started seeing any savings so just remind yourself that this is a process and you won’t get it “right” the first time!

Step 3: Tips on Saving

If your spending is greater than your income, you can sit down and think about where you can cut costs. I love scouring the internet for tips on saving money. Do a Google search for “budgeting” or “saving money” and you’ll get hundreds of tips. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you. I personally save $10-$15 a week by making tea in the morning at work rather than buying it at a coffee shop but if you love it then keep it up! It’s all about balance. Here are a few I’ve come across through the years:

1. Meatless Mondays. It helps you save on your grocery bill.
2. Making coffee/tea/hot chocolate at home/work. If you buy a medium coffee from Tim Hortons every weekday ($1.79/day) by cutting out one day a week you’ll save $1.79/week, $7.16/month or $93.08/year!
3. Flyers. Save more money on your grocery bill by reviewing your local grocer’s flyers and planning your meals around what’s on sale. Flipp is a pretty great app for this purpose.
4. Recommend staying in rather than going out. Making dinner at home is a fun date idea/girls night in and much less expensive than eating out!
5. Cutting back on your internet/phone/cable bill. Netflix is great for cutting back on your cable bill (but using lots of bandwidth for your internet). Cutting back on your data usage on your phone bill also helps cut costs.
6. Using active transportation/public transit instead of taxis/uber/your car by biking/walking/taking the bus to work or to run errands or visit friends.

Step 4: Review your Budget

I can guarantee that the first month or two will be very difficult to stick to your budget and that’s okay! It takes both major and minor changes to cut back on your spending habits. It’s easy to get downhearted when you’ve overspent a few months in a row but that’s no reason to quit. Instead, try cutting back instead of going cold turkey. For example, don’t buy coffee one morning a week or try spending $10 less per week on eating out. Little changes are better than nothing!

Step 5: Redo your budget

Month-to-month and season-to-season can drastically change your budget. From experience, I know I spend more during the summers on “Entertainment” because I want to be outside more! I use more gas in my car to drive to hike, I spend a little more on drinks on the patio or going to outdoor events like a concert. I don’t like the cold so in the winter I prefer to stay in and make food/bake with friends rather than going out! So, I adjust my budget depending on what I plan on doing that month. It’s all about balance!

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