How to Create a Travel Budget for Solo Travel
You’ve read my Step 1 in Planning Your First Solo Trip and Step 2 – How to Choose Your First Solo Travel Destination and are now pumped to get started on planning that solo trip, right? Yes! Let me help you take the next step: how to create a travel budget for a successful solo trip! Please know, however, that that these helpful travel budget tips can benefit any traveler, solo or not.
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Solo Travel Step 3:
How to Create a Travel Budget
In This Post
Planning travel budgets and itineraries are some of my favorite parts of the travel experience. It gets me excited to think of where I’m going next, gives me something to look forward to, and keeps me motivated to achieve a goal that will come with multiple rewards.
In this post I’ll share with you the method I use to prepare and budget travel so you may benefit from my experience.
There are basically two approaches to planning a travel budget: plan well in advance to determine what you’ll need financially for the trip, or travel now on what finances you have and, in essence, work backwards to see how long those finances last.
Since you’re reading this post, however, you’re wanting to know how to do the former method and create a travel budget. That is good because that is the method I use! I recommend it for any travel, especially if you have the time to plan or if the trip is a lengthy one.
Let’s face it – most of us don’t have a lot of money (or time) for travel, so traveling can be a luxury, and we want the most out of it. Planning in advance and creating a travel budget helps you work within any financial or time constraints.
Creating a travel budget has additional benefits. First, it sets you on the path of creating a goal – establish your trip destination, timeframe and budget. Once completed, a travel budget can also help you:
- Assess your current finances and spending habits
- Know how long you have to save
- Prioritize what trip activities you can or can’t do for a more realistic and flexible travel itinerary
- Know what you’ll need to do or purchase beforehand
- Have peace of mind knowing you’ll not be coming back to debt from your trip, thereby letting you enjoy your trip even more!
Even if you already have some money in the bank, using the following steps towards creating a travel budget can also help you.
1 –Set Your Travel Goal
It’s hard to create a travel budget without first knowing your trip destination and timeframe. If you already know these, then you can skip this step. Otherwise, try using the following brainstorming technique that has never failed me.
Honestly, I still do this when I feel the itch to go somewhere – or have multiple places I want to go to – and just can’t decide.
To brainstorm, ask yourself the following questions:
Where have I been wanting to go? Think of your top three to five destinations. One or two destinations will also work. It’s up to you on how big the travel bug has bit you.
How much time do I want to be in the destination to make it worthwhile? Write out the minimum and maximum number days for each location. Make sure to include the travel time needed.
What time of year would I like to go? Consider things like:
- The weather conditions
- How much you’ll need to pack for said weather
- Will day light be limited?
- Will it be off season (less pricey) or high season?
- Will there be a particular event happening?
How much time can I afford to be away? Consider things like:
- If you have a job, do you have the vacation time accrued now to cover those minimum and maximum days above or do you need more time to save vacation days?
- If you don’t have the time off now, will you be able to realistically accrue the needed days between now and the time you wish to depart?
- If this is an extended trip, will your employer let you take a leave of absence?
- Do you need someone to watch your home, your pets, your plants, or your kids?
Do I want a champagne or beer budget trip? Do some soul-searching on what level of accommodations you’ll be wanting (or just needing). 5-star accommodations are great, but will that expense end up being a reason for not going?
What do I want out of this trip? Are you looking for adventure with the most activities per day or do you just want to lounge around and recharge?
The goal of this brainstorming technique is to reach a nexus of each area to help you pin point where you’re going and when.
Need some brainstorming help? Check Some of my travel itineraries – like Florence in 4 Days or Vienna in 4 Days (or 3 or 5 days). I break down how to get there, where to stay, where to eat, and activities you can do with daily cost totals so you can see what’s possible.
Now you’re ready to start budgeting!
2 - Create Your Travel Budget
Now you’re ready to take the steps towards getting to your travel goal – creating a travel budget spreadsheet. Yes, a spreadsheet. If you don’t write it down, how you can you track your progress towards your goal?
I recommend creating an electronic version – like in Excel, for example. This allows for easy edits and downloading to your smart device to take with you on your trip!
What to Include in Your Travel Budget Spreadsheet
If you have decided on an international trip, this is the time when you check the destination country’s (or countries’) currency exchange rate(s). Input your own currency and the exchange rate calculation into your budget spreadsheet so you can not only get familiar with the upcoming travel math, but also get a firmer understanding of what your true travel budget will be.
The two biggies to start with are your transportation and accommodations costs.
When budgeting your transportation, include the local transportation methods and airport transfers. Don’t be afraid to research public transportation and passes for all local transportation needs as it can stretch your dollar and it’s eco-friendly. See if your destination offers a transportation app to make your trip go smoother.
To further your dollars, try to keep your inbound and outbound airport locations and flight dates flexible. Compare prices online across multiple resources to ensure you get the best deal in prices and flight times.
A good place to start to obtain high-level flights costs is Google Flights; however, you will need to research further on dates and times to capture true costs.
Get a Jump on Your Transportation Bookings!
Explore multiple airline options now to get the best deals on your upcoming trip!
I put the entirety of my trips on my airline mileage-earning credit card so I can pump up my airline miles to use to book the next trip. When I come home, I pay off the trip with all of my saved money within the month! No muss, no fuss, and no interest charges.
When budgeting for accommodations, include taxes, meals, any extra fees (for example, linens or WIFI), and transportation included. My go-to resource is Booking.com as it offers a variety of accommodation types and prices globally. In addition, I research prices across other sites.
To further your dollars, try to think outside the box. For example, could you rent a room in a house, couch surf or stay in a hostel? Hostels are a great way to meet people, and they do offer private rooms if that is your need.
Perhaps forgo the 5-star hotel for a 2 or 3-star hotel. If you have wanting to take a particular trip for a long and seems to keep being put off due to finances, I recommend opting for the less expense accommodation than trying to make the trip ‘perfect’ with the 5-star accommodation.
I always read the reviews of others. Reviews will greatly help you decide. If others are enjoying the less expensive establishment’s helpful staff, scrumptious breakfast, and convenient location, you may too!
Check out what I look for in researching accommodations if you need more assistance.
Get a Jump on Your Future Accommodations!
Explore hotel, hostel and rental options now to get the best deals on your upcoming trip!
Food and Drink
If you read how I look for accommodations, you’ll know that I like to have my breakfast included in my stay. I can’t get far without my coffee. Besides, I don’t eat big breakfasts, and I like that I only have to budget for one or two additional daily meals.
Remember, a good travel budget is flexible. Keep your itinerary in mind when budgeting. You may find you don’t eat big meals because you’re on the go a lot and merely snacking. Perhaps, you like a nice happy hour with tapas-style food which eliminates a big dinner cost. Keep it flexible to allow you to enjoy your destination, its culture and cuisine to its fullest.
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Attractions & Tours
Here is where your brainstorming above comes in big time. When you know where you want to go and how you want to spend your time, you’ve already started to think of what activities you’ll want to do and prioritize those activities as well. Like a good travel budget, a good travel itinerary is also flexible.
Again, research in advance top sites like Trip Advisor, Viator and Get Your Guide. They give great attraction and tour ideas beyond what you may have already thought of. Also, don’t be afraid to research those attractions through local websites to compare prices.
Your destination’s top attractions may require booking in advance with a reservation-type ticket or recommend booking in advance to avoid lines. With more and more people traveling these days, that is becoming the trend. Determine early if you need to book in advance with a reservation type ticket. It would be a shame to get to your destination and have you miss out on what you truly wanted to see or do. Plus, it’s possible you may save money booking early!
Get a Jump on Booking Activities!
Explore multiple attraction and tour options now to get the best deals on your upcoming trip!
Like to shop? Well, you definitely want to have that as a line item in your travel budget spreadsheet. Give yourself a flexible minimum and maximum amount to spend.
Don’t forget gifts! You may wish to thank your neighbor or family member for watering your plants and collecting your mail. I recommend making separate line items in your spreadsheet for each person with a dollar amount. It not only keeps you on budget but also acts as a reminder of a gift to buy.
Try to buy from local vendors to support the local economy. Please avoid buying any products made from protected hardwoods or animals as these are probably illegal to sell. Read more on my easy, Eco-Friendly Travel Tips.
If you plan on making a lot of purchases on your trip, you may want to bring an extra, foldable bag for those purchases. Also keep in mind how much extra space and weight you’ll be adding on your return flight. Check your airline(s)’ baggage size and weight restrictions for carry-on and check-on baggage. If you think you may be paying extra baggage fees, add that line item in your travel budget spreadsheet!
Additional Travel Planning Items
Here is where the more time you have to plan, the better. As soon as you have decided where and when you’ll be leaving, and before you book any reservations, check into the planning items such as travel insurance and tourist visa(s), passport and vaccination requirements.
You may have had your heart set on leaving in 4 months but a series of vaccinations could take you 6 months to obtain. Research early and confirm. If you are visiting any of the global destinations I have been to, check out what tips and resources I recommend using in your research.
What else will you need to buy before your trip? Bathing suit? Adaptors? First aid kit? Tack these on to your travel budget spreadsheet.
Will you need to hire someone to watch your home, water your plants, walk your dog? Will you need to board you pet(s)? What about childcare?
Your daily life tasks should also be included in your travel budget spreadsheet. You wouldn’t need to pay for these tasks if you were home.
The flip side of that is that gas, grocery, utility and other daily expenses you would normally budget while at home can be used as ‘income’ towards your travel budget!
Set aside some funds in case of emergency. You can set aside something like 10% of your total travel budget or two to three days’ worth of travel expenses. Hopefully, this fund will not be spent on your trip, but better safe than sorry.
Travel Calculator Tools
3 - Your Travel Budget: What Next
Calculate Time to Save
Now that your travel budget spreadsheet is completed, total all expenses for sum trip cost. Again, if this is an international trip, you should have your trip total in your currency and in the local currency.
Adjust any one of the budget categories to get your trip budget to the amount you feel comfortable spending.
If you don’t have the total trip amount currently saved, simply calculate how much time you have to save. Count how many weeks until your departure and divide the total trip amount by those number of weeks and voilà! You now know how much money you need to save every week until your departure.
Don’t have enough time to save? Perhaps push your trip back until you have enough time to save. If you already booked your flight and can’t change it, try adjusting your accommodations and activities costs first to see if that helps. Be creative. With a little research you may find some great alternatives to ensure you leave on time.
The benefit of doing this travel budget exercise is to have as much time in advance to save, save, save so all you have to worry about on your trip is fun, fun, fun! How much fun is it to come back after an amazing trip facing a bunch of debt you can’t pay off. That would be a total bummer.
Now, all you have to do is be diligent and sock that money away weekly! If you need help saving, try setting up a separate ‘don’t touch’ account to put the money in.
While saving weekly for your international trip, keep periodically checking the currency exchange rate to make budget adjustments, if need be. I recommend doing this at least once midway through planning and a week before your departure.
When ready to depart, don’t forget to take your digital travel budget spreadsheet with you. Whether it’s on an app or an Excel sheet downloaded on your smart device, having your budget at your fingertips provides for easy access and tweaks, less stress, and less space in your bag for unnecessary paper.