This article was written by Jarryd Salem and Alesha Bradford and originally appeared on Yahoo Travel.
You’ve worked hard for a few years, diligently saved every cent you could, and now you are ready to start that big travel adventure. The research has been done, flights are booked, and before you know it you’ll be sipping cocktails on a beach with no end date in sight! You’re finally living the dream! But the hard part is far from over. Now you need to learn how to stretch your money as far as possible. Certain parts of the world like Southeast Asia and Latin America are famous for being cheap, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible to spend all your money in only a few weeks.
We have been traveling for almost seven years now, and have finally started to figure out the best ways to manage a sustainable budget on the road. But it didn’t come easy. We made a lot of mistakes as we stumbled our way around the world. At one point we even ended up $25,000 in debt—all on credit cards. Yes, we had an incredible time, but most of the debt didn’t come from ticking off bucket-list activities; It came from being careless with our money. After a lot of hard work we managed to get out of debt, save some more money, and get back out into the beautiful world. To help you avoid making the same mistakes, we have put together this collection of our 10 best tips for sticking to a travel budget while you’re out on the road.
Keep track of every dollar spent
We write down every single dollar we spend in a little pocket diary. Every. Single. Dollar. At the end of the week we add up how much we’ve spent and use it to keep track of where our money goes. Doing this helps to keep us focused on our goals and see where we need to improve on ways to stick to our travel budget. Having the numbers in front of you makes it seem real and gives direction in your spending habits.
Make a daily travel budget
The biggest tip for sticking to your travel budget is to actually have a budget to start with. Work out how long you plan to be away and make a budget to get you through the journey. Then stick to it. Our travel budget in Southeast Asia is $25 a day each. Some days we go over it, but we always make up for this by having a few quiet days to even it out. If you stop caring, then you may run out of money a lot sooner than you wanted to.
Cut back on the alcohol
Don’t get us wrong, we love a drink or two. But alcohol will cut deep into your travel budget. For example, the average cost of a beer in Southeast Asia or Latin America is about $1.50 (give or take). If we have five beers each every night of the year, that works out to be $5,460 annually. That’s nearly 30 percent of our yearly travel budget! We do love a night out every now and then, but through lots of experience, we have learned that travel is much more fun without a hangover.
Slow travel has a lot of benefits, but the one we are focusing on now is that it saves you a lot of money. Staying in one place for an extended period of time allows you to work out where the cheapest places to eat and drink are. Depending on your bartering skills, you might also be able to make a deal with your accommodation and get a better price for a week-long stay. Once settled, you’ll no longer need to take transportation every other day, which can really cut into a traveler’s budget. What’s more, you’ll get the chance to take a few rest days when you don’t go to museums or check out awesome tours. This means you can relax by the beach or go for a walk, enjoying the downtime by doing some free activities. Trust us, the slower you travel, the less you spend.
Catch public transportation
If the locals do it, why shouldn’t you? Using public transportation can be one of the biggest fears for first-time travelers to developing countries, but 99 percent of the time the local buses or trains are great. Not only are they really cheap compared to taxis or tourist buses, but they can be very entertaining and culturally eye-opening. There’s nothing quite like sharing your seat with a local family of four, their luggage, and a goat to get you up close and personal to a different way of life. Sure it might be a bit less comfortable than taking a private car, but it’ll help with your budget—and your experience. Embrace the public transport, or if you are really adventurous, try hitchhiking.
Eat where the locals eat
The locals usually know where the best and cheapest food is, whether it is street food, a hole-in-the-wall eatery, or a sit-down restaurant. If a place has a crowd you can almost guarantee it will be good. Western-style meals in third-world countries are usually expensive and very rarely as tasty as what you can get at home. Don’t avoid the local food just because you think you may get sick. Fancy restaurants and street vendors all buy their food from the same markets. So if the locals are eating there, it is probably safe.
Stay In cheap accommodations
Accommodations are usually the biggest day-to-day cost of any traveler’s expenses. In many countries dropping a few hundred dollars a night on a nice hotel room is very easy to do. Instead, choose small locally run guesthouses or homestays, or find cheap hotels on the edge of town. In many countries these inexpensive accommodations are pretty clean and comfortable, and they offer the basic necessities—a bed, running water, and a door. Really, what more do you need? To help keep your costs down, you could also try CouchSurfing, but remember CouchSurfing isn’t just about free accommodation.
Shop at the markets
If you are looking to buy anything from fresh fruit to souvenirs or new clothes, local markets are the place to go. The stalls usually have far lower overheads than stores do, and as a result their products are cheaper. If your accommodations have a kitchen, or you travel with a portable stove, you can buy all your meat and vegetables from the markets to cook yourself. Two great travel budget tips in one!
Don’t buy things you don’t need
This should be obvious, but you’ll be surprised how hard it is to not buy that funky trinket or those custom-made shoes as you travel along. If you are only on a short holiday, then go for it. But if you are planning on being on a long-term adventure, seriously consider holding off on any impromptu purchases. If it is something you have always wanted, then that is a different story. But if we had bought every single wood carving and painting we liked, we would be broke. Plus, we would need a truck to carry all the extra gear! For souvenirs we collect small denominations of money from every country—takes up far less room and sometimes only costs five or ten cents.
Don’t give up!
Sticking to a travel budget is hard work, but don’t lose sight of your goal. After a few months on the road staying in basic accommodations, it can be very tempting to go out and splurge on a fancy hotel room and a five-course meal. To be honest, sometimes you deserve it. Just don’t make it a regular occurrence. The longer we’ve been on the road the more we appreciate how far we can stretch our money. Chances are you will never remember that great night’s sleep you had in a $200-a-night hotel, but you will definitely remember forking out only $10 on a room so you could spend $190 on a once-in-a-lifetime activity. Long-term travel is hard, and so is sticking to a budget. The rewards however, are always worth it.