How Much Money Do You Need To Travel? Our Guide To Figuring It Out

How Much Money Do You Need To Travel Our Guide

Whether you’re backpacking on a round the world trip, spending your summer in a villa in Europe (lucky you!), or planning to spend a few weeks driving around the USA, one of the hardest questions you’ll have to answer is: How much money do I need to travel?

Charles and I have had to answer this question for every trip we’ve taken since we started traveling together in 2002. Along the way, we’ve found some helpful tips and resources for figuring out a budget for even the most complex of trips.

We’re going to be doing this a bit old school today, but it’s easy and it works. Before you start, grab a pen and paper, a napkin, or just get ready to jot down some quick notes on your computer.

Where do I start?

Figuring out a realistic ballpark figure for your trip shouldn’t be a long, painful process. To give you a good idea of how much you’ll need should take less than a half hour.

I’m a huge fan of the back of a napkin approach for getting a general idea of costs. Once you get a good estimate and decide to go ahead with your plans, you can play with the numbers to get a more precise figure. I find, though, that a quick estimate is almost always bang on.

How much your trip costs will depend on a few things that you’ll need to figure out before you can crunch numbers. To begin, sort this information out before you start:

  • Where you’re going
  • How long you’ll be in each destination
  • How many people are traveling together
  • Your style of traveling, be it hostel bunks and street food, cooking while staying in homes or apartments rental, or higher end hotels and nice restaurants
  • When you’ll be at your destination (prices are higher during peak season)

What you’ll need to spend before you leave

These include immunizations, travel insurance and gear like a new backpack or new camera.

Immunizations and Vaccines

To figure out what vaccinations you need, check out the incredibly helpful tool on the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) website. Then, do a Google search for travel vaccination clinics for your specific city, and pull the costs for the vaccines from there. Don’t forget to add in the cost of an initial consultation and any subsequent visits.

Tip: You may be able to save money by having the vaccinations done directly at the pharmacy or your family doctor’s office if these services are offered where you live. Depending on the vaccination and who administered it, it might also be eligible as a personal tax write-off.

Travel Insurance

A good place to get a baseline quote for travel insurance is Google’s ITA Matrix (which will show a month’s worth of fares), or Skyscanner, which will let you look at up to an entire year’s worth of prices in one search.

Want to get a great deal on your flight? Check out our post Six Quick Steps to Nailing the Cheapest Flight. If you still have some flexibility in where you’re going, check out our tips on how to find the cheapest flights from your destination.

Tip: Don’t forget to add in extra charges, including charges for extra carry-on and checked baggage. You can find baggage costs for almost every airline out there at SeatGuru.com.

Accommodation

Where you stay is one of the biggest variables in travel. You can spend anywhere from thousands a night on luxury suites to staying for free with a friend or Couchsurfing.

Are you a luxury traveler who only stays in five star hotels, a family that does best with a house or condo rental, an ultra-budget backpacker who stays in hostel dorms, or even someone who’s willing to test out free Couchsurfing accommodations?

Long Term Travelers

If you’re planning to stay in one place for a month or more and live like a local you can get some great information on monthly rents from Numbeo, a seriously addictive crowd-sourced cost-of-living comparison site. Check out listings on Airbnb as well, as this will give you a good baseline for long term accommodation aimed more at tourists (with more modern conveniences).

If you’re traveling long term, don’t forget to factor in discounts for weekly or monthly stays. As a general rule of thumb, we’ve found that most home rentals charge the same for a month long stay as a two week stay. Hotels and hostels also often offer good weekly and monthly discounts.

Backpackers

We like to use Hostelworld to get baseline prices for dorm rooms and budget hotels. They have a huge selection of rooms all over the world.

Vacationers

We love Booking.com  for budgeting for shorter stays, as they have a huge selection of hotel rooms and have a lightning fast search engine. Numbeo also has a hotel prices, but we find that their numbers are a bit harder to navigate than simply looking at a hotel search engine.

Food

Where and what you eat is a huge factor in your travel budget.

In general, eating out costs a lot more than making all (or some) of your own meals, with the exception of countries like Thailand where cheap, delicious meals often cost less than hassling with cooking for yourself.

Eating in

Use the awesome Numbeo, a crowd-sourced cost-of-living comparison site, to get ballpark prices on standard groceries like milk and bread.

Tip: To get an idea of your own personal costs, check out the prices for your home country as well so you have a proper baseline to compare it to. It generally helps if you already have a good idea of what your current eating in costs are as well.

Eating out

Again, Numbeo is a fantastic resource for getting the average cost of restaurant meals, whether you prefer inexpensive local fare, fast food, or a sit down restaurant.

Tip: The more meals you eat out the quicker your costs will skyrocket. Try saving some cash by eating in for breakfasts and bagging the occasional lunch.

Alcohol

It’s pretty easy to spend more on alcohol than food, especially if you’re in the habit of spending evenings out drinking. You can find the cost of a bottle of beer or wine in the Market and Restaurant sections of Numbeo.

Total Food Budget

Once you pull all these numbers, you’ll need to roughly figure out how often you eat in vs out, and then figure out an average of how much you’ll spend per day.

Quick tips for saving on food: Always carry a snack, like a bag of pretzels or nuts, to stave off expensive trips to vending machines or convenience stores. Try to get breakfast included in your room rate, but if this isn’t possible try to get a kitchen (or at least a small fridge or microwave) in your room for snacks, breakfast and quick, light meals.

Transportation

We’ve included airfare in a separate category, so these tips just reflect local transport at your destination.

Again, Numbeo comes to the rescue with estimates for local taxi, bus and gasoline costs.

If you’re traveling in the USA or Canada, we love GasBuddy, which gives generally reliable crowd-sourced prices for local gas. You can also get the free iOS app for GasBuddy, or on Google PlayBlackberry App World or on Windows phone.

If you’re renting a car, we like to get a baseline price from Expedia or Priceline.com, as it saves us having to search through multiple car rental sites. Most of the time (not always!), Expedia’s price is pretty hard to beat for car rentals when you factor in the included extras. Don’t forget to add the cost of insurance.

Tip: Make sure that you factor in the cost for transportation from your arrival airport. Many budget airlines arrive in smaller airports a good hike from your destination city.

Tours

You can find some great baseline costs for tours from Viator or  G Adventures. Traditionally aimed more at young backpackers, G Adventures is moving more into the family and couples markets as well.

If there are any must see locations or must do activities (like ziplining in Costa Rica or bungee jumping in New Zealand) that aren’t officially tours you can still add them here.

Personal

Any personal items you use get included here, from prescription medicines to birth control to shampoo and deodorant. Since these usually apply wherever you happen to be, you can choose to add them or not.

Entertainment

We’ve included alcohol in the food category, so this is the place to best estimate cover charges for bars, concerts, movies and the like that you might do while on your trip.

Debt and Financial

Unfortunately, creditors really don’t care that you’re on vacation. They just care about getting their payments on time. Estimate the amount you’ll need to budget for loan and credit card payments while you are gone. Though they’re not officially part of your trip, you still need to ensure that your bank account can cover the costs while you’re gone.

Don’t forget to include checking and savings account monthly fees and ATM fees. You’ll need to check with your bank for specific fees, but it might be worthwhile looking for a card with zero foreign fees if you plan on using that card while you travel.

The Bottom Line

There you have it – factor all of these things in, and you should have a pretty good idea what your trip will cost.

Don’t forget to add an extra 10-20% to your estimates to cover unexpected expenses. Life has a way of handing out the unexpected ;)

Wondering how you’re going to afford it now? Check out these posts for some help:

Do you have any tips for figuring out a travel budget? Share them below – we’d love to hear what you think!

About The Author

I grew up in a tiny Canadian prairie town and traveling has come to be my passion and joy in life. I love adventure and meeting the completely unexpected and sometimes strange collection of people I run into on the road. I'm always up for a new adventure, on the road or not. I've worked as a baker, bookkeeper, journalist, student, aspiring neuroscientist, technical writer, and now blogger and internet entrepreneur.

26 Responses

  1. Greg

    what on earth is travel insurance? i have never heard of that before? do most people actually sign up for every trip they go on?

    Reply
    • Charles Kosman

      Greg, if you’ve never purchased travel insurance before then I guess you must live a charmed life. As Canadians, we’re used to free healthcare so the thought of spending thousands or more on hospital bills while traveling is definitely a concern for us. Sadly, for most people, it’s one of those things you don’t think you need until something bad happens. By then it’s too late.

      Reply
  2. Jen Seligmann

    What an amazing collection of tips. If I had known what I know now back when I first started travelling I probably would have seen a whole lot more by now. That’s why posts like this are so helpful to those newby travellers out there. Great work guys!
    Jen Seligmann recently posted..Where in the World Wednesday #15My Profile

    Reply
  3. Joe Achman

    Budgeting is huge for travel. And it’s always great to see more (useful) advice out there for people. Once you get a grip on your finances, you’ll see that not only is traveling less stressful, but you can often travel for longer.
    Joe Achman recently posted..How to Brew ChoujiuMy Profile

    Reply
  4. Ann

    What a great resource!

    Numbeo sounds like a great cost comparison source. I always end up using the US state department per diem as a guide. Their prices are a lot higher than what any decent person would need for food, but it gives me an idea of how, let’s say, Berlin compares to Paris.
    Ann recently posted..Open Air Museum Arnhem, NLMy Profile

    Reply
  5. Brian Luckhurst from Home Exchange 50plus

    An excellent thought out list and I guess this comes from your experiences over the past few years. One great way to save money which you have already mentioned is to stay free, either via the likes of couchsurfing or the more traditional Home Exchange. Why pay to stay in a hotel or rent somewhere when you can stay for free?

    Cheers

    Brian

    Reply
  6. Deb Schaffer

    I agree Brian. Although I’ve never used home exchange, my friend and I had great luck with Airbnb. We rented an entire 2 bedroom apartment for the price of a hotel room in Seville and Barcelona, Spain. The Barcelona apartment came with luscious desserts from our host, who happened to be one of Barcelona’s premier pastry chefs! In any case, it’s possible to cut the cost of accommodations without slumming it and having a kitchen available allows for some in-home meals.

    Great tips for budgets!
    Deb Schaffer recently posted..Five money-saving tips for travel budgetsMy Profile

    Reply
  7. Rob

    Interesting aspect on travel insurance. I heavily researched World Nomads insurance before I left on summer trip to Asia, but never actually purchased a plan. Over the 3 months I never had a problem, but I definitely see where it would be nice to have. I’m totally going to reconsider it for my next trip. Thanks!

    Reply

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