We often get asked how we can afford to travel so much, seeing as we’re not millionaires and have a mortgage to pay off each month. The answer is pretty straight forward – it all comes down to careful budgeting, meticulous planning and setting priorities for the year. Knowing exactly how much money we have to play with enables us to plan our trips down to the last penny, and gives us the choice of making our funds last as long as possible, or instead concentrating on shorter, more lavish holidays.
Having a clear budget set out makes travelling far less stressful, and means it will be easier to deal with unexpected costs along the way, which we all know can sometimes be a huge part of the holiday experience.
Budgeting Starts at Home
At the beginning of each year, we decide where we want to go, how much these trips are going to cost, and evaluate our monthly budget accordingly. Both of us commit to putting a certain amount aside each month into our ‘travel savings’ account, money that can’t be touched unless it’s for a holiday. Setting up a standing order into our savings pot means we never miss a month, and the money slowly builds in the background of our daily lives.
It’s also quite incredible how cutting down on Chinese takeaways, clothes sale purchases and trips to the hair salon can quickly add up to long-haul flight tickets, luxury villas, hotel rooms and tours, and we make a conscious effort to minimise ‘frivolous’ spending throughout the year when we know we’ve got some big trips coming up.
Many travellers like to use a budget calculator to help keep their finances on track, as well as estimating future income and seeing how their spending habits can affect holiday savings. Having the figures down in black and white has the added bonus of holding you accountable too, so if you overspend on an unnecessary luxury there’s no hiding from the consequences! It’s a great way to see your bottom line after mortgage, groceries and bills have been deducted, so you can easily see what you have left at the end of each month. Some months you might find that you have more surplus funds than expected, which can of course go towards your travels.
Mix and Match Your Travel Style
Budgeting is determined by your style of travel, and whether you can’t consider staying anywhere but the best palace in town, or are happy to sleep in cheaper accommodation to make your pennies go further. You need to determine what your trip priorities are to work out where you are happy to spend less, or more, on your trip.
It’s perfectly acceptable to mix and match, which is exactly what we do. We tend to spend a lot on accommodation, because staying at fabulous places is important to us, but when it comes to dining out, and excursions, we opt for a less lavish approach. We often self cater, skip lunches and explore independently to save money. Sometimes if we’re desperate to sleep somewhere super expensive that borders on the unjustifiable in terms of cost, we’ll choose cheaper accommodation options on the preceding nights to make up for the expense.
Consider Transport Options
Transport can be a huge, or tiny chunk of your budget depending on how you like to travel. Sure, luxury air-conditioned cars with private drivers are a much more comfortable way to get around, but simply by swapping this out for public transport can save you enough to be able to afford a few more nights away. Using local transport is also a great way to really get under the skin of a country, whereas being hidden away in a private vehicle does tend to separate you from society a little.
This strategy works best if you’re not tight on time, as of course public transport schedules and routes don’t always correspond with your own personal journey. But by doing your research beforehand, and working out just how you can use buses, trains and even collective taxis to travel to your next destination, can really make a difference to your budget.
You can go even further when it comes to exploring your local surrounds and chose to walk, or cycle to see the sights. This is the most affordable (or free!) way to travel, and getting a bit of exercise will help burn of those ice cream calories along the way!
Keep Indulgent Dinners to a Minimum
When you’re on holiday it’s tempting to over indulge when it comes to dining out. Three course meals become the norm, and despite a simple sandwich or salad being fine for lunch home, often the lure of a burger or pizza is too hard to resist when you’re away.
We recommend setting a weekly budget rather than a daily one for food, that way you’ll be able to keep costs to a minimum on some days to allow for dining out splurges on others. It’s that mix and match thing again, a tried and tested method that has allowed us to experience all sides of the destinations we visit. Some days we might eat at street markets, trying new and unusual local delicacies at a fraction of the cost of a restaurant, whilst on others we treat ourselves to slap up meals at the best establishments in town. Which is all possible because we rigidly stick to our budgets.
If you really want to save money on food, consider a self-catering holiday so you don’t need to rely on eating out, but do your research beforehand and make sure there’s a local market or food store where you can easily buy provisions.
Skip the Organised Tours
We very rarely book onto organised day excursions, mainly because we prefer to remain independent and find our own way around, but also because it’s often much cheaper doing it this way! It’s best to plan ahead if you’re considering exploring by yourself, so you have an idea of transport logistics, entrance fees and opening times. Make a note of any sights that might have free openings on Sundays (this is quite common in Europe) to save on ticket prices.
However, sometimes it’s useful to have insider information from a local tour guide to really make the most of the experience, and on these occasions it can be a good idea to book onto a tour. To keep costs low, group tours are the way to go, and generally speaking, the larger the group the cheaper the ticket. This might not be everyone’s idea of fun, but when it’s not costing you much, perhaps it doesn’t matter that you’re sharing the experience with other people. And who knows, you might meet some like-minded travellers to spend time with along the way.
Stick to Your Budget
Finally, once you’re away on your travels, it’s really important to stick to your budget, especially if you’re on a longer trip. It’s tempting to just throw caution to the wind when you’re on holiday, but overspending just a couple of times can have a huge impact on the rest of your stay. That sneaky dessert or extra cocktail could mean you’ll have to forgo an excursion later on your holiday, and for us at least, experiences are always higher on the priority list than food!