Tips to Stick to Your Budget When You Travel

There are a lot of things we all can do to save money for travel . And most of us are pretty good at it. The hard part, however, is sticking to a budget once you are on the road.

Over the past 15 years, traveling independently has thought me quite a lot of lessons. Each one helped me improve both in setting a budget and planning for the unexpected things on the road.

Here are some tips which help me stick to my budget when I travel.

Set a budget

You cannot stick to a budget unless you have one. Whether you use Google Sheets, Expensify, Evernote or any other software or app, make sure you have access to it all the time to use it. Personally, I still carry a notepad and pen with me when I travel.

Make sure to create categories, such as accommodation, transport, food, entrance to sites and misc. Once you have a total, make sure to work out how much you have to spend per day, on average. And stick to it!

Each time you spend money, write it down somewhere. At the end of the day, make the total and assess the situation. You decide what to do with the leftover money.

Consider the exchange rate

I made a huge mistake back in 2011 when I didn’t consider the exchange rate vs inflation in Budapest. As a result, I ran out of cash several days before the original date to get back home. So I had to exchange the train ticket. Account for that whether you exchange the money at home or pay by card.

Lists are your friends

I always make two lists: what I must visit and what’s free to visit. The latter may, of course, contain items from the first. For example, British Museum in London is both a “must visit” for me and a free place to visit. Win-win!

When you research a destination, make sure to dig for those free walking tours – which are not really free since you do have to leave a tip -, museums that are free to visit, places which can be visited for free and so on.

Personally, I hit the must-visit free places first and then see what I can afford from what’s left.

Allow for an indulgence

Choose a must-visit place and go there even if it’s expensive. Or plan for dinner or lunch at a nice restaurant. Or go to a concert. Whatever you like and feel special doing it, make sure to incorporate it in the budget.

Choose the right souvenirs to bring home

Guilty! I love to get small souvenirs. The key word being “small”. Fridge magnets aren’t super expensive. In fact, you can find them from 1 euro a piece. Postcards cost as little as 50 euro cents. With that said, yes, I brought back home coffee mugs (but they were 1 pound each). I also brought back spices (2 euros for a pack of oregano, yum).

I usually have a 5-10 euros budget for souvenirs. And that includes what I bring for friends/family. And now you know why my family and friends have a huge collection of fridge magnets and spices.

Visit the market

I am a sucker for farmers’ markets all over Europe. So I make sure to visit them to get to know the destination better. Or to buy the spices I bring back home. Or to buy food for my stay in that place.

Not every culture is OK with bargaining

Especially in Central Europe, don’t expect to bargain for everything. You can try your luck at the market, but it’s less likely to work. In Southern and Eastern Europe, it works at the souvenir shops. The more fridge magnets you buy, the cheaper you can get them to cost.

Walk as much as you can

The easiest way to keep your budget in check when you travel is to walk. It may mean that you spent a bit more on accommodation to be close to the sights, but, overall, it usually ends up cheaper than using public transportation.

Needless to say, my FitBit is proof that I rack up a lot of steps when I travel because I try to walk (almost) everywhere.

Use public transportation

If you have to cover longer distances, for example when you go the airport, opt for public transportation instead of a taxi. This also means to check the flight times and see if you can find flights during the operation hours of the transportation.

In many cases, getting a 24 or 48 hours transport card is a very good idea when you plan a day or two of visiting sights located far apart. Group cards offer even better value for money.

What other tips & tricks do you guys use? I’m very curious!

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20 thoughts on “Tips to Stick to Your Budget When You Travel

  1. This is a fantastic post. I love the setting a budget one especially. It’s so easy to get in trouble by reaching for the plastic. Once you have an idea of how much you can spend, you can go from there.

    • Ah, plastic (Credit / debit cards) is a major no-no for me. I use them as back up / emergency but generally have cash with us spread between the two of us (and in so many weird places..lol)

  2. Very good tips. I agree it is useful to organise budget, make notes, lists and don’t get crazy about souvenirs. I always try to keep my savings for adventures instead of spending them for things.

    • Hi, Lia. Haven’t heard of that one (I’m on Android). I used Expensify for a good while but now I just use Evernote to track or a Google spreadsheet.

    • Hi, Sarah. Rental apartments and even hostels offer the possibility to cook “at home” / at the accommodation, as well 🙂 We started to do rentals a lot lately.

    • Hi. Yeah and many cities offer free walking tours (sure, you give a tip but it’s still super affordable and you learn about the city)

  3. Walking and public transport are the two main ways I’ve been able to save so much when traveling. But I agree that it is important to allow for an indulgence here and there! I try to allow for one indulgent activity on every trip!

  4. Great tips here. I agree, that the exchange rate can get you sometimes, and its always a good idea to take advantage of the many free things to do in countries that you visit.

  5. These are some really good tips. Not just to save money, but to also get to know the place better.
    I could add one more – picnic for lunch. Not only does it save you money, it gives you complete flexibility to travel anywhere you like during the day. It saves time too. On top of that, you can visit the otherwise busy places at lunch time when most other people are eating. And, if you are traveling with kids like we do, it’s something they always love, and they eat better and healthier too. 😉

    • Except if you are in Italy as everything is closed around lunch time :))
      We often skip lunch, to be honest. Have breakfast, go out, come back later for an early dinner.
      We are a couple without kids so we have the luxury to skip meals haha

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