Want to travel yourself, but don’t know where to start? Don’t have a lot of money, but still want to go on the adventure of a lifetime?
I’m travelling on a budget as well, and this page is meant to give you guidance on how to prepare, what kind of money to save, and what to do. I’ll be updating this as I learn *new* tips and tricks, so check back!
Number 1 Rule: You don’t need it all!
Throw everything you want to bring on the floor and separate by necessities and wants. A hairdryer isn’t a necessity. A toothbrush is a necessity. 10 pairs of underwear isn’t a necessity. Maybe 5. More on that later.
Look at all your necessities and make sure they are of good quality. For example, you’ll want a few pairs of socks, but don’t get cheap thin socks. Invest in a some quality brands like Puma, Thorlo, Smart Sheep, etc. I like Puma socks because they have arch support and I feel like they are giving my feet a little hug. You can find them at Walmart, Ebay, Amazon, etc.
After you have all your necessities, start adding the things you want until you almost fill up your bag. You’ll want to leave extra room or pack “throwaway items” so you can bring back souvenirs and new things during your trip. When I was in Colombia I brought back less than 1/3 of what I had originally brought with me. I got rid of most of my clothing and gave it to a local boy who worked in the hostel we volunteered at.
Use packing cubes! This will help you organize all your stuff and you can pull something out without throwing your stuff everywhere. A good brand to check out is eBags Packing Cubes or Topoint Packing Sleeves.
Or if you’re willing to wait a couple weeks to get some cheap packing cubes you can check out Ebay. I personally bought the Pink 5 in 1 Packing Storage Bags for $10. Not as great of quality as eBags (which I also bought some of), but they do work just fine.
First off you need money, but that’s not all!! Being abroad means different currency, you’ll probably have to use an ATM to get cash out, or pay additional fees for using your plastic. ATMs and foreign transaction fees are both expenses that you shouldn’t have to account for. My solution? Open a Charles Schwab Bank Account.
Known for their investing and brokerage, Charles Schwab also has banking solutions. They provide free ATM use around the world, no foreign transaction fees on debit card purchases, and it’s free to open an account. The only downside is they don’t have any physical locations and you can’t deposit cash. They offer free transfers from any other U.S financial institute so it’s a good idea to keep your bank and link it to your Charles Schwab account.
Make sure to transfer plenty of money early on. For the first 90 days after you open your account there is a 5 day hold on transferring funds. Including the bank transfer period it took about 7-9 days to finally transfer funds over. What I typically do now is use the Cash App to send money between my bank accounts and it will transfer money for free in 1 business day or instantly for a small fee. I created two Cash accounts by using 2 separate email accounts. It’s very handy!
Create a Budget
Food. Shelter. Transportation. Those are the 3 most critical items you need to budget for. Having just finished up 2 accounting classes in the past year, I turned to Excel to help create my master budget. This is what is looked like:
I have my 3 critical items, and also the cost of my round trip air fare to and from Europe, the cost of my Visa, and the approximate cost of events that I plan to attend. This is the minimum amount of money I need for my 2 months around Europe. Keep in mind this does not include my 4 months study abroad in Italy, I created a separate budget for that. My Study Visa could have been included in that budget, but since I need to get it before I left for Europe, I decided to include it here. As I spent money, I recorded all of it in sub-budgets which allowed me to get what I actually paid, and from their I calculated the difference.
How did I come up with these numbers? I made mini budgets for each of these categories, then plugged them into the Master Budget to give me a good overview of where my money was going. Note that I had separate excel pages that listed every single transaction for a category and the overall totals went into the following tables.
For shelter, I calculated the approximate number of days I thought I would sleep in a hostel, or at a friend’s house, or out camping. I found the average cost to stay the night per day (in USD) and then I totalled it up. In some cases I only found the cost in Euros, so I just multiplied that by the exchange rate (which happens to be around 1.12 Euros for 1 US dollar).
Transportation I wasn’t sure, but I ended up budgeting 15 per travel between cities since I was taking really cheap buses. I was able to find some really cheap deals from Megabus and I always made sure to buy my tickets at least a week in advance. Since my trip in 2016, I think summer transportation prices have gone up. I estimated about 10 a day in public transit costs since that seemed to be the regular rate of day pass in a city. Of course some days I didn’t take my transit, or could walk everywhere, rented a bike instead, or there was just cheaper travel. In the end I ended up spending a lot less than expected.
Estimated food budget. Again I was very frugal with my meals and would usually opt for cheap grocery store meals and then would spend a little extra on a couple local dishes. I ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches.
My favorite budget, or at least the most fun in my opinion. I purposely had saved money to check out a couple of festivals, go to Ibiza, shop for souvenirs, and go on tours and activities. I ended up only doing Tomorrowland for one day which saved me a considerate amount of money.
This isn’t easy! Especially when you have bills upon bills. I worked 3 jobs this last year to make all the extra money that I could. I could only work part-time since I was in school, but even if you have a full-time job there are still ways you can make a little extra on nights and weekends.
Sign up for a delivery or ridesharing service. The average Uber driver makes $19 an hour. If you work for Favor, Grubhub, Doordash, etc you can make around $15-20 an hour. Amazon Plex is hiring in select cities for $17 an hour. The downside is, yes, they do require you to have a car, but some delivery companies do hire bicycle couriers.
Did you know you can save money just by shopping how you normally do? Ebates allows you to make a certain percentage back on almost all your online purchases. You’ll only make between 1% and 10%, but if you’re already buying the item you might as well be saving a fraction of the cost. All you have to do to make the percentage back is to click the link to the online store via the Ebates website, this allows them to get “advertising revenue” some of which is routed right back to you! Plus when you sign up you get a free $10 gift card to various stores.
Other ways to make money? They may sound tricky, but every little penny is worth it.
- Sell your old stuff: Consignment, Garage Sale, Craigslist, eBay
- Post your skills on Fiverr, especially if you have art, business, or writing skills
- Ask your family (Don’t be afraid to ask them for donations, or a little help)
- Make sure you are putting your money in an actual savings account. Many online banks offer higher interest percentages than traditional banks. I use Ally Bank and it is nice to get a couple dollars extra every month. It makes it especially fun to save!
Overnight + Shelter
One good way to save money (and time) is to book an overnight trip between cities.
If your journey is going to be 5 hours or more, it may be worth trying to find a bus or train overnight. This will save you valuable daytime exploration. If you’re the type who can sleep while on the move, the ride will also go by quicker. Plus doing an overnight trip saves you on having to rent a hostel or other type of shelter for the night. Make sure you carry a sleep eye mask, earplug, and at minimal an inflatable pillow (or two), these are definitely necessities when sleeping on a lot of buses. For ease of mind, you can buy some locks to put on your suitcase/travel bag.