How to calculate a travel budget (and other tips)

Letter 129

My developed, tried-and-tested formula for travel budgeting works for me every time and should be useful if you’re planning any trip and somehow you have to come up with a number of how much money you’ll need. It’s pretty simple and can take as much or as little time as you’d like – I hope very useful. Bookmark this for future use and have your calculator at the ready!

The most important budget tip: The slower you move through a country or region, the lower your costs will be. Spend some days being lazy, walking around, reading, people watching. They say the best things in life are free – and you’ll miss out on these free pleasures if you try to move too quickly. 

*Photo is from Split, Croatia

 

THE FORMULA

Calculating a budget for a trip is difficult. However, through my type-A controlled, organised, note-keeping nature, I have figured out a pretty reliable formula for calculating the rough cost of a trip before you go. I have the evidence of my previous trips to offer, and of course the details of how to figure out your travel budget.

IN A NUTSHELL

  1. Find out the average cost of accommodation.
  2. Double this to get a daily budget which will include accommodation, food and activities. Multiply this by the number of days you’re away to get a budget.
  3. Add on some for transport – roughly 15% if you don’t want to do the number crunching.

Generally it’s best to do this country by country, or for particularly diverse countries, area by area. If you’re going on a massive trip then just take an averagely priced place for your trip and work it out from that. ALWAYS have extra funds available for if you go over-budget. This is NOT a way to calculate the exact amount you will spend, it’s a formula to give you an idea of your potential outgoings so you know how much you need to save.

STEP 1

Figure out the average amount you will spend on accommodation. I like to do a quick search on hostelworld where you can look at all of the hostels in a country and take a quick note of how much you’re likely to spend. I’m picky with where I stay – I don’t go for all of the cheapest places (and I don’t think you should), just a decent, highly-rated, mid-range hostel. If you might stay in airbnb, check these out too. Make sure you check for the right rough dates – prices go up in peak season! Also I always quickly check what the price is showing – is it for an awful 20 bed dorm, and could I pay a couple of pounds extra for a better room. I take this into account as well.

EXAMPLE

I looked at different hostels in Germany for a trip of approximately 3 weeks in May. These were the prices of hostels for random dates, at hostels I would potentially stay at (good ratings).

  • Dusseldorf – £20.80
  • Heidelberg – £21.73
  • Stuttgart – £20.91
  • Rottweil – £21.25
  • Lindau – £25.78
  • Munich – £20.64
  • Oberstdorf – £22.22

These show very consistent hostel prices for the area of Germany I looked at (south-west). They give an average of £21.90.

 

hostel germany map

This is useful for getting an idea of where you could stay on your trip – where there are hostels there are other travellers and there are things to do

hostel germany prices

You can see an overview of a few places and average prices – BEWARE – these are mostly for the cheapest possible – ie out of season and big dorms etc.

munich hostel example price

This was one of the hostels in Munich – you can see the price is double when you look for dates in season!

Dusseldorf hostel example

Dusseldorf hostel example 2

Example of Dusseldorf – I would choose the smaller dorm for £1 extra.

Heidelberg hostel example

Heidelberg hostel example 2

Again here, I would choose probably the 6 bed dorm.

 

STEP 2

Now you have your average accommodation price, you have a benchmark for figuring out everything else. I have found that the accommodation price is generally representative of the daily spending on food and activities. So you can simply double this and that will give you a daily budget including everything apart from travelling between places.

I generally find this works even when you’re on the road. More expensive hostels are generally in more expensive places, so if my hostel is £15, I’ll try to spend no more than £15 in the day. I do find, however, that it’s best to calculate it for a whole stay, because some days you’ll do something big and spend more than others. So if the hostel is £15 per night and I’m there for 3 nights, I’ll budget £45 for spending. I might spend £20 one day and £10 on the other two. Keeping track of your spending in a little notebook, or better still diary, really helps!

You can then multiply this number by the amount of days, weeks or even months that you’ll be there to give you a budget.

EXAMPLE

The average accommodation cost was £21.90, so I would budget £21.90 for spending each day. This gives a daily budget of £43.80.

For a 3 week trip this would give a rough budget of £919.80.

STEP 3

Now you need to figure out how much you’ll need to add on for transport. This is where you have to do some more serious calculation – if you want it to be accurate. It will depend on how often you’re moving, the distances you’re travelling, what mode of transport you’re taking and of course is individual to each country. Some countries are incredibly cheap to travel around and could be taken out of the daily budget, others are not. A quick google of a few example routes should give you a good idea. I would recommend checking a couple of routes and noting down the prices. Then if you have an idea of how long you’ll spend in each place, use your budget calculation to figure out the price of the stay, and work out what percentage of that price the travel cost represents. (I’ll work it out in my example because I don’t know how best to explain this one.)

EXAMPLE

I used GoEuro to get these prices – just a benchmark and I wouldn’t book anything in advance or online.

  • I looked at Cologne to Heidelberg – where the price of a train was about £18 or a bus was £10. (I choose bus).
  • Heidelberg to Stuttgart – train £20 or bus £8 (bus again – double the time but still only 2hrs so worth the saving)
  • Stuttgart to Rottweil – train £25 or bus £8 (clearly buses are coming out cheapest and they are not too long so I think I would always pick the bus)

If I imagine that my average stay is 3 nights, then the cost of that stay is £43.80 x 3 which equals £131.40.

The average (rough) transport costs is £8.67.

I can calculate what percentage this is of the daily budget by calculating average transport divided by average budget for stay.

8.67 / 131.40 = 0.066

This means 6.6%

Then I can use the total budget I calculated for 3 weeks (£919.80) and add on 6.6% for the transport.

6.6% of £919.80 is £60.70

 

Just as an idea of how I have expensive I have found transport to be, these are the percentages transport has played in the budget for different trips I’ve taken – all of different lengths.

  • Montenegro (2 weeks) – 10%
  • Croatia (3 weeks) – 24% (very high here! I moved quite a lot and transport is expensive in Croatia)
  • Andulucia (1 week) – 11%
  • Italy (10 days) – 9%

If you don’t want to go through calculating it, I would recommend adding on a standard 15% which should cover transport costs if you’re not moving every day/other day.

Move slower and the percentage will be lower.

FINAL BUDGET

There you have it. You’ve calculated your average accommodation cost (step 1), turned this into a daily budget which can give you a rough trip budget (step 2) and then figured out roughly how much extra you’d need to add on for transport (step 3).

EXAMPLE

The final cost of my example Germany trip (3 weeks in May) would be £980.50 or roughly £327 per week. That doesn’t mean I would spend that much – in fact I think it would be less because I don’t think I would spend that much on a day to day basis – but it gives you a benchmark.

This formula is designed to give you a rough idea of how much to budget, and more often than not will accommodate for some ‘over-spends’. I try to keep everything as cheap as I can whilst still staying in decent places and doing everything I want to do.

I hope this makes sense! If you have queries about this – please ask!

These are a couple of the trips I’ve taken and how my formula worked out:

Montenegro

montenegro example

See the full post – Complete Montenegro Itinerary and Costs Revealed!

Croatia

croatia example

See the full post – Complete Croatia Itinerary and Costs Revealed!

Andulucia, Spain

andulucia example

See the full post – Andalucía Itinerary and Costs

Italy

Check out the post here – Travelling in Italy: costs revealed!

Iceland

Check out the post here – A week in Iceland for £500?

 

Flights

This is the first thing you’re likely to shell out any cash on before a big or small trip, but isn’t generally considered part of the budget. I have some tips for keeping flights cheap and therefore lowering your budget. Some are widely known, some aren’t.

  • Clear your cookies/history or browse in the private/incognito mode before you even think about flights.
  • Skyscanner – I always begin my flight search with skyscanner, mainly because of it’s everywhere function. You can do very wide searches, for example from the UK to everywhere. If you have an idea of the country you’re going to or the airport you’d prefer to fly from you can obviously narrow it down.
    • I frequently set up price alerts for flights I’m interested in and you then get daily emails of their current price.
    • Momondo is another website which now has very similar functions to skyscanner and I find really good.
    • It’s worth checking skyscanner, momondo and even kayak before going directly to the airlines to book.

I had a trip planned to Berlin just before Christmas and knew the days I wanted to fly, so I set up multiple price alerts from various airports. I got an email one day saying one of the return flights had gone down from £80 to £24. I booked there and then! I checked after I booked and it had gone right up again so it must’ve been a glitch or something – did me very well!!

  • You’ll often find cheaper routes that leave from an airport that isn’t the most ideal for you. Sometimes they are worth it – if you’re saving £100 and the train to get to the other airport is only £20 then it’s obviously worth it.
    • Consider the EXACT saving – if you add in all transport costs (and the lunch you’ll buy for the journey) and you’re not making a significant saving, it’s not worth it.
    • Also think about how much extra time it’ll take you.
    • Convenience is sometimes worth paying for.
  • Cheap flights are also typically the ones that leave at 5am or arrive at 1am. Personally, this is a massive inconvenience and often a bad start to the trip (especially if you’re on your own), so I’d rather pay for a better timed flight.
    • Sometimes you can’t avoid it, and that’s fine, but I always try to arrive in daylight to any place I go to.
  • When booking you’ll be bombarded with extras to add on, most of which you don’t need, so be careful.
    • Baggage is the main one, but you need it so what can you do? When comparing flights, check the airlines baggage costs because this can often really tip the scales (no pun intended).
    • Seats aren’t necessary.
    • Don’t book insurance or anything through the airline – I don’t even know why they ask?

I flew from Lisbon to Budapest in June on WizzAir and paid £55 for the flight but had to pay a massive £45 for baggage. Total rip off but it was the route I needed on the day I needed so I had to do it. It also arrived at a stupid time, I think past midnight. Luckily, Wizz did something right and I got a cheap, hassle-free transfer to the centre.

 

Travel Budget Tips

  • Choose to only eat out once a day – or even every other day for a really nice meal.
    • Go to the local market or food shop and pick up some delicious goodies for breakfast (I’m partial to a cereal and yogurt combo) and some rolls, sandwich fillers and snacks for lunch and store them in your hostel kitchen to save a fortune. Taking a packed lunch for a full day out is a great way to save cash.
    • I personally would rather splash out on really good local food once every few days rather than eating out at cheap restaurants every day.
    • Cook some nights in the hostel kitchen – you can even team up with other hungry backpackers to cook something delicious.
  • Use student discount if you have it! So many places accept it and sometimes you’ll save 50%.
  • Bring a reusable water bottle – if the water is drinkable of course. Bottled water is pricey!
  • Use a specific travel currency card that doesn’t charge for atms for spending abroad.
    • I’ve used Caxton fx for 4 years now and I love it. Very simple to load and then I take out the local currency for free.
  • Look out for hostel leaflets at hostels – sometimes hostels partner up and offer discounts at others which is always a bonus!
    • In the Balkans there’s a scheme called the Balkan Backpackers (website here) where you can get 10% off at loads of hostels – and they are nice ones.
  • Emailing hostels direct to book instead of using booking sites can save money in some cases.
    • If you cancel/rearrange it’s free because you don’t pay the deposit.
    • The hostels benefit because they then don’t have to give 15% of the booking cost to the company.

 

The most important, budget tip: The slower you move through a country or region, the lower your costs will be. This is mainly due to transport (as I explained earlier) but food and activities also play a part. Spend some days being lazy, walking around, reading, people watching. They say the best things in life are free – and you’ll miss out on these free pleasures if you try to move too quickly. You’ll also spend much more.

 

Sorry for the stupidly long post but I hope it’s useful! Any other tips you have, or formulas for budgeting, please comment!

Happy travels,

From Lou

About Me

PS. I just wanted to quickly show you how much difference travelling quicker makes.

  • The average transport cost I calculated was £8.67
  • If I instead make the average stay 2 nights instead of 3, the cost of the stay would be 43.80 x 2 which equals £87.60
  • By calculating 8.67 / 87.60, I get 0.099, or roughly 9.9%
  • For average 3 night stays, the percentage was 6.6% and the total budget of the trip was £980.50
  • For average 2 night stays, I must add on 9.9% to the accommodation, food and activities budget
    • 919.80 + £91.06
    • TOTAL BUDGET £1,010.86
  • As you can see it makes a difference when you travel quicker!

 

 

25 thoughts on “How to calculate a travel budget (and other tips)

      • Jamie Devine says:

        I am planning on Indonesia, Cambodia, Phillipines for a month or so. Then over to Eastern Europe for a month then a few countries in Europe. I am pretty flexible at this point and totally open to suggestions! I will be in between jobs so would like to do it in three months…maybe four 😁

        Like

      • aletterfromlou says:

        Sounds amazing! I can’t speak for the Asian countries you’re thinking of (though I know they sound wonderful) but I know some more about Europe. If you’re looking for cheap and interesting I would say the Balkans. I loved Montenegro and this year am heading to Bulgaria so I can comment on that later! I’m dying to visit Albania, Macedonia, Serbia and Romania. They are all super cheap and very diverse! I think the standard Eastern Europe capital city hop covers places like Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow, Prague, Vienna and Budapest – all of which I have heard are lovely, but have only been to Berlin and Budapest. Personally I have spent most time in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece (I like the sun so I tend to stay south!) and I love all of them. So much to do and see. Italy is definitely the most pricey, followed by Greece.

        Have fun planning and I look forward to hearing about it when you go! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jamie Devine says:

        This is so helpful! I will definitely take a look at other things you have posted and also may pick your brain a bit more as I get closer. The only place I have been to in Europe and Eastern Europe is France. So I really want to take two months exploring. I was thinking of doing the typical european countries originally but I am now leaning towards spending a good amount of time in Eastern Europe. Thank you for your advice 😁

        Liked by 1 person

      • aletterfromlou says:

        Yeah I think eastern Europe is underrated and well worth a visit! Yes definitely get in touch nearer the time – would love to help! I will also hopefully be visiting Poland and the Czech republic at the end of this year so if you’re interested in those then I will be able to tell you about them! 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jamie Devine says:

        Yes! For sure! My great grandparents were Polish and Lithuanian so that is on my list! Also Czech republic, so I will definitely contact you for those as well! Thank you for your help! I appreciate it!

        Liked by 1 person

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