How to Plan Your Solo Travel Budget – On Any Budget


solo travel budget

It’s time to budget my trip to Japan.

I’m excited. I have wanted to go for a long time. And yes, I decided to go before determining whether the trip can come in on budget.

But I’m not worried.

I know how to plan a vacation on a tight budget. I feel pretty capable of planning travel on just about any budget. And while I’d rather not be constrained by money, I’d also rather travel frugally and more, than luxuriously and less. So I choose my destination based on my desire and plan my travels according to the money I actually have to spend.

As I complete my planning for Japan I’ll share my plan and budget with you just as I did for my trip around recent trips to the Adriatic and France: Planning a Road Trip Around the Adriatic: Slovenia, Croatia & Italy and A Short Trip to France: Planning Where, Budgeting & Booking. For now, here’s my travel planning and budgeting process.

how to plan and budget travel

The Rocky Mountaineer is a luxury experience. Via Rail is not. Two different ways to explore the Rocky Mountains by train according to two very different budgets. Read British Columbia by Train: Budget or Luxury. It’s Your Choice.

Two Approaches to Planning and Budgeting Travel

There are two basic approaches to planning and budgeting travel.

  1. Where and how you want to travel. If the where and how of your trip is really important to you (if the destination and your travel style – whether it’s luxury, eating at special restaurants, taking classes, or relaxing at a resort – are not flexible) then your planning starts with how much money the trip will actually cost.
  2. How much money you have. If the fact that you’re traveling is more important than where and how, then your planning is based on the money you actually have.

In each case, you need to know your budget.

Christ Elliott is the traveler's advocate. I have referenced his site often. He knows his stuff and share's it here in a book published by National Geographic Traveler.

Christ Elliott is the traveler’s advocate. I have referenced his site often. He knows his stuff and shares it here in a book published by National Geographic Traveler. Available on Amazon.

If you want to go to one of your bucket list destinations come hell, high water, or tight funds, start by calculating the cost of the trip using the guidelines below. If it exceeds your budget

If you’re focused on the second approach, traveling with the money you have right now, read:

planning luxury travel on a budget

Traveling on a budget does not mean missing all luxury. Read Luxury Travel on a Budget: 32 Tips You Need to Know.

How to Plan and Budget Your Trip

To calculate the cost of your trip start with the big expenses and work down to the smaller ones.

  1. Transportation or Accommodation. It’s a toss up. If you’re taking a flight, this may be your biggest expense. But if you’re taking a short flight to an expensive city, accommodation may be your big ticket item. Determine which is likely your biggest expense and calculate what the cost will be.
  2. Food. What’s your pleasure? This is an expense that can vary widely. If going to the restaurants of celebrity chefs is your thing, plan for it. It will be expensive. If you’re happy cooking for yourself or eating street food, your food budget will be far less. Read Travel, Eat Well and Save on Food. With food you can decide to save sometimes (have a picnic of food from the grocery store) and splurge at other times (at a special restaurant).
  3. Entertainment. Buy in advance? Whether it’s a kayaking day trip or attending a Broadway play, it’s rare to go somewhere and not incur additional expenses for entertainment of some form. It’s important to budget for these. Also note that it may be less expensive to purchase tickets before you go. Read Tickets to Attractions and Day Tours: How to Get the Best Deal. And definitely check out our posts on free and low-cost tips for many expensive destinations like London, Paris, Sydney, and New York.
  4. Walking-around money. You may need money for things like transit, a snack, or sun block. There are dozens of small things you’ll likely buy over the course of your trip. Set a small daily contingency fund for those little extras along the way.
  5. Travel insurance. I believe this to be an absolute necessity. My price and benefits comparison is here: Going Alone? Travel Insurance Is a Must. Also read When to Buy (and not buy) Trip Insurance.
  6. Souvenirs. This is not a line in my travel budget because shopping isn’t my thing. But if it’s yours, make sure you’ve calculated it as part of your budget. If you’re shopping in a currency other than your own, read: Your Currency or Theirs? The Decision Makes a Difference
  7. “Breaking the budget” money. Travel should be fun and it’s no fun being on too tight a financial leash. The amount of your “break the budget” money will depend on how long you’re traveling and your overall budget. I like to have at least 15% of my overall travel budget available for spontaneous purchases.
  8. Use a spreadsheet to calculate your budget. As you’re putting your budget together you’ll be changing your mind along the way. This is where a spreadsheet comes in handy. Click here for the Solo Traveler Travel Budget template.

Travel Budgeting: Let’s Consider Money and Meaning

According to happiness theory, when money is spent on travel, happiness grows over time. However, when money is spent on things, happiness tends to diminish over time. So, yes, buy travel with your money. Plan and budget your trips according to what you can afford. But don’t go into debt for travel. Credit cards are tools. They are not money. So while you may pay for your trip on a credit card, pay the card off before you leave. This approach to money not only relieves painful money woes after a trip (which often negates some of its joy) but also makes the anticipation of the trip that much sweeter.

Travel solo safely!

Last updated: 23rd January, 2018

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