How to Travel on a Budget

How to travel when you are on a budget (and are afraid of the unknown)

First off, I’ll have you know that I’m a Taurus and a recent college grad. What that means is that I love stability and I have no money. Traveling Europe with nothing but a backpack is seemingly expensive and far from “stable.” However, I managed to travel Europe (Greece, Italy and Spain) for 5 weeks for roughly $4,000 (that’s even including airfare and housing!) In my post about Why Your Excuse “I Can’t Afford to Travel” is a Lie, we’ve established that you can, in fact, afford to travel..

So here’s how I managed to “spontaneously travel” across Europe while also managing:

  1. My money
  2. My fear of the unknown

How to travel when you are on a budget

First thing’s first

I’m the realest. Okay, bad joke. On a real note, the first thing I did when planning my Euro trip was research. I found a million different sites and blogs, but one of my favorites was the savvy backpacker. I found the information to be very thorough when estimating how much money I would need to budget for each city.

Second thing’s…second? Spreadsheet time.

I became a bit overwhelmed by all of the information being thrown in my face. So what did I do? What any left-brained individual would do: I created a Google Spreadsheet. I’m not gonna lie, it became somewhat of a monster. I ended up pushing most of the info over to a “junk” Google Doc once I became more organized and knew what info I actually needed.

I obviously couldn’t just delete it all. What if I needed it later?

If you are planning your own trip and want to see the whole sheet, I’ll let you, but if spreadsheets scare you, beware. I tried to simplify each destination by noting the major costs (housing, transportation, meals, drinks/fun, attractions). I used the savvy backpacker and other online sources to estimate these costs.

Google sheet of Pamplona
A glimpse of the Pamplona section of my Google sheet

I started out with estimates of the money I would spend daily. While I traveled, I made note of the actual amount of money I spent. If you go into the full spreadsheet, you will notice that I typically spent less than anticipated (besides in Barcelona…I went a little crazy with the shopping.) I over-budgeted on purpose. This way I knew I would have a security blanket.

Making “travel days” a breeze

Since spontaneity gives me anxiety, I paid for my flights, trains and housing ahead of time. This way I knew I would at least have a roof over my head and the ability to get to the next city. It also helped with budgeting, since I paid for these months prior to my trip.

I noted all of my flights and trains in one place for easy reference on travel days. I also printed out all of my tickets and receipts before I went to Europe.

Google sheet of flights
Okay this might seem a little excessive and detailed, but it made “travel days” so easy and stress-free! Highly recommend!

When to book your flights

Booking companies have done studies on when the best time of year to book your flight is. CheapAir marks the best day to book a domestic flight at 47 days prior to your flight date. Kayak recommends 57 days… So let’s assume somewhere in between. For international flights, CheapAir recommends 5.5 months prior, and Kayak breaks it down by destination.

Europe: 6 months
Africa: 2 months
Asia: 5 weeks
Central America: 4-6 weeks
South America: 3-6 weeks
Caribbean: 2-4 weeks

So for Europe, we can safely assume that 5-6 months prior is the best time to book your flight. However, I booked my flight 48 days prior (so just under 2 months out.) I wasn’t able to book my flight until about 3 months prior, so that last month I spent flight-watching, until I found a round-trip to Milan for $1,100.

While flight-watching, I signed up for notification emails from TripAdvisor about price drops. And I constantly checked Skiplagged for fluctuation estimates in flights. Google Flights is also a good indicator of prices, and Hipmunk is an awesome app if you are looking for cheap domestic flights.

Secretly searching for flights

Google Incognito mode
This is how you find Incognito Mode

I’ve heard from multiple sources that the more you look at a flight price, the more it will go up. Apparently airline companies track and target you if they notice it’s something you’re interested in.

I’m not sure if this is true or not, but we’ve already established that I’m not much into risks. I typically search for flights in Google Incognito mode so they can’t store cookies in my computer and all that technical stuff.

I’m also not sure if this helps or not, but again, not taking chances here.

What are some ways that help you budget your money?

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