Four months ago, I traveled to Colombia with an expired ATM card. Although I had planned my trip, considering where I would go, for how long, and how much I would spend, I just didn’t bother to look at my card’s expiration date.
With just a hundred bucks on me, I managed to get money wired, but the mishap taught me a great lesson: there is far more that goes into planning a trip than meets the eye. Having access to cash is absolutely important, but knowing how much you can spend can also make your trip that much smoother.
Responsible travelers plan their trip and their finances before they even board the plane. Constructing a realistic travel budget will keep you from overspending, but it will also allow you to enjoy your time on the road. Now more than ever, with the fluctuating value of the dollar, it is important (and practically necessary) to establish a budget before you leave for a trip.
Here is a list of questions you should answer to get you started:
How much are you willing to spend per day? — This will establish a ballpark budget for your trip and, if you know how long your trip will be, it will also tell you how much you can spend. Know how much money you want left in your bank account when all is said and done.
What is the cost of living where you are going? — Do some research. Know what the currency is called and convert it back to the dollar. Also, travel costs fluctuate depending on the season, so be sure you consider this as well.
How much will food, accommodations, and other expenses cost per day? — Before you even ask yourself this question, you need to decide whether each of these are equally important. You might want to splurge if you want to try the local cuisine; you will pay more to sleep in a central or safe location; you might attend a special event or festival that requires an entry fee. Try your best to predict how much you are willing to spend so that you don’t go over your budget. Save a little here so you can splurge a little there.
What can I do to cut costs? — If you find yourself overspending, then consider some ways you are willing to save while you’re traveling. Drink just one beer a day instead of two; walk to a sight instead of cabbing it; sleep in a dorm room instead of a single… You get the idea.
I met a guy that had just crossed the border into Tijuana only to discover he was out of cash and that he had to go home to Wales. Going home required standing in a 3-hour long line to get back into California, driving an hour to the San Diego airport, and flying 20 hours to the cold Welsh winter.
You should try your best to avoid such an unfortunate situation.
Wherever your journey takes you next, know your budget before you go. It will save you time, energy, and money.