Estimating Travel Costs

As we have mentioned many times throughout this website, there are many factors that contribute to the cost of your trip. Every traveler and every trip is different. If you're on a longer trip, some people will tell you it's not possible to predict how much your trip will cost. This simply isn't true. While there are many variables that will affect how much you spend, budgeting a trip is like budgeting anything else in life. You have to account for your own personal variations and preferences. Having a budget is crucial to making sure your trip doesn't financially spin out of control. That being said, it can be hard to exactly predict a specific cost, but it is possible to get fairly close. Naturally, the shorter the trip, the easier this is, but this process is catered towards people that are planning longer trips.

How much should a trip cost?

There are too many factors that affect a travel budget, so there is no simple way give a rough estimate of cost, especially if your trip is more than just a few days or weeks. What type of hotels are you staying in? How will you get from place to place? Transportation and accommodation are two of the most expensive areas that travelers spend money on, but there are many more.

Factors that affect a travel budget:
  • Where you choose to visit will have the biggest impact on your budget. Europe and the U.S. are expensive, while India and Cambodia are very inexpensive. Naturally, spending a longer period of time in cheaper locations will allow you to stretch your budget and travel longer. There are some surprisingly expensive destinations that you should be aware of. Brazil and Argentina are much more expensive than some of their nearby South American neighbors. West Africa is also quite expensive due to limited hotel and restaurant options (those that are available are overpriced and of low quality). Eastern Europe remains cheaper than most of Western Europe, but prices continue to rise and Eastern Europe is no longer the extreme budget destination it once was. This is particularly true for places like Greece and Croatia, that have long been discovered by travelers and vacationers alike. Asia is a mixed bag, with more developed countries costing more, and many developing countries (particularly in Southeast Asia) being much cheaper.

  • Your travel style can have a significant effect on your budget. If you're on a truly tight budget then you will likely have to sacrifice some level of comfort and luxury during your trip. Using public transportation is cheaper than hiring taxis or renting cars, but often not as efficient or relaxing. Staying in hostels or budget hotels is probably the most effective way to save money. You'll need to figure out your priorities, though. Are you willing to share a bathroom, or even sleep in a shared room in order to travel for a longer time period? But with these sacrifices come some rewards. In many places, locals take public transportation so you'll have a chance to interact with the people of the community and you'll get to experience what daily life is really like. Although hostels offer less privacy, they also give you the chance to meet other travelers, many of whom are also on long term trips. These travelers are an excellent source of information and travel tips. It's also fun to have the company, particularly if you've been traveling by yourself for a while.

  • The time of year you travel to some places can also make a difference in cost. Traveling in the low season or shoulder season can often land you significant discounts. These discounts are not nearly as large as the savings you will get from staying in hostels or budget hotels, however. Also, be aware that some travel destinations essentially close down during the low season. This is particularly true in areas with extreme weather fluctuations. If most of the area's hotels and restaurants are closed, then those few that remain open will likely raise their price significantly. Also, if you're traveling somewhere specifically to experience the outdoor activities, then make sure you go during the best season. Places like Nepal or Patagonia are obvious trekking destinations. There are very specific seasons when it is best to travel there, and you are better off if you arrange your trip around these times, but the prices are also highest during these periods.

  • How quickly you travel from place to place will significantly affect your budget as well. Transportation is expensive, especially if you fly often. Taking local overland transportation tends to be the cheapest way to go, but it's not as cheap as just staying put for awhile. Besides, taking a longer time to get to know a place is when you open yourself up to the most interesting experiences. Another benefit to traveling slowly is that it gives you time to simply walk around a place. If you're only in town for a few days, then you'll likely try to visit all the museums and attractions that you can within those few days. This will dramatically increase your daily budget and, in turn, raise the total cost of your trip. Take your time and soak up the local atmosphere if you're on a tight budget. You never know what you might discover, as you will have time to get off of the beaten path.

  • Tours and guides are another expensive part of traveling. Often you can see the same places on your own and learn from a guide book instead of a person. While the quality of the information you might learn from a book versus a person is debatable, there's no arguing that some tours can be extremely expensive. Many tours also include transportation and meals, so it may be worthwhile to consider this before making a final decision. If you do decide to take a tour, ask other travelers who they would recommend. Personal recommendations mean a lot more than any suggestion in a guide book or on the internet.

  • Children will add considerable expenses to your budget. You'll probably want to travel with a little more comfort and stability if you have kids. That's understandable. Don't let that stop you though! Your entire family will benefit from the experience.

  • Working while you travel is always an interesting debate. Many people believe that they can work and travel at the same time so that they can offset their expenses. Some believe they can get jobs in certain countries, and while this is possible, it is not always practical or guaranteed. Also, the jobs avaialbe may or may not pay the amount that is needed to travel. Be realistic about your expectations!

    Some people also believe they can be digital nomads and make money while blogging, being an influencer, or a freelancer. Make sure that you have already established yourself as such before you just take off, as many travelers attempt to do these things and are then sadly dissapointed in the financial results during their trip.

    One very reliable way to make money abroad is to teach English as a second language. Many countries have frequent opportunities for native English speakers to teach at schools or companies. For more information, read this great article about the best places to teach English abroad.

Research is Key

If you want to create a detailed breakdown of how much your trip will cost, you'll need to gather some resources. Keep in mind that it is impossible to foresee every expense. Remember, long term travel is about staying flexible. If you plan out your expenses to the very last detail, then you're probably going to have to plan your actual trip to this detail, and that is definitely not "staying flexible". Instead, allow for conservative estimates. It's better to budget too much money for something than not enough. Then, if things do go as planned, you'll have a little extra cash for when you get home, or even to spend when you extend your trip.

It is possible and advisable to create a general plan. The most basic steps include:

  • Determine an average daily total for each country you plan to visit. Consider accommodation, food, entertainment and transportation expenses.

  • Reality check that total. Approximate the cost for a hotel, food, entrance fees (museums, shows, etc), and local transportation. Consult guidebooks, other travelers, and booking websites to ensure that your budget is realistic for your travel style.

  • Think about how many places you plan to visit. How much will each section of the trip cost? Price out as many plane and long distance train tickets as you can. Transportation costs can be a significant part of your budget, and it is relatively easy find a good estimate for these costs. Be realistic though. If you don't think you'll take night buses, then budget enough for the more comfortable and efficient option. Don't assume you'll find that once in a lifetime deal on a plane ticket. If you're traveling in peak season, expect to pay peak season prices.

  • Add in costs for visas, vaccinations, and new gear. Don't forget to consider health insurance and other forms of insurance. These expenses can quickly add up. If you're planning to book an around the world plane ticket then make sure you budget for any unexpected changes. Each change will likely incur a fee.

  • Add at least 10% to your total, probably more. This is your budget. Reality check it one more time and make sure you've leaned on the side of conservative.

Finding realistic costs for all of these items can be tricky. Sometimes you can rely on other travelers, but sometimes not. Every traveler has their own style and priorities and just because somebody else spent one amount, doesn't mean that you'll spend the same. Prices poste online are generally a good bet, but remember that prices can change and vary by date, supply & demand, and other factors. Online prices are can often vary by the website, too. Some guidebooks may be reliable, others less so. Prices rise quickly and many guidebooks are at least a few years old. Hotels that are listed in guidebooks are also known to raise their prices quickly. The recommendation of Lonely Planet or other books can put a hotel or hostel in high demand, so don't expect to pay the price that is listed in the book. With that disclaimer aside, we've outlined a few resources below to help you plan your daily travel budget.

Budget Your Trip's travel cost search allows you to find out what other travelers are spending. You can search by city, country, and budget type (more options are coming soon!).

Guidebooks and online travel guides often give you an idea of how much specific hotels, hostels, or food will cost in a city. It's important to remember that printed guidebooks are often slightly outdated. Expect to spend a little more than a price that's quoted in a book. Online prices also vary by season and demand. If you go ahead and book something, then you can lock in your price, but you still need to be prepared to pay a little extra for tips, fees, and other random costs that might creep in.

Travel forums such as Lonely Planet's Thorntree or Nomadic Matt's travel forum offer a great resource to discuss expected expenses in a area. Find a forum that stays active and you can usually expect prompt, although varied, responses.

Hotel and airline booking websites have up-to-date pricing that is usually reliable. Make sure you are confirming a price during the season you plan to travel as seasonal price variations can be significant.

Travel websites such as Seat61.com offer a fair estimate of costs for intercity public transportation. You can often check public transportation costs on a city's government transportation website (such as the NYC subway website, or Paris' Metro website).

Budget Your Trip
Budget Your Trip is all about finding out how much everything costs so that you can travel cheaper and longer. With average daily travel costs that are calculated from the budgets of real travelers, you can find out how much money you need to plan your next adventure. On this website you can also find travel advice, tour information, accommodation reviews, and activity suggestions for thousands of destinations around the world.
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