Thoughts on money for the budget-minded
When it comes to travel, there are two things you can count on: (1) you’ll always find a cheaper exchange rate after you’ve traded your money, and (2) you’ll always go over budget. I don’t mean to be negative, but these are the Murphy’s Laws of travel. Yes, there are more, but this article is only concerned with money.
By the way…Congratulations! If you’re sitting somewhere reading this then you are probably already planning a trip. So you’ve already decided to go, but now you want to know how much your little adventure is going to cost. Unfortunately, there is no one universal rule or formula that will calculate your total costs. However, I do hope to show you how easy it can be to put together an estimate, using my own experiences.
The Budget Breakdown Of My 2-Month Backpacking Trip To Europe (Summer, 1998)
Airfare = $450 (round trip, Boston, USA – Paris, France)
Finding a good deal on airfare can dramatically lower your overall costs. The good news is more of those deals are now easier to find thanks to the internet. The days of paying a travel agent to find your deals is over. Now you can perform your own searches from home, in your pajamas. Since I was traveling with the son of a travel agent, I did not get a chance to purchase my ticket over the internet. However, it will definitely be the first place I go when I begin planning my next trip.
The cost of a round trip airline ticket is going to vary, depending on your dates of travel and the distance you are traveling. I can tell you that I thought my $450 round trip ticket from Boston to Paris was cheap. However, if you are in Australia, and planning a trip to Europe or the USA, expect your airfare to eat up a greater portion of your overall budget. And for all the lucky British readers, we envy you for your ability to reach mainland Europe for $50. Regardless of where you’re coming from, it is worth your time to research a good airfare deal. Below are some of the basic options you have:
- Major Airlines – This is a good place to start. Spend some time collecting average airfares between the major airlines. This will provide you with a good jumping off point.
- Charters – I have to admit, the word “charter” gives me an ill feeling after my experience. Since charters operate at a very low profit margin, they have a tendency to make drastic schedule changes on little notice, and even cancel flights all together. The former happened to me. I ended up having to buy a ticket home, from United Airlines, for $600 (which was a deal I lucked out on). Still, if you’re willing to take a chance, this can be a cheap, if not reliable, option.
- Consolidators – Consolidator fares are airline tickets purchased by “airline wholesalers” and then resold to travel agencies at substantial discounts (up to 70% off regular fares).
- Airhitch – This company will place you on flights that have openings. The catch is that you must be extremely flexible regarding which airport you fly out of, which one you land at, and the dates of your departure and return. The reward is one of the cheapest ways to reach your destination (continent).
Rail Pass = $450 (10 Day Eurorail FlexiPass)
Travel costs between cities and countries will vary greatly, depending on how much you want to see, and how long you have to see it. I found my 10 day Eurorail pass to be just right for my 2 months. Of course, it wouldn’t have lasted that long (with 2 days left over) if it weren’t for my trusty erasable pen. There are so many options when it comes to picking out a Eurorail pass, that it is definitely worth your time to find the one that best suits your planned itinerary.
I probably don’t need to mention this, since I’m sure everyone reading this is budget-minded, but don’t even think about buying a First Class ticket. They’re more expensive, and you’re a lot less likely to meet up with other backpackers and young people. Other options for travel include buses, renting/buying your own car (or motorcycle), cycling, or hitchhiking. Each has it’s own pros and cons, which I’m not going to get into here.
Equipment/Clothing = $300 (total cost of essentials only – backpack, sneakers/socks, guidebook)
This is one of the best places to save money. I figured this out after my trip was over, and I was looking back at my various costs. I got a little carried away with my whole “trip of a lifetime” and ended up buying lots of new things. A good example of this was a pair of $70 North Face cargo pants I bought. I had several pairs of pants that I already owned, and could have brought, but once I found myself in a big camping store, I couldn’t control myself. I’m still making good use of them, but they were definitely not a necessity for my trip. Below is a list of what I believe is worth the investment for any backpacker. And of course, you might not need to buy some of these things if you already have them, or can borrow them from someone else.
- Backpack – Look at buying a good backpack as a long term investment. Most backpackers wouldn’t think of traveling any other way (if you’ve experienced it, you know what I mean). For this reason, you can easily get several journeys out of a quality pack. I bought my Gregory Chaos (2,700 cubic inches) for $150 at an outdoor store. I kicked that thing across every dirty train station floor in Europe, and it held up superbly. I’m looking forward to using it on my next trip, and am happy to recommend Gregory packs to everyone.
- Daypack – Most people have a regular book bag that they used for school. If you do, you’ve just saved yourself $20.
- Clothing/Footwear – Don’t make the same mistake I made, and go out buying a whole new wardrobe. However, you should definitely buy a new pair of walking/all-terrain sneakers. Expect to pay $50-75 for a quality pair. I recommend New Balance, which were on 4 out of 5 of my friends feet (myself included). New hiking/walking socks ($10 per pair) are also worth the cost, as you probably can’t imagine how painful it can be to walk on blistered and sore feet. *cringe* This wasn’t my experience, and I attributed my comfort to the sneakers and socks I wore daily.
- Guidebook – $15-20 expense if you don’t have an older brother or sister who can lend you their beat up copy. But seriously, although the major all-in-one guides are updated yearly, the majority of the information remains the same. However, I’d put a limit on how old a book I would use. 5 years sounds too old, right?
- Passport/Visas – $60 in the US. I had already renewed my passport for another ten years prior to my trip, so I didn’t even have to worry about it.
- Optional – Besides the above, there are probably a ton of other items you’ll be bringing, but for the most part, they’re all optional.
Daily Living Expenses = $2,500 ($50 per day x 50 days)
Establishing your daily monetary allowance will be the most important aspect of your overall budget. This is where you can get by dirt cheap, or go for broke! But seriously, I found the $50 mark to be the perfect balance between roughing it and splurging. I was able to drink, a lot. I ate at one sit down restaurant per day. I was able to go to every museum and castle that interested me. I saw 7 musicals in London.
OK, I’ll admit that I went over budget for 2 of my 5 weeks. But, it was only because I decided to travel over to England and Ireland, where the dollar isn’t as strong. Plus, I had the extra travel expenses (my Eurorail FlexiPass wasn’t good in England). Anyway, $40 is definitely the lowest daily allowance I would plan on. Any less than that and you’ll have to resort to hitchhiking, sleeping/camping out, and working. Of course some people will say that’s how’d they’d prefer to travel. Try it, and if you enjoy it, more power to you.
My Total = $3,700 for a 2-month trip to Europe
At this point, those of you who actually read this article carefully will be concerned because I actually spent several hundred $’s more than I’m showing. Well, if I could go back and correct my mistakes, the total $ amount above would be correct. Besides, I don’t want to scare anyone off because of my mistakes.
Don’t let money alone determine whether or not you can take your trip. If worst comes to worst, just scale back to a few weeks rather than a few months. You’ve got a long life ahead of you, and I’m sure you’ll have plenty of other opportunities to travel. Another option would be to ask others for help in funding your trip. You can ask to receive portions of your expenses as gifts, such as your backpack or airline ticket. Find out who in the family has been saving up frequent flier miles for just such a gift. Offer to repay your relatives once you return. Or, and I don’t recommend this option, get a few credit cards together, and become a slave to debt for a few months.
On that note, happy travels!