I lathered the peanut butter onto the bread, watching as the knife smoothed out the ridges. I slapped it onto the other slice of bread that had globs of jelly on it, and bit into my third peanut butter and jelly sandwich of the day. This was all in an attempt to stick to my daily budget.
I hadn’t considered that buying a $27 bus ticket from Panama City to Bocas del Toro would leave me with $8 left in my daily budget: and I still had to pay for a taxi back to the hostel and then back to the bus station, which is why peanut butter and jelly became my best friend. Sticking to a daily budget is difficult but not impossible (as long as you’re okay with being relatively frugal).
Here are tips for staying on budget while traveling, so you’re not left eating bread, bananas, and beans for a week straight.
Actually Set a Daily Budget
Whether it’s $20 a day or $50 a day, make sure you actually set a concrete budget for yourself. It will be much, much easier to stick to it if you do this.
I tried to stick to $35 in Panama, however, failed miserably. The country was way more expensive than I had thought, even though I was staying in hostels, grocery shopping, and eating local food. I could have stayed on budget, but I might have seen very little of the country had I done that.
Make a Reasonable, Educated Guess
Don’t aim too low, and don’t aim too high (unless you want to spend $100 a day, then, by all means!). Research the country you’re visiting beforehand; check cab and bus fares, food prices, and really anything to give you a better idea of what you should expect to pay.
Countries in South East Asia are usually pretty cheap, while countries in Central America and Europe tend to be on the more expensive side. Of course, each country will have one or several cities or locales that are either far more expensive or far cheaper than the rest.
If you know you’re going to a more expensive country, then try and save up to prepare yourself beforehand. It’ll either be that much easier to maintain your budget, or you can simply set it higher for a more luxurious trip.
Think Twice Before Splurging
“I can totally spend $40 at dinner tonight! I’ll just eat fruit all day tomorrow!” This (usually) doesn’t work, especially when you’re eating three apples for dinner while your friends are stuffing their faces with chicken that smells like it fell from heaven.
Try not to splurge one night in hopes that you’ll be cheap the next day. This can happen every once and a while (everyone needs a treat every so often!), however, don’t make this a habit- it will leave a hole in your wallet. If you must, plan for these occasions by accounting for an emergency fund, and adding it to your total trip expenses (and stick to the 2-for-1 drink specials).
Prepare Ahead of Time
As I said above, research the country you’re going to. It would also be wise to research the average prices of hostels, food, and transportation.
Before going to Panama, I had read that I was going to need to take a taxi from the airport to my hostel. Between two people, it was about $17 each. The hostel that night was $15. Going to Panama, I already knew I had $3 left of my budget the day I arrived (which is partly the reason I ate a papaya and a mango for dinner that night).
If you know the hostels are going to cost $20 a night, don’t set a budget for $25: you’re going to need to eat and you’re going to want to see parts of the city!
Keep Track of What You’re Spending
I have a section in the back of my journal where I write everything I spent money on: from that $1 bottle of water to that $40 bus ride, it all goes in there. Every few days, I add up the total and write it down so I can keep track of exactly how much I’m spending and what I’m spending it on.
This helps me notice if I’m spending too much on food or activities and need to cut it back for a few days to get myself back on budget. If I’m spending less than intended, then I can either save that money or treat myself to a delicious meal or exciting activity.
Some days you’ll go over budget and some days you’ll go under. Keeping track of your expenses will help keep this in balance and help keep you within your budget.
Prepare for Extra but Necessary Expenses
Getting from Point A to Point B may cost you your entire budget; its happened to me a few times. This is why being prepared for these types of expenses is important.
Preparing for emergencies is always smart too (which is why you should buy travel insurance). You may need to suddenly book a last minute flight across the country to make sure you make it to your international flight on time.
Or, you may arrive somewhere and learn that the water is not safe to drink, so you need to buy water bottles. All of these little things add up, which is why it’s important to prepare yourself and make sure you have enough money saved up for emergency expenses.
Do you have anymore tips for staying on budget while traveling?