Tips for Staying on Budget While Traveling

May 1, 2015

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.

tips for staying on budget while traveling

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. 

tips for staying on budget while traveling

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). 

tips for staying on budget while traveling

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!

tips for staying on budget while traveling

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.

tips for staying on budget while traveling

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?


  1. Comment by Ryan Biddulph

    Ryan Biddulph May 1, 2015 at 11:44 pm

    Loving all the tips Monica. We stick to a budget because there’s so few Ruppiah to spend here in Bali with the awesome USD-Ruppiah exchange range. Work off of a daily budget, splurge here and there and just enjoy the benefits of living in a foreign land without getting too caught up in spending. Thanks!


    • Comment by Globe Trottica

      Globe Trottica May 2, 2015 at 12:48 pm

      Thank you so much, Ryan! That’s exactly the way to do it- that way, when you do splurge, it feels like more of a treat. :]

  2. Comment by Priyam Patel

    Priyam Patel May 8, 2015 at 7:19 am

    Hello Globe,
    I truly like your post and I am very much inspired from your Bio frankly. It is a big thing to travel across 22 countries in the of 21. By the way all the tips you have mentioned in the past and have adopted them while you’re travelling are helpful indeed.

    • Comment by Globe Trottica

      Globe Trottica May 9, 2015 at 11:05 am

      Hi Priyam! Thank you so, so much for your kind words! I’m so glad you’ve found them helpful 😀

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