Battling The Bank Balance Blues: Budgeting Basics for World Travelers

My personal goal is to travel within a three-thousand-dollar-a-month budget. Not only can it be done, but I’m doing it. It takes planning and preparation. Every traveler must address the cost of visiting a foreign country before getting on a plane and flying halfway around the world. In this blog post, I will cover a few budgeting essentials.

The first thing you want to find is…

Budget-Friendly Countries.

Spending a few weeks in cities like London, Paris, Rome, Zurich, New York, and Sydney, to name a few, is way over my budget. However, if you’re smart about it, you can still visit these places while traveling, but I’ll touch upon that in a later post.

Finding a budget-friendly country is easy. I saw lots of them. Countries like Turkey, Thailand, Vietnam, Bulgaria, India, and Albania, to name just a few, are relatively cheap to visit, which is why I spend time visiting or planning to visit each one.

I can add more to the list, and so can you, but that’s not the only factor. You want to find countries that also have affordable transportation throughout their country. This way, you can travel from city to city, see the sights, and find places to visit the next time you visit. And you will find little gems all across the globe, like I did.

That’s one reason why people travel to Europe and Asia frequently. You can find economical buses that go from city to city without much problem, or at least between major cities. Some countries have limited winter bus service. But again, it’s all about planning.

Visas, Entry Requirements, and Entry Fees

Depending on the destination, visa costs or entry fees must be factored into the budget. So far, only Turkey, Cambodia, India, and Vietnam have required a fee. You pay for India and Vietnam when you apply for a visa and Cambodia and Turkey when you enter.

You will need to check the visa requirements. The most significant factor in getting into a country is your passport type. For example, I have a U.S. Passport, which allows me to enter most countries without any issues.

However, another post answers whether you need to apply for a visa, entry requirements, and length of stay.

Accommodations

My number one travel requirement for a hotel room is having a private bathroom. I don’t rent hostels or rooms with shared bathrooms because I don’t want to wake up at night and walk down a hall to relieve myself. I also don’t want to wait until the toilet is available in the morning, especially if someone takes a lot of time or isn’t considerate of the other person. A private bathroom is a personal option; you may have a different opinion.

That said, most budget-friendly countries have budget-friendly hotels. Four-star hotels can be found for under $40 a night, and many of these places offer a complimentary breakfast.

In addition, I have found guest houses and apartments under $40 a night that come with kitchens, refrigerators, plates, and utensils. But remember that cooking oil, butter, sugar, and spices are not included in the rooms.

So, if you like to cook, this can be a money saver, depending on your budget. Although it may be cheaper to eat out in Albania than to cook yourself if you can believe it

Daily Food Expenses

Eating out every meal can add up quickly. There’s the concern of budgeting for food while still wanting to experience the local cuisine. That said, I’m not what you would call a “foodie.” I can survive on a limited diet of chicken and pizza daily and be okay with that.

But everyone isn’t like me. Some people want to try the local cuisine, and I do. But when I have to eat out, I mainly eat something basic at a reasonable price. Essential foods like pizza, pasta, burgers, chicken, and vegetarian dishes are available in almost every country. Most fast food chains from America can be found in most major cities worldwide.

Every country I’ve been to, in Europe and Asia, has plenty of open-air markets and street vendors that sell fresh fruits and vegetables. I often eat these while walking around a city. The best strawberries, oranges, and grapes I’ve ever eaten were bought at these markets.

If you’re like me, you may have some dietary restrictions. I suffer from gout. Meat, pork, and potato chips (I think it’s the oil they’re cooked in) can cause painful flare-ups that can leave me stuck in a hotel room. If your diet is already somewhat limited, you can find adequate substitutes.

Some countries require different precautions before eating, but that’s for another blog post.

Transportation Costs

Whether it’s international flights, local public transport, or occasional taxi rides, transportation can consume a significant portion of the budget. Finding the most cost-effective options is a constant concern.

My most significant single travel expense is the overseas flight from the United States. There’s not much way around that. However, the costs drop considerably once you arrive and travel from country to country.

First, you must realize that your first flight overseas will be your trip’s most expensive single cost. So, planning for that is a priority. I will touch upon a few tips to start your thinking.

I have found that approximately ninety days before your flight is the best time to buy. This has the best deals I have seen. Not only that, but the days and the times you purchase will change the price.

I have found great deals at 2 am and 2 in the afternoon. I noticed a change in prices from a Saturday to a Tuesday. It’s a kind of crap shoot, so check all your options.

However, the most significant cost factor is the day you fly out. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays usually give me the best deals. Since you’re traveling for a while and have the time, flying a day late or earlier will be fine.

Currency Exchange Rates and Fees

Fluctuating exchange rates and fees for withdrawing money or making transactions abroad can impact the budget more than expected. A bright and expensive way to spend overseas is to have a credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees.

The second cheapest way is to bring cash that’s accepted everywhere. You will pay a fee for the transaction, but your bank and the local ATM are added to the exchange fee.

The expensive way is to withdraw cash from ATMs. Here, you will be charged exchange fees, local withdrawal fees, and bank fees, which usually add five to ten percent to the withdrawal amount.

If you decide to use this method, the only advice I can give is to withdraw the maximum amount for every withdrawal because your bank charges and the local transaction fee will be consistent, no matter the amount.

So, the fees will be the same if you take fifty or three hundred dollars from an ATM. As a side note, if you go to rural areas, you may be unable to use credit cards. I have found that three cities in Albania don’t accept credit cards at restaurants, grocery stores, and tourist attractions.

Emergency Funds

Setting aside money for unexpected situations (like health issues, lost/stolen belongings, or last-minute changes in plans) is optional, but not having it could be stressful.

I gave one of my sons money to keep as an emergency fund. If he needs to wire money or buy something for me, he knows he’s covered for the cost.

But this is a personal choice. My children would help me even if I didn’t give them an emergency fund.

Travel Insurance

Some countries require that you carry travel insurance. However, after over six months of travel, no country asked if I had insurance when I went through passport control. That said, I do carry health insurance for my own security.

I pay under $500 a month for health insurance that covers me 100% if I stay in a hospital overnight. My policy is good everywhere except the United States. Shocker, uh! I pay for 100% of any injury that requires me to visit a doctor and is released that day. I’ve never had to use it, but it’s there in an emergency.

That said, most countries only require basic travel insurance. And if you’re traveling for a month or two, that’s what I would buy. It’s cheaper than what I carry, but it’s good to have in case of an emergency or a natural disaster, and it may give you peace of mind.

But the bottom line is you are responsible for your own health. And what type of insurance you want to carry is up to you. You know your health better than I do. You may have health issues that require extra care; I don’t know. I would get the policy you feel comfortable with because I am not giving anyone medical advice. 

Mobile Data and Communication Costs

Staying connected with family and friends back home or navigating with mobile data can lead to additional expenses. That said, I don’t pay to have phone service overseas. Instead, I use Whatsapp, which is free and only requires Wi-fi. So far, I have been able to use it anywhere there’s decent cell service.

I pay for a year of phone service in the United States and then buy eSIMs for the area of the world I’m in. This is a lot cheaper than paying for overseas phone service. I pay about a dollar a day for my eSIM service. I’ve used eSIMs in Croatia, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Eastern Europe without any problems.

I wrote a blog about items, how they work, and their limitations in a previous blog, which you can read.

Tourist Attractions and Activities

Because I travel long term, I have time to stay in areas longer than a week-long tourist. Therefore I can find ways to keep cost down. Here’s one thing I recommend.

Take a free walking tour. These are available in most cities and have English speaking guides. These are done on a tip basis, so you can decide the worth. Besides getting a two hour tour of a city. You also get to ask questions of the guides and get tips about restaurants, places to see, and basic safety tips. 

I find them a great way to get acquainted with a city and to meet people from around the world.

I took the walking tour in Tirana, Albania, and out of twenty people, I was the only one from the U.S. But everyone spoke English.

In Conclusion

I hope this post gave you ideas for your planning. Thinking about costs before you travel long term is part of the planning. But if there are any questions, comments or concerns you want me to address on future posts, or what to contact me personally, please leave a comment below.

Till next time, enjoy life’s journey.

Joseph OBrien

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