Posts Tagged With: travel budget tips

Magic trip-planning formula?

In most life situations, I like to think I can be spontaneous.  Financial situations, though? No. I like to know what I’m getting into.  Making a travel budget is no different.  Oh sure, I’ll make sure I have some wiggle room so that if something comes up unexpectedly or there’s an activity that I just cannot pass up I can do it, but even then, I’ve financially planned for spontaneity. Some people might see that as being Type A. I see it as a way to travel better, longer, and cheaper. Judge me if you must; follow my lead if you’re smart. 😉 Just kidding, I think that everyone has a different way of traveling and as long as that way works for you, keep on keeping on.

What was my point? I know I had one…ahh, yes, my point was sometimes I wonder if I am too obsessive about being able to accurately predict what I’ll spend on a trip. Didn’t get that from the paragraph above? Yea, me neither, but I swear that’s what I was thinking about when I started writing this post.  I should really work on my editing skills. Anyway. What made me think of this was the following situation: I was researching hostels in Paris, Nice, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Salerno and narrowing down my picks for each city. I realized that a couple of the places would be less expensive than I had previously assumed. That got me thinking about my budget projection for each country, which made me question how accurate said projections are.  That in turn made me wish that there was some magic formula I could use to figure this all out, like accommodation cost = x, food cost = y, transportation cost = z, and activity costs = v. If x=n, you can use that to figure out the average costs of y, z, and v.  This made me break out various Lonely Planet guide books looking for a correlation between accommodation cost and average daily budget.  Yes, I am a nerd and yes, this is really what I’m doing on Friday night. My findings were inconclusive.  The average accommodation costs were anywhere between a fifth and half of the average daily budget for the country.  So no magic formula. 😦  Oh well, worth a try. Then it dawned on me.  As I said earlier, I think that everyone has a different way of traveling and as long as that way works for you, keep on keeping on. So I thought to myself, ok self, what is your way of traveling?  Well, I prefer to walk or take basic public transportation whenever possible.  I value price followed by safety and cleanliness followed by location followed by atmosphere when I look for accommodation.  I eat street food whenever possible for a more authentic experience.  If I have time, I like to spend a couple days just getting to know the place I’m in before engaging in any tourist activities (I find it helps me to get a truer feel for the culture and helps me weed out the tourist traps).  

Knowing all this and my previous experiences of traveling on a budget, I decided (somewhat arbitrarily) that accommodation and transportation usually take up half of my budget and food and activities take up the other half. Out of the first half, it’s probably something like a 70/30 split. 70% of 50% is 35%. Ok, yea 35% of my budget on accommodation sounds reasonable. 15% on transportation. For the second half of my budget, it’s probably closer to 50/50 so 25% each for food and activities.   I put this to the test for my budget projection for Italy.  I picked Florence as my test accommodation because I think that will be close to the average of what I spend in Italy. The hostel that is my top pick at the moment is $24 USD/ night.  If that is 35% of my budget, my budget is $68.57 USD/day which is right on par with what I had estimated ($65-72/day).  

Woot it worked! That doesn’t mean it will necessarily work for other places, because some will have lots of free activities, others will have no street food, others will be very walkable, and still others will involve sleeping in a hut.  The important thing to me is not that it worked, but that I now have a new way to be totally obsessive compulsive about my trip budget planning.  Obviously, this magic (or not so magic if you want to be completely honest about it, which I don’t) formula is tailor made for me and is based on how I weigh each of the four categories.  If you prefer eating all your meals out, but not really doing many paid activities or if you want to cook most of your meals and stay in nice, private rooms or if you are renting a car, but staying in a shit-hole of a hostel or if you…well, you get the idea. You have to figure out what is the most important thing to you.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Italia fever and tips on stretching your travel budget

As I mentioned in previous posts, one of my best friends, Linds, is going to meet me in Italy this fall. We have a few places we HAVE to go and a few more that we want to go so right now, we’re just working out what is the most important to us and making it fit within our budget. Thankfully, we are both on the same page when it comes to the money.  She is hoping to go for 9 days (though I’m going to try to talk her into a few more…shhhh! don’t tell her! Oh right, she reads my blog…) and has a budget of about $1500 US for everything including flights. I’m going to try to show her that with that budget, she could travel for closer to 14 days.  It might sound difficult, but I think this is totally doable if we use our heads.  Here are some tips we can use to stretch our budget a little further.

One of the easiest ways I’ve found to save a few bucks without sacrificing your experience is to switch up your meals. This is such a great tip, especially for single travelers who don’t have the luxury of having anyone to split a meal with. Instead of having your big meal of the day at dinner, have it at lunch.  A lot of places offer a slightly smaller version of their dinner menu at about 2/3rds (or less) the price at lunch time.  The portions may be a bit smaller, but how many times do you finish everything on your plate when you eat out anyway?  For dinner, grab something lighter, like some yummy street food or a sandwich from a local deli.  You still get to experience the local cuisine and have some killer meals, but by switching up when your big meal is, you can easily save 3 or 4 or more bucks a day.  Add that up over a week and you have an extra night at a hostel!

Take advantage of free food.  By this, I do not mean you should line your pockets with plastic bags and stuff any food you see lying around into them, though I guess if you’re desperate, that’s one option (gross). What I mean is, if your hostel offers free breakfast, take them up on it. Even if you aren’t hungry right that second, there will probably be something you could discretely put in your bag, like a piece of fruit or a roll, for later when you’re jonesing for a snack.

Travel slowly. This is by far the best way to save money.  Trains, planes, and automobiles (and boats) all cost money, so when you hop from one place to the next, you usually end up spending more money then if you just settled in one place for several days, really got to know the place, and then moved on to the next.

Walk.  I love getting into a new city or town, dumping my stuff at the hostel, and wandering aimlessly until I am good and lost.  It really helps me get a feel for the city and many times I end up finding a beautiful park, historic building, or charming local dig that I never would have found had I taken a bus or a guided tour (which cost moolah and many times are more of a safety blanket than a necessity).

Research ahead of time.  This should be a no-brainer, but researching a place ahead of time can really save you some cash, as well as some unwanted stress.  You can find a cheap hostel in the cool part of town, learn which museums have free days, look into multi-day bus passes, and more.  That’s not to say you shouldn’t leave room to be spontaneous — you absolutely should! But getting an idea of what to expect from the place you’re visiting can really help you make those spontaneous decisions.

Eat away from the tourist sites.  Think about tourist attractions in your own town and the types of restaurants that are close to them.  Many are overpriced and usually a watered down version of what the regional food is really like.  Walk just a few blocks away and you could find some delicious and authentic food for about half the price!  The best example I have of this is when I was in NYC with my college choir. A bunch of us had gone to MOMA and afterwards, were trying to figure out where to eat as we walked back to Times Square.   My friend Jen and I were walking in the back because everyone else was arguing and getting snippy with each other and seemed to resent the fact that the two of us were just happy wandering around. We were both pretty hungry and getting tired of all the drama going on in front of us, so we started looking on our own.  We pointed out several possibilities to the rest of the group, but everyone else wanted to go to some were more “New York” (aka touristy). We were fed up at this point and just about to give up when a door opened. Literally. A door. To a little mexican restaurant on a street far from the action with salsa music blaring out of it.  Jen and I looked at each other, ditched our group, and enjoyed one of the best mexican meals we’ve ever had.  We each got a full meal (though the portions were so big we took about 2/3 of our food back to the room) and a ginormous fishbowl margarita for a total, with tip and tax, of under 30 bucks.  We spent less than 15 dollars a person on a great dinner in one of the most expensive cities in the US and would have spent about 7-8 dollars a person if we had known the portions were that big.  All that just by going away from the tourist zones.

Stay somewhere that is what you want to do. I realize that is really awkwardly worded, but this is what I mean.  In Italy, I think Linds and I are going to stay a couple nights on a farm stay.  It’s conveniently placed right between two places we are definitely going, so makes a great stopping point,  and is in a beautiful location (in Abruzzi National Park).  More than that though, the farm stay is also the activity. We can take hikes in the park, learn about organic farming, and even pick our own fruit…for free. There is a chef at the farm who makes all the meals for a very reasonable price (about 15-18 euro for 3 meals a day plus all the fruit you can eat) and they even sell homemade wine (just 4.50 euro a litre). If we don’t want to eat there, we can easily walk the 40 minutes to the village and get something there, or maybe hitch a ride. Add in 19 euro a person for the double room we’re sharing and we’ll be spending just 40 euro/person/day.

My last tip of this post is that while saving money on your trip is good, don’t fall into the trap of saving money…and sacrificing your experience.  Remember, you traveled here for a reason. You want to experience the culture, food, life, etc., not just camp out in your hostel and do nothing for fear of parting with a little moolah. What’s the point of traveling if you don’t go out and see/do/taste/drink/touch what the destination is about?

Happy Travels!

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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