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.