“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” – Anonymous
Travel Costs and Ways to Save Along the Way:
One of the most common questions when planning any trip is "How can I afford to travel?". Whether people are asking me directly, or inquiring as a question for themselves - the answer remains the same.
The key is to find a balance that works for you and maximize your opportunities.
In order to do that meaningfully and not “go broke”, I recommend being intentional in your approach. This has allowed me to keep the costs low while traveling over the last 15+ years. I hope sharing this insight will give you the courage to plan the trip of a lifetime, (yes, even on a budget), filled with one-of-a-kind experiences, meet your expectations for the journey and leave you excited to pack your bag again.
Prior to any trip planning, I often think about, “What do I want to get out of this?”
Spending time on preliminary work allows better use of your time later. Don’t get me wrong, there are occasions that I act spontaneously and embrace a good detour, but for the most part, I actually take time to think about the type of trip I want to take, why am I choosing this location, and how it influences later decisions.
Let’s take a peek:
Priorities: What are they and how do they guide the type of trip I want to take?
Bottom line, being able to identify your priorities with appropriate preparation is essential for travel. It allows you to get the most out of your wishlist and to stay engaged with what you are looking to do. If you're anything like me, you may find yourself ready to spend money on certain things and less inclined toward others.
For example, I am huge on experiences but less focused on the material aspects. I hardly ever remember to wear a watch, let alone any other jewelry unless I'm buying a local seashell bracelet from a beach vendor, or a sweet set of puka shells (kidding…mostly). As a result, I have extra money to spend on things like scuba diving or guided expeditions that some might choose to spend elsewhere. You may find yourself needing a larger budget to be able to add in other experiences or for accommodation/travel in the high season.
Clothing is big when it comes to saving money while traveling. To each their own here and of course, clothing will always be trip dependent. However, I still rock the same pair of Vans boardshorts from over 5 years ago and counting. For me, if I have something that works, I just stick with it. Less is more in the clothing department, especially in regard to longer-term travel.
I presently live with one carry-on luggage bag, one standard-sized school backpack, and one set of freediving fins (with a carrying case - just got these in Indonesia starting my recent tour) and that’s it.
To me, that's already too much. I wish I could get it down to one bag only, and many can and do. It all depends on your needs and your priorities. The trick is to be careful of your "wants". Wants take up extra bag space.
Add in a variety of cameras (I choose to stay small- one Go Pro, one DJI mini drone, and an iPhone camera will cover most travel documenting needs), and other random trinkets you pick up along the way and it’s easy to see how quickly things can get out of hand when traveling.
SO WHAT’S THE TAKE-HOME ZAC?
Focus on what your priorities are. Do they revolve around any of these topics listed? If so, here is a list to get you thinking about what your trip entails and how you might set a budget.
Experiences - Are you a consistent traveler or a vacation/holiday traveler or both? There is a big difference and it can and will shape the type of experience you have and your traveling needs.
Food - Are you a 5-star restaurant dress-up type, someone who enjoys markets and cooking at your Airbnb, or going for local street food - Or a blend of all perhaps? Your answer to these questions can and will help you sort your budget, which is the focal point of your travel limitations.
Location - Are you staying stationary or moving around a lot? Movement costs money. New accommodations, travel fees, rental vehicles, local transit, etc all add to the cost. The more stationary you are, the more you can save. However, you may also miss out on other attractions around you. So ask yourself, are your intentions to be mobile or to be stationary while traveling - Adventure, relaxation, or both? Balance is key unless you already know exactly what you’re traveling for and what you want.
Accommodation - What’s your budget and your preference? 5-star hotel, Airbnb, couch surfing, hostel, camping… what is your desired level of comfort, and who are you traveling with? These are your priorities which in turn shape your travel experience and guide your planning.
Planes, trains, and automobiles (and scooters when in Asia...) How do you desire to travel? Do you prefer a private car (Uber, Lyft, etc), renting your own vehicle, or local transit? Did you choose a location suitable for biking/walking? Is time a factor for you with regard to traffic, or is your schedule more flexible allowing you the opportunity to choose any and all of the above? Budget is also a priority here as your options may be chosen for you depending on what you can afford, so plan ahead. Transportation can be a massive opportunity to save or spend depending on your traveling goals.
Private cars can and do add up, whereas walking is free. You always have options!
*You can see more about riding around on a motorbike tour in India here.
Entertainment - What are your desired activities while traveling and what do you want to do for fun? Local shows, museums, concerts, live sports, farmers markets, tours - the list is endless. You can determine the amount and variety of entertainment once you confirm your budget. Your choice of entertainment is one of the easiest ways to save or spend money while traveling.
Shopping - Are you a local market shopper or a large mall and name-brand type? Are you traveling somewhere with shopping in mind? Determining this may lead to your destination of choice. After all, swimsuits for beach vacations and camping outfits differ greatly from garments worn for a luxury dinner in Paris. The sky is the limit here… or maybe, perhaps, what’s in our wallet.
Are you seeing a pattern?
How you prioritize your money and the depth of your budget drive your travel plans.
For example, if I have a free diving course I’m interested in I may find myself needing to spend a little less on accommodation in order to budget for the experience.
Also, if you are traveling with others (spouse, family, friends), it is important to have conversations about what their priorities are.
It is easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of a trip and find out later that perhaps, your wants or interests do not align with others in your party.
I can’t stress this enough, take 10 minutes to have a conversation about it. It may save your sanity and allow you to make the most of your time together.
And remember, just because your family/friends may want to do something different, this does NOT mean that you have to abandon the trip together. Having separation can be very healthy, and affords time for all to enjoy themselves while leaving room at the dinner table to hear about the excitement of each other’s day.
One final thing to remember in your planning is that it is quite easy to get caught up in the glitz and glamor of 5-star hotels and other fun activities. The danger here is that one more smoothie, one more fancy dinner, and one more upgrade can be one too many.
I recall many times hearing people talk about “swiping a card blindly” because they don’t want to see the total spent, and then they end up paying for the trip multiple times over, with the credit card interest tacked on....eeek.
As the Spanish would say, that is “No Bueno”.
Be careful not to fall into that trap. Take some time and map it out. Whether you’re traveling in a group, with a spouse, or by yourself, prioritize your wishlist so you have the flexibility to do what you want, when you want.
Utilize a pie chart if that is helpful for you to see your trip’s breakdown or at the very least have a conversation about it ahead of time with a rough idea of your wants, needs, and finances.
Like it or not, our budget does drive our travel.
Feel free to ask any questions about how I prioritize my options - I would love to connect with you.
The world is open. Safe Travels my friends!
Click here to read more about ways to save and other travel hacks