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STA Travel Blog

Your Time is Now – 13 budgeting tips for big trips

As part of our series on Gap Years, sabbaticals, big trips and everything in between, today’s blog comes from online marketing exec and spreadsheet geek Sarah Verrall

 
Back in 2011, my boyfriend and I made the now-not-so-crazy decision to take a career break and travel the world for 8 long, glorious months. We had worked hard to save up but we didn’t quite manage to save as much as we would’ve liked, so travelling on a tight budget was something we had to get good at pretty quick.

When I arrived back in London in summer 2012, I had done the unthinkable; I had come back with nearly £1000.

“How on Earth did you manage that?” I hear you ask.

Okay, I’m a massive geek. I admit it. We kept an expenses spreadsheet when we were travelling, tracking every penny we spent. Now, I totally understand keeping a spreadsheet is not everyone’s cup of tea and some of you may think I’m a total nut job (although anyone who loves to channel their inner geek or is interested in how much we spent in each country can download my spreadsheet here). For those that shudder at the thought of it, there are plenty of other great ways you can keep your spending habits in check whilst travelling. Here are my top tips for travelling on a budget:

travel money

How to travel on a budget

Set realistic expectations

Before I left I spent hours Googling ‘How much money will I need for 8 months travelling around Asia and South America?’ The more forums I read, the more confused/worried I became. Try not to stress about how little you have/how much everyone else has and work with what you’ve got. Saying that, you need to be realistic; you cannot get by on £500 a month in Australia without working.

If you’re short on dollar, stick to cheaper countries and avoid the more expensive ones, or consider going for a shorter period of time. If you’re stuck, speak to one of our Travel Experts (like I did before I went) and they can help you plan an awesome trip that won’t blow your budget.

Travel off-season

During off-peak times you’ll get a much better deal on air fares and hotels. Don’t be put off travelling in the ‘rainy’ season either. The downpours are short and sharp – just dart into the nearest bar/café and grab a drink while the storm passes. Often countries are lush and green during the rainy season and the scenery can be quite spectacular.

Thailand rain

And when the rain stops you're still here not there

ISIC card

If you’re a student, I would definitely recommend getting an ISIC card before you go. They’re only £12 and you can make savings on a whole bunch of things from bus passes to Lonely Planet books to entrance to museums, and when you’re travelling, every little bit helps!

Fly open-jaw

That’s flying into one city/country then out of another. Flying open-jaw can you save both time and money on a big trip as you avoid having to make a needless return to your starting point. You can also get some great flight deals flying into less popular cities and travelling on from there.

Bank Cards & Money

So many people get stung by excessive withdrawal fees when they’re travelling. I met a couple who had lost £700 over 9 months just in bank fees! It’s worth doing your research on different bank accounts and credit cards… that’s where our beautiful little travel cash card comes in. With our cash card there are no fees on transactions and always a flat rate fee of £2.25 when you withdraw, no matter where you are in the world. You also can earn cashback while you’re away for more travels in the future!

Buddy Up

Buddying up when you’re travelling is a great way to save money. Ask your new travel mates if any of them fancy sharing a taxi to the airport, or getting a few pizzas between you for lunch. Don’t be embarrassed to broach the issue with your fellow travellers; you’re all in the same boat and they’ll probably be grateful that you asked.

travel friends

Just make sure you don't get lumbered with the "guy with the guitar", no money is worth these grimaces

Watch the booze intake

Okay, so I know a lot of you won’t want to hear this (I know I didn’t) but watching how much alcohol you consume can save you some serious moolah. By all means enjoy yourself but just make sure you keep an eye on your bank balance. We met a guy who was supposed to be travelling for a year but he had blown his entire budget in 3 months on partying and was having to fly home earlier than planned. It may sound extreme but it is a lot more common than you might think.

Avoid the main tourist drags

Accommodation and restaurants are usually quite a bit cheaper if you avoid the main tourist hotspots. Khao San Road in Bangkok is a classic example of this. Stay a 15 minute walk away and you’ll pay significantly less, still be close to all the action and you won’t have to put up with the loud music vibrating through your dorm room until 7am.

Cook up a storm

Eating out in some countries is more expensive than in the UK and can come as a bit of a shock – especially in Australia where the average price of a meal out for two is around £40. Skip the bistro, pop to the local supermarket and whip yourself up a delicious dinner in the hostel kitchen. It’s a great way to expand your culinary repertoire, plus a hostel kitchen is the perfect place to hang out and meet new people. It also means saving your pennies for cheaper destinations where you should always…

Eat local

If you are eating out, local food is always cheaper and, to be honest, just much better! You can pay over-inflated prices for burgers and pizzas when you’re back, so get adventurous and try some of the local dishes.Our personal favourites? Pad thai in Bangkok, dosa in Taiwan, arepas in Salento, Colombia, choripan in Buenos Aires….we could go on!

street food

Cheep and delicious. *insert that's what she said here*

BUS OR TRAIN IT

As tempting as it is to get internal flights everywhere, getting the bus or train is significantly cheaper, and despite some of the horror stories you may have heard, 99% of the time totally fine. Every traveller has a funny bus story to tell (mine involves a Cambodian Karaoke bus which quite frankly scarred me for life), it’s all part of the adventure. Bus and rail passes can offer big savings too and are definitely worth checking out. If you do have to take an internal flight, try and book as early as possible to get the cheapest fares.

Drive a hard bargain

Always negotiate – whether it’s the price of a taxi to the airport or a knock-off handbag at a Bangkok market, there’s always room for negotiation. It’s common practise in many Asian, African and South American countries to bargain over the price of pretty much everything – always go in low and always be polite. But ultimately remember that people still have to make a living, pay what you think is reasonable, and don’t forget, a smile goes a long way!

Global Sim Card

What’s the plan for your phone while you’re away? Don’t tell me you’re going to rack up expensive international calls home. Even if you just plan on face-timing everyone, it’s good to have a phone that makes calls and won’t cost the Earth – just in case of emergencies! Enter: STA Travel Global Sim Card. This handy sim card gives you FREE incoming calls in over 80 countries, mega low data rates from just 13p/MB AND you can save up to 70% on international roaming rates in 190 countries worldwide. Basically will just save you some serious dollar.

Did you learn any valuable tips whilst you were away? Let us know your top budgeting tips in the comments box below!

If Sarah’s budgeting adventures have you reaching for your piggy bank check out our top deals on everything from buses to hotels, flights to adventure tours. Every penny you save now is one to spend on route
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Showing 23 Comments

  1. hannah

    Was the spreadsheet for yourself or for both you and your boyfriend? some things seem very expensive for just 1 person i guess if you were always staying in private rooms it would make a bit more sense, plus what was your start budget?

    1188 days ago
  2. Joseph

    Great post as me and my other half are currently planning our trip in September. I would like to know the same answers as Hannah above though :)

    1187 days ago
  3. Anna Corbett

    HI Guys,

    I’ve asked Sarah and yes the spreadsheet is for both her and her boyfriend. They stayed in private rooms in Asia and mostly smaller dorms in OZ and South America.

    They started with a budget of £1000 per person per month, in Asia they spent around £750pp and more in Oz + Latin America. The first two months of the trip are missing from the sheet which were 1 month in India where they spend £500pp and 1 month in SE Asia where they spent £750pp.

    Hope this helps!

    Anna

    1187 days ago
    • Joseph

      Yeah that is brilliant – Thank you :)

      1187 days ago
    • Laura

      There are also a few posts on the STA blog that have rough price guides for various regions/countries – certainly for Australia and South East Asia – which might be helpful

      1184 days ago
  4. Cal

    With you travelling with your boyfriend did you get private rooms the entire way or did you still share with others?

    1185 days ago
    • Anna Corbett

      Hi Cal,

      Sarah and her boyfriend stayed in private rooms in Asia and mostly smaller dorms in OZ and South America.
      Hope that helps!

      ^Anna

      1181 days ago
  5. Maxine

    I like the idea of Sarah and her boyfriend writing down their expenses on their journey. I know Australia has some lovely hostels. In South America I stayed in private rooms. I bought a tent for my trip to Iceland. It saved me money for sure. I like to travel by train and bus to see scenery on my trip when I can. I also walk around the cities I go to. I do self catering and don’t eat out.

    1177 days ago
  6. Amelia

    Try couchsurfing- out of nearly 9 months in Australia, only once I have spent more than £500/ month.

    1169 days ago
  7. Freya

    Hi,

    I can’t get the spreadsheet to download :( is there any way it can be emailed to me?

    Thanks

    1169 days ago
    • Anna Corbett

      Hi Freya,

      I’m afraid we can’t email it out individually but it’s working our side – maybe try a different browser or make sure yours is up to date?

      Anna

      1166 days ago
      • Harrison

        Hi Anna,

        I can’t get the spreadsheet to open either. I have tried on a number of different devices but it isn’t working. Do you have another link for this?

        1146 days ago
  8. Nel

    I’m going traveling in December for 2 months to India and Thailand.
    My saving was going great, I was putting £500 a month away, until July when I lost my job! I’ve paid for the flights and accommodation for the trip but not food or buses etc. I’ve managed to save £1000 roughly for spending money. Would this be enough? I’m pretty good with money, but I want to be able to experience as much as possible! I’m currently trying to sell as much as my stuff as possible and moving back in with my mum to save money too. How much would you say is enough to not have to worry? 1 month in India and 1 month in Thailand.

    1164 days ago
    • Anna Corbett

      Hi Nel,

      Sorry to hear that you lost your job, spanner in the works or what. We’d say about £600-£750 for a month in India but you can definitely get by on less. Thailand’s not as cheep but if you’ve already paid for accommodation then you can probably get by on under £1k – just stay out of the tourist traps and watch the beers!

      Best of luck with your saving, sure you’ll have an amazing time.

      ^Anna

      1164 days ago
    • Sam

      In my experience with Thailand (and not including flights) you should be fine! DId a month in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia for around £700-800 and a month separately in Vietnam for £700 (excl. flights) and staying in nice hotels. Look at doing hostels, streetfood and avoid expensive excursions while you’re there! You can do most attractions using local buses, and avoiding expensive/extensive day tours where they’ll make you see stuff you don’t need to (think stone carving workshops, silk factories etc.) Oh and of course while you’re saving in the UK, the ‘do I really need this’ and ‘pub is a savings destroyer’ approaches are working well for me :)

      886 days ago
  9. Jess

    Hi. Great post and very helpful :) Slightly of subject, but when you went to Thailand, how did you get around the visa situation? I am planning on being there longer than 30 days but am not 100% when I will be leaving, and I’ve heard they often ask for proof of onward travel by air. I won’t have this as I don’t know when I will be leaving Thailand but I know it will most likely be by land.

    Thanks,
    Jess.

    1158 days ago
    • Sam

      Hi Jess,

      Thailand is surrounded by fantastic countries, so I would use that as a great excuse to renew your Visa! But be aware that you can only acquire a 14day Tourist visa via land transit.

      Many tour offices offer ‘Visa run’ services but from what I’ve heard that can be anything from piling in a bus to exit/enter the country to handing over your passport for someone else to carry over for a stamp – definitely do not suggest you do either.

      Otherwise look up the consulate and apply for a longer, multiple-entry tourist visa, a bit more hassle and money but as far as visas go I’m sure it won’t be a difficult one!

      886 days ago
  10. Luciie

    Hi, So what bank account was it that had no overseas fees . THAT is exactly what I’ve been trying , and struggling, to find.

    1154 days ago
    • Anna Corbett

      Hi Luciie,

      Sorry for the delay – I wanted to ask Sarah about this. She said she went with a Norwich and Peterborough account at the time but because things change with banks so often she’s not sure if it’s available any more. Using a money comparison website is a good way to check all the different accounts and find the right one for your trip.

      ^Anna

      1150 days ago
    • Sam

      I’ve gone for Halifax Clarity, it’s fantastic. But you may still be susceptible to local fees charged by foreign ATMs (the same as the machines inside nightclubs here that charge £1.50 for the convenience)!

      Big tip: ALWAYS have 2 cards abroad (e.g. 1 Credit, 1 Debit), and leave one in your hostel locker during the day!

      886 days ago
  11. Maxine

    I have a Norwich and Peterborough Light Account. I can spend overseas without fees up to 250 pounds a day. I used to spend overseas with a debit card which gave me lots of fees. I also have a Halifax credit card to use if my debit card doesn’t work. I also take some foreign money with me. Look on Money Saving Expert to see which bank cards are the cheapest for using overseas. Banks close some deals. I am so glad I opened the light account in 2012.

    348 days ago
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    321 days ago
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    320 days ago