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*


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 it’s 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