How do you know how much money you’ll need when you travel internationally?
My husband Adam and I asked the same question between 2012- 2014 as we were saving money to prepare to leave it all and travel the world for two years. Our intention of our travels was to just travel and not have to work.
So, we saved up $31,000 to travel with and we also saved up $15,000 for our emergency fund. The $31K was all we could use for our travels. The $15K was only for emergencies on our travels or for when we decided to return home and have to find jobs.
With $31,000 to travel with and with the hope to travel for two straight years, we knew we needed a daily budget to keep us accountable and not blow our money. We got the idea from Nomadic Matt to budget ourselves with $50 a day. We weren’t sure this would work, but we started off trying it to keep ourselves accountable to our budget each day.
To make sure we stayed on track, we sat down each month and tracked our expenses using mint.com and did the math to make sure our daily spending was at or under $50 a day for that month. We’ve been tracking our monthly budget per day since November 2014.
To provide real numbers, here was our daily budget traveling to three different areas of the world for several months at a time and this also shows our mode of travel: A note on our expenses: While we were traveling Southeast Asia and New Zealand, we were solely living off of our savings.
By the time we reached Europe, we could afford to spend more per day and our days cost more because we were making money with our businesses and we were starting to practice saving for the future again. With only $50 a day for two people, you have to be strategic and creative with how you travel. Here are eight money saving tips we’ve learned for while you travel abroad.
8 Tips to Determine Costs & Save Money while Traveling Abroad
First, can you afford traveling to a country? The best resource we’ve found to figure out the cost of traveling somewhere abroad is nomadlist.com. It’s an awesome membership site for digital nomads that shares an estimate of the cost of living in over 1,200 cities around the world.
For example, it shows the city of Ubud in Bali, Indonesia is $1,325 per month or Christchurch, New Zealand is $2,275 per month. To have access to Nomad List, you can choose a membership plan that’s forever, or per month, or per day.
This site is a great starting point to see an estimate of the monthly cost to live in a city. It also shares information on how safe the area is, how good internet is, how fun the city is, and other information. You can also connect with other nomads in the area on the platform.
2. Create a Daily Budget for Yourself.
Like we shared earlier with our experience, breaking down our budget into a daily number provided total clarity for our travels and kept/still keeps us accountable to our spending. To start, figure out how much money you have to travel with and then divide that by the number of days you plan to travel abroad. This will give you your daily budget. Again, having a number for your daily budget gives you clarity of your finances, accountability to your spending each day, and gives you a realistic view of what types of destinations you can afford.
If you go to NomadList.com, you can easily see if you can afford traveling to a city with your daily budget or where a good place to explore is for you. Like we shared, we had a daily budget of $50 per day to stay on track with our fixed budget. Of course, we were never perfect. Some days we’d go over and some under. However, tracking ourselves over the month kept us attached to our budget, accountable to our spending, and motivated to stay on track.
3. Go Slower and Stay Longer.
We’ve learned with all types of travel- traveling the US in an RV, Airbnbing Europe, and with staying in bed and breakfasts and apartments in Southeast Asia, the longer you stay (a month or more), the better rate you can get per night. For example, for a two month stay in Bali, Indonesia we were able to negotiate a beautiful two story villa with a pool for $15 a night.
In Chiang Mai, Thailand we stayed two months and got an apartment for $15 a night.For Europe, we booked a stay in Athens, Greece for one month and used this spot as a basecamp for traveling to other areas and islands. By staying for a month in Athens, Greece versus quick one week stays, we got a month of our stay for the price of three weeks.
Other benefits of staying longer is you get to know a location and a culture better. You also have more time to form relationships with local folks. And lastly, by going slower it’s less stressful with less planning and logistics to figure out.
3. Use Credit Card Travel Points to Pay for Flights and Hotels.
This is a great way to keep large chunks of money in your wallet. For all of our flights traveling abroad so far, we’ve used credit card points to get us there. This way, we only pay the tax to get us to a new country. While we were traveling full-time for four years, we estimate credit card points for flights and hotels saved us around $10,000 per year.
For one of our flights, we flew from Atlanta, Georgia to Kauai, Hawaii for $10 each. Then, once we get in country, if we don’t have a long term stay already planned, we use credit card points at a hotel for our first two to three nights in the new country. Then, once we’re there and settled at the hotel, we can determine a longer stay location that’s less expensive.
Like we shared earlier, in Southeast Asia we knew we could save money if we negotiated the nightly rate with the owner in person. So during the first two days in country staying at the hotel, we would go around to different guest houses and find a place to stay longer (two weeks to a month) and negotiate a lower nightly rate. This usually came to about $15 USD per night. When we were in Europe, we negotiated monthly rates with Airbnb hosts online.
5. Travel to Destinations During Their Shoulder and Off Season.
This is a great way to save! You can save money if you travel to places in their shoulder season and off season. When you travel to a location during their high season, you pay the highest prices. But during off season or shoulder season you can get better rates and save money on lodging and activities.
6. Travel to Less Expensive Places in the World or Find Creative Ways to Save Money on Your Lodging/Transportation.
To spend less per day, you can go to less expensive areas in the world so your money carries you longer. Less expensive areas in the world include South America, Southeast Asia, and Central America. Some of the most expensive countries are Switzerland, Norway, the UK, France, and Australia.
While traveling Southeast Asia we spent about $47 per day for six months of travel. We’ve also traveled to more expensive countries like New Zealand, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. With our daily budget of $50-$90 we had to get creative.
To save money in all of these countries, we campervanned and camped everywhere we went. By having a campervan, we took care of our transportation and our lodging all in one. In New Zealand, we got a year working visa, so we bought a campervan and used it as our lodging and transportation for five months, and then sold it and made money on the sale.
We made a lot of mistakes and made it way more stressful than it really is. In fact, we wrote a step-by-step guide How To Buy A Campervan in New Zealand if you’re keen on having this adventure, too!For Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, we rented a minivan with our travel points out of northern Germany, kitted it out with camper gear from a local camping shop and Salvation Army, and camped for free in each country: Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.
7. Go to the Grocery Store/Market for Breakfast and Lunch and Eat like the Locals.
Going to the grocery store for your food will save you a lot of money rather than eating out every meal. For foodies, you have to try the local food. Some tips to save money are to eat your grocery food for two meals a day and then go out to a restaurant for one meal.
Also, you can save money by going out for lunch instead of dinner. A lot of times the lunch menu is the same as the dinner menu, but less expensive with “lunch specials.”
However, when you’re in Southeast Asia, sometimes going out is less expensive than going to the market. When we were in Bali, we did two meals a day eating the local food (the price equalled $1-$2 USD per person per meal) and we’d splurge with one “western” style meal per day (“western” food is $7-$15 USD per meal per person).
8. Share Meals when You Go Out.
When we go out to eat either at home or on our travels, we share our meals. This practice saves us money and saves our waist lines. Normally, we’re served way more food than we need or can eat. We always say if we’re still hungry after we’ve shared our meal, then we’ll get something else to eat.
Of course, by doing this you do have to agree on what to order. One way around this is alternate who chooses the meal each time you go out so you both have an equal chance to get what you’re most excited about on the menu.
Do you have other tips on determining how much traveling abroad costs? Or do you have tips on how to save money while you travel abroad? Please share in the comments below!