There are so many decisions to make when planning your travel budget, but ALL of these decisions share one ultimate question in common, a question that only you can answer.
“What matters to me?”
Deciding what matters helps you determine what you absolutely MUST prioritize on your trip. After all, you (likely) don’t know when you’ll be going back there again (if ever!)
Looked at in another way – “What DOESN’T matter to me?”
Deciding that certain aspects of the trip don’t matter as much to you, makes it easier to put more of your money emphasis on the prioritized parts.
For example –
Unique experiences matter to me. I don’t want to miss out on location-specific adventures or activities, so I prioritize these special expenditures in my budget.
BUT I don’t mind scrimping on the guesthouse / dorm and staying somewhere cheap (I’m only sleeping there! I want to be out and about during the day) and on most food (I really like street food).
For me, saving on the accommodation and food costs makes it easier for me to mentally justify the (sometimes) large expenditures on activities and excursions that I am really interested in and may never get to experience if I pass them up.
What matters to you?
I’ve included a list on possible spends and saves in a few major budget-impacting categories, for you to consider.
1. Transportation (International)
Less time is wasted
This option is more likely to be on time (as compared to 1-4 hour waits which are regular for bus pickups)
Takes significantly less time in transport (a 1 hour flight versus a whole day of bus journey)
Boats, Trains, Ground transport (bonus scrimp points when choosing slower or lower classed buses over “VIP” or aircon – DOUBLE bonus points if traveling overnight as then your transport also serves as your accommodation!)
You get to travel like the locals do
The scenery can be amazing
You’ll see the more authentic side of the place that you are visiting
Which do you have less of? Time or money? This can help you narrow down your choices.
In general, I choose flights (look for a low cost carrier in your area), if a border crossing is involved, as I find land borders to be overly corrupt and an excessive waste of time in addition to a huge stress
2. Transportation (Local)
Less time is wasted waiting for a bus or train to arrive
Available 24 hours a day
You can get dropped off exactly where you need, without having to walk or get lost (unless you get a bad taxi..)
Skytrain or Metro train (bonus points for bus, double points for non-AC local bus/pickups, culture points for unique transportation such as canal boats [only 10 cents in Bangkok] or motos)
You get to travel like the locals do
Trains and boats aren’t affected by bad traffic which slow down taxis and road transport
I really recommend local public transport. You really get a feel for the local culture, you interact more with locals (and possibly also other travelers), and save a TON of money. Save taxis for late at night, or for far-out locations.
Nice hotel room
Super comfortable so you sleep well and can get up early to greet the day and your planned activities
Quiet, private space that can help you recover if jetlagged or feeling ill
Staying at a guest house (bonus for having a shared bathroom or cold water or no aircon, DOUBLE points for dorms!), a new option is Airbnb
You’re less likely to stay inside your room during the day – which means you’ll be out doing activities and making the most of your travels
Guesthouses tend to have a friendlier and more social atmosphere so you’re more likely to make friends – ESPECIALLY at dorms!
Even if the idea of dorms completely puts you off (I do think everyone needs to try it at least once!!), you can find really cheap and good quality guest houses with private rooms on Agoda.
If you’re worried about stealing, most dorms and guest houses provide lockers or safes – or you can bring your own lock / lockbag.
Eating in restaurants, the same or similar foods you eat at home
You know what to expect
You like it, and you DON’T like (or, think you don’t like) the local food
Eating local food (bonus points for eating street food.. double points for trying bugs or other “delicacies”! )
You get further experience of the culture
Street food is often tastier than what you get at the restaurant (especially if its a local chef trying to replicate a dish he/she has never experienced!!!)
You have the rest of your home-living life to eat peanut butter sandwiches (yes, peanut butter is really expensive in many parts of the non-USA world), or macaroni and cheese, or cheeseburgers with seasoned fries, or anything else
Sometimes, comfort food is needed. But why travel the world if you want to eat/live exactly as you did at home? Try something new! Just because you don’t like green curry doesn’t mean you won’t like red. And just because the laksa was bad at the last place, doesn’t mean that you’ll never like it. (plus if you buy it on the street / food stalls it’s still cheaper to buy one or two or three more than to eat one dish at a restaurant!)
Wine! Or any other hometown favorite that is expensive in your country of choice
You get to enjoy your beloved drink in your new surroundings
You get a taste of comfort/celebration during a stressful/amazing/exhilarating/frustrating/anything else day
Imbibing the local drink of choice (beer or liquor) (bonus points for cutting your consumption in half, DOUBLE points for foregoing alcohol entirely)
This is a HUGE money saving and can cut your budget in half
You feel more fresh and awake in the morning – no nasty travel hangovers – and able to tackle more activities
You are less likely to be drugged or poisoned (yes, this happens)
Obviously I’m biased here. I do love a cocktail on the beach, and some wine with dinner. But you need to consider – WHAT MATTERS TO YOU?
Buying everything your heart desires, for yourself and those back home
You contribute more money to the local economy (especially meaningful if you are purchasing from local artisans or sustainable businesses)
You have a concrete representation of your trip
Your friends and family feel loved and remembered
Taking “digital souvenirs” (photographs)
Your pack will be a lot lighter!
You will waste less time looking at junk you aren’t going to buy
Likely, it come from a factory that is not kind nor even owned by locals (maybe not even produced in the country)
Unless you REALLY love something, my tried and true advice (coming from someone who used to consider shopping a hobby) is to NOT buy it. See all the reasons above.
If you really feel the need to buy something – make sure it comes from a responsible source
The weather is GREAT!
There are lots of other travelers around, and all activities are full-swing
You get to take advantage of the place when there are fewer people around
Shorter lines/waits for anything and everything
Excellent deals on accommodation, hotel, food, activities – again, anything and everything. Bargain hard!
If rain will stress you out or really hurt your plans (are you trekking outside for a week? do you want to spend a month working on your tan and laying at the beach), or you really want to meet a LOT of other travelers, maybe low season is not for you.
If you look forward to spending some quiet time with yourself and the surrounding scenery while saving a TON of money over high season, low season can be a great choice.
Fast paced – packing a lot of sights/cities into a short amount of time
You see it ALL (or, as much of it as you can humanly cram into your time)
Slow paced – spending a lot of time in each place
You get to really “feel” each place that you visit, and can spend more time reflecting in the moment, or doing other “non-travel” activities like reading, or maybe even freelancing or working remotely
Like transportation, a big consideration for this category will be your amount of time [though I do realize we ALL have a finite amount of time here] in relation to your amount of money. If you have less time and more money, a faster pace might be more suitable for you. Whereas, if you have a lot of time and a tiny amount of money, slow travel may be your ticket
Another consideration should be your energy level (if you are low energy, you may not enjoy or be able to keep up with a fast pace) and your goals for the trip (does checking all of the “Must-Do” boxes make you feel more fulfilled? Or is relaxing and savoring more important?)
So, what matters to you? Do you have any other spend or save categories that you consider?