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Setting a Realistic Travel Budget

Imagine travelling across the world by plane, foot, boat, bus and not paying extra to see the highlight of the region due to lack of bankroll. Sounds ridiculous but there are some seriously under-prepared travel budgets that don’t flex by even a small amount.

That’s what happened when I travelled to Nazca in Peru to see the Nazca Lines, a series of ancient geoglyphs in Southern Peru and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From the ground these strange animal shapes are unrecognisable, but from a small aircraft the earth comes alive with Incan images against wide open plains. It’s not expensive; not in the grand scheme of things but when I went in a group of 18, only three of us could justify breaking the budget whilst the others opted for pool time instead…in Peru…in the desert…when there was another option….and an amazing one at that!

Setting a travel budget

I’ve never been very good at setting a travel budget and I’m the first to admit it. Not to say that I don’t impose daily spend limitations on myself, I’m just no good at keeping to them. My rational being that I work all year so when I’m on holiday, I sleep where I want, eat what I like, travel how I prefer, and pay for any activities I fancy. I can live to a budget the rest of the year!

I get it, we can travel for longer by reducing our spending, or cut out a few hot meals in favour of a few more weeks on the road. Lord knows I’ve scrimped on some very questionable accommodation, and once ate the same meal for lunch and dinner every day for a month in Chile, but I’ve never restricted myself on activities. I don’t see the point of travelling somewhere without the money it takes to really explore and absorb all the unique flavours of that country. After all, what is the reason we travel?

So is there a way to do both?
– Sure there is, stay at home until you have saved more spending money
– Travel for shorter, action-packed periods
– Or…burn a hole in the magnetic strip on the credit card to finance your travel revolution. Does this mean I’m endorsing irresponsible spending to travel? Hell yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

Recently I was in Alaska and opted for the flight across Denali National Park, landing on an ice-sheet under the watchful shadow on Mt McKinley, or Mt Denali as it has recently been renamed by President Obama. The whole experience was magnificently epic, but it isn’t cheap at US$550. If I was younger I’m not sure I would have handed over such a large chuck of change, but being a little older and wiser I know money comes and goes like the changing of the tides, and it ended up being one of my highlights.

When I was tour guiding, it constantly surprised me when travellers arrived without enough money to support their trip. The same goes in Africa when people book overland truck tours from Nairobi to Cape Town but haven’t enough money to visit the Okavango Delta, Masai Mara or Serengeti. These experiences should be the ‘reason’ to travel to Africa, not an excuse for more time at the campsite whilst everyone else is having fun.

Flying is the one aspect of travel which I will consistently search for the cheapest option. Even as I sit here on my KLM flight to Madagascar in one of the most space-restrictive seats and after vowing never to fly with them again, I know I’ll be back. I am a creature of habit after all.

Here are my two favourite stories of under-budgeting or over spending:
– Man arrives into Las Vegas for a tour around America, goes out the night before the trip starts and gets carried away on the tables, therefore losing all his money. This experience ends with him flying home on day 1 of the tour. Epic fail!
– Woman on an African overland safari gets carried away bargaining in the markets. She ends up buying too many souvenirs, runs out of money and has to fly home half way through the tour. Therefore substituting her own experience for objects she will probably never use. Brilliantly epic fail!

There’s only been one trip to Turkey where I went financially underprepared. I was 23 and had barely GBP150 for 14 days travel and although it lasted, there were a few experiences I had to dip out of, including a tip for the tour guide which I’ve always felt bad about. Luckily a Canadian lady whom I got along well with took pity on me and became my unofficial sponsor. Without her I would not have had quite the same trip. This was perhaps one of the best lessons I learnt whilst travelling and am pleased it happened so early on.

So next time you’re about to head off on your travels, make sure you know the realistic amount of money you need vs. your expectations of what you think it will cost; you might just surprise yourself. Then just for the fun of it, set yourself a travel budget and blow it in the first half of the trip!

Happy Travelling folks.




  1. March 6, 2016 / 1:45 pm

    The travellers who frustrate me are those who don’t have travel insurance – I know the odds of something happening are high, but I have enough personal experience to know it’s worth every penny!

    • March 10, 2016 / 7:28 pm

      Agreed. I work in travel also and have seen and heard of some pretty horrific instances of people ‘winging it’ without insurance, until they actually needed it. Thanks for reading 🙂

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