Trying to figure out how much to budget for a trip is unique and different for each individual. Of course it’s always easy to spend more on a trip but if you’re on a strict budget, trying to figure out the bare minimum is the most important. Although it’s impossible for anyone to give you a solid figure, you can work through this post to try and figure out how much you’ll need to have before you embark on your solo trip.
A good safe number to budget for me is $100/day. That number is actually higher than you’ll probably need in most cases and it’s certainly possible to travel for far less. However, at $100/day, you should be able to find a decent place to eat, sleep, and transport yourself to that destination. However, here are some factors that will affect your budget and times where you may need more or less.
Let me start by making clear that $100/day is my general guideline when I’m budgeting my trips. How do I get to that number? Well mainly, I stay in hotels and that takes up a large portion of the budget. Look, hostels aren’t for me anymore. As I get older, I know what my likes and dislikes are and having worked and saved, I can afford more than what I could back when I was in college. Hotels are more comfortable, offer more privacy, and I feel more comfortable leaving my things in the hotel. I also like to work when I travel and am a really light sleeper so hotels for me are worth the extra cost. Hostels don’t offer me what I need or want when I travel anymore.
This is NOT to say that it’s for everyone. This is what works FOR ME. Just remember to know your limitations as a solo traveler. If you’re more introverted, a hostel may not be for you and an extrovert will probably hate the privacy of hotels. You might enjoy going out at night and partying until sunrise or you might enjoy getting up before sunrise to take photographs of a deserted city. Whatever the case, as a solo traveler, you get to make the rules without compromise so go with what you’re comfortable with. But have a clear idea of what you like and dislike because you don’t want to budget just for hostels for a 2 week trip and find out you can’t stand hostels on your first night.
Know how much you have to spend
Instead of figuring out how much you need to have, start by figuring out how much you have. The true cost of your trip isn’t about how much you’ll need but how much you’re willing to spend. For some, $100/day is too much money and for others, it isn’t nearly enough. Knowing how much you have is going to go far in determining our budget.
Let’s be honest, you aren’t going to be able to travel the world on a total budget of just a thousand dollars. Sure, you might get pretty far and if you’re willing to “camp” in the streets, you could really stretch that dollar. But if you have nothing to spend, you’re going to need to have some sort of income to supplement your trip whether it be working as a digital nomad, writing, etc.
Assuming that you won’t have an income coming in while you travel, you’ll need to figure out how much you have and then tailor the amount to the trip you can afford. Working backwards will allow you to see exactly how far you’ll get with the budget you have. This is where you need to be honest. If you want to go to Tokyo for two weeks but you only have a few hundred bucks, you’ll figure out you’ll need to either shorten your trip or visit another part of Japan and only stay in Tokyo for a day or two.
Pick the Right Destination
Picking the right destination is imperative to understanding your budget. A day in Sydney, Australia is going to cost a lot more than a day in Saigon, Vietnam. Your dollar is going to go so much farther in Vietnam than it will in Australia and thus you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck. If you’re going to Europe, the northern countries like the UK, Sweden, Finland, etc. is going to be much more expensive than the southern countries like Greece, Spain, Italy, etc. So, if you’re trying to plan a European trip, you might want to consider limiting your time in the northern countries and tighten the belt while you can spend more freely in the south.
You can also try to figure out how important the destination is to you. Do you really need to visit the beaches in St. Tropez or will Kep, Cambodia suffice? What’s the purpose of your trip? Is it to sit by the beach and enjoy a relaxing week away from the office? Or is it to visit world class art museums in metropolitan cities? In either case, you can visit some amazing places as long as you’re willing to compromise on the location and go to lesser known areas of the world to experience what you want.
I live in a coastal city and as great as it is to see the Pacific every morning as I drive into work, I can honestly say the Pacific looks exactly like any other ocean around the globe. My point is you don’t need to go to the Maldives, Seychelles, or Bora Bora if you just want to lay on the beach and relax. Those are great places to visit but also insanely expensive. You can go to Goa, Playa del Carmen, or Uppuveli and see some beautiful beaches.
By identifying what your main goal is for your trip, you can find some great places to visit and accomplish the same thing without going to the obvious destinations. By picking lesser known places, you can easily find destination where your dollar will go further and it’ll be easier to get the most bang for your buck.
Identify the biggest costs
Undoubtedly the two biggest expenses will be your airfare and accommodation. Figuring out how you want to travel is obviously going to be a large part of your budget.
Let’s start with airfare. Obviously airline pricing fluctuates drastically so it’s going to be the biggest cost for most. Unfortunately this is one of those times where you’re just going to have to pay the price. Just know that once the airfare is paid for, the largest chunk of your budget will be spent. But that means this will give you a much better idea of what you have to spend for the rest of your trip.
One thing I will say is if you’re a larger or taller passenger and you have it in your budget, you may want to think about paying a little extra for the exit rows or for the premium economy seats. I’ve actually seen really tall people cramped in a middle seat on a 14 hour flight and it just looks miserable. I’m only 5’10” and even I have to stretch out my legs on a long haul flight. You really don’t want to skimp on the few extra dollars to choose your seat if you’re going to be unable to walk and enjoy your vacation. That’s just my thought at least.
Next is to think about accommodation. This can easily cost as much or even more than your airfare depending on your tastes. With so many options today, you can stay in campgrounds and hostels to 5 star luxury resorts all within minutes from each other. You’ll need to figure out what your “must have” list is before you dive in.
Again, tastes will be different so this is all about what you’re comfortable doing. But before you think hostels will work perfectly for your, ask yourself if they’re really going to work. Do you want privacy, your own bathroom, etc? Then hostels may not be for you and you may feel more comfortable in a hotel or an Airbnb. If you don’t mind staying with strangers, you may want to give couchsurfing a try. Whatever your tastes, make sure you know what you need and be honest. It’s easy to say you don’t need privacy until you’re in a room with 10 other people who are up partying all night. Remember, this is your vacation so you need to enjoy your trip and if you’re in an environment where you’re fighting strangers or constantly irritated, that isn’t an enjoyable vacation.
Know what you’re willing to eat
I love trying new foods. I think it’s one of the great joys of traveling (you can see my post on the strangest foods I’ve eaten HERE). Trying to budget for food is all about understanding your tastes. What and how you eat is going to determine your budget. Most times, eating street food is going to be your cheapest option. However, if you have dietary restrictions or are a picky eater, you may not want to eat street food. In that case, you’re going to be forced to eat something you’re familiar with which is going to be some variation of the golden arches. That certainly isn’t going to be the cheapest option but if the alternative is not eat anything, well you have a decision to make.
You could also cook your own food if you have access to a kitchen. This can be a great option if you’re willing to cook and go grocery shopping for your ingredients. However, for solo travelers, cooking for one isn’t going to be that much cheaper than just going out and eating street food. Also, cooking and eating at home does take away from the social aspect of eating, which is a great opportunity to meet people when traveling solo. But, if needed, cooking can be a good opportunity to budget your expenses.
Figuring out how to get from one city to another is also going to play into your budget. Obviously walking/hitchhiking is an option. And if you have the time, that could be pretty fun. However, if you’re like me, time is an issue and getting from one city to the next is not only a matter of money but also time.
You’ll want to decide the best way that works for your budget and timeframe. Many times, the fastest way is also going to be the most expensive. In Europe, you can get anywhere you want by using the train. The difference in the price of train ticket usually depends on whether you’re riding a regional train (which will stop at every station) or an express train (which will skip many stops except the main ones). The express trains usually cost more but you could also save a few hours.
Sometimes, the only option is a bus. Buses take a while but they’re usually really cheap and depending on where you are, pretty comfortable. If you’re traveling through South America, a lot of buses will have first and second class seats. Although first class seats are more expensive, they’re much more comfortable and for about $2 more, I think they’re worth the extra cost.
If you’re really low on time, you’ll have to look into flying but that’ll certainly increase your cost. Remember that taking a flight often incurs other costs like the Uber to/from the airport so keep that in mind. But, if you’re short on time, this may be your only option and you’ll have to figure out if the added cost is worth the destination.
Finally, think about what activities you’d like to do. If you want to do something exotic and exciting, you better be willing to pony up. Look, cities know what tourists want and they’ll market it any way they can to make you believe your life isn’t complete without doing something. Skydive over Dubai? Check. Swim with dolphins? Check. Hot air ballooning over Cappadocia? Check. All these things are possible but in these tourist towns, you’ll pay top dollar to have this experience because they know that’s what people are willing to pay.
That doesn’t mean you have to do these activities that are going to break the bank. There are plenty of things to do that are perfectly free depending on where you are. Museums in DC are free as well as the monuments. Seeing the changing of the guard in London is free. Going on hikes, strolling around the city, and seeing street performers in a popular neighborhood are all free things to do.
What you’re going to have to decide is what is the purpose of your trip? Is it to enjoy the culture and the sites? Or is it to get the perfect instagram shot that you can share with your friends? I’m not saying one is better than the other. But if you want to do that exotic, bucket list activity to share on social media, you better be ready to pay.
A budget is so personal it’s impossible to give a specific amount. It all depends on where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and what your likes are when traveling. For some, $20/day could be more than enough to travel with money left over. For other, $1000/day just won’t cut it. But I would strongly urge anyone trying to budget their trip to work backwards. Don’t think about how much you need or want to have but how much you actually have. Then subtract your airfare (assuming that’s the most expensive part of your trip) and then divide your remaining amount by the number of days you intend to travel. That will give you your daily budget and give you a clear indication of what you can afford to do without putting yourself in financial danger.