Budget travel on the road expenses can really add up, so it is a good idea to have a budget in mind before you even set off. The last thing you want to do is run out of money half way round your trip. It is always a good idea to add a little extra to how much you think you will need to budget for your trip.
It really does not matter how carefully you think you have budgeted, there will always be little things that push your budget over the edge, that extra beer or dessert, that extra night in the fancy boutique hotel, that souvenir that you just know your mum will love when you get back home, all of these little things add up very quickly.
Travelling of course is flexible, some days you will be under budget, and others you will be over, but overall you will want them to roughly balance each other out.
One of the most common mistakes so many backpackers make is to under budget, sometimes quite significantly. So first of all you need to know what the primary costs are going to be when you are travelling, get rough ideas of accommodation costs, food costs, transport costs and extra things such as activities, and secondly you need to decide how exactly you want to travel.
Do you need, or want, to travel on an ultra budget, or can you afford a little bit more luxury? Decide which way of travelling suits you best, and budget accordingly.
Extreme budget travelling. Less than £10 GBP or $15 US a day.
This way is for the extreme hard core backpacker only, or for those with absolutely no money to their name. This will involve sleeping in the cheapest of hostels, camping for a lot of the time, having a travel partner to share costs with and even occasionally sleeping in airports or on overnight trains and coaches to save money on accommodation.
Travel will be local public transport only and in the lowest class available, basically the ones that most locals will be using, there is little room for comfort or amenities here.
Food will be bought at local markets and street stalls or maybe the odd family run cafe, and there will be very little — if any — room for excursions or activities unless they are free. Whilst this way of travelling does allow you to see a lot of the world for a much longer period, and many people who travel this way find that it opens up new avenues for adventure that they would never experience otherwise, it does limit you on where you can go and what you can do.
Travelling on an extreme budget is much easier in very cheap countries
such as Vietnam or parts of Africa for example, than it is in Europe, Japan or Singapore where you will find it almost impossible.
Budget travelling. £10 — £20 GBP or $20 — $35 US a day.
This is the traditional backpacker way and one that many long time backpackers are comfortable with. Many of the principles of extreme budgeting still apply, hostels and budget accommodation will still be the norm, street stalls and small family run cafe’s will be your staple source of food, and public transport will still be used widely. However, this way offers a little more flexibility and will allow you to enjoy your trip a lot more.
Most countries will be able to accommodate this budget to some degree, but you will find it much harder in places like Europe and Australia and will find that your budget doesn’t stretch to much. In certain parts of South and Central America, South East Asia and Africa you can live quite comfortably on this budget, sometimes very comfortably.
On average depending where you are, you will be able to stay in the occasional private room with en suite when the mood takes you, splurge on the occasional nice restaurant or enjoy a few alcoholic drinks, grab a taxi from time to time and enjoy a few activities along the way too.
Mid range budget travelling. £20 — £50 GBP or $30 — $80 US a day.
This way of backpacking is often termed flashpacking. It is still backpacking, just with a little more style and comfort. It involves many of the principles of budget travelling but allows you to stay in nicer boutique hotels, eat out in a wider range of restaurants, travel in more comfort by using first class public transport, taxi’s, or even hiring out a car on occasion.
Activities tend not to be as limited, and you will be able to incorporate a bit of scuba diving, getting your PADI certification, maybe doing an elephant trek or participating in fun activities that are impossible on a tighter budget.
Travelling in some of the cheaper regions such as SE Asia or parts of Central or South America for example can be extremely comfortable on this budget, sometime even downright luxurious, and more developed, and therefore expensive, countries such as Japan or Australia open themselves up to you.
This is often the budget category that you will find many professionals taking a career break using, or long term travellers who have gone back on the road after they have worked a bit more and can afford a few more luxuries than they used to be able to.
Luxury budget travelling. £60+ GBP or $70+ US a day.
Very few of us backpackers get to travel in this way, or at least not for long, and it is often suited to much shorter trips rather than extended hikes around the world. That is unless you are absolutely loaded of course.
This way of travelling usually means luxury hotels or spa resorts, fancy restaurants, hired cars, all the luxuries and mod cons you can want. £60 £100 GBP a day is an absolute minimum, the budget can of course soar to astronomical heights at this level.
The cost is not always completely out of a backpackers budget, if allowances are made for the odd splurge once in a while (perhaps spoiling yourself after a long trek or before flying home for example), then most backpackers can afford at least a few nights in accommodation at this level.
If travelling somewhere like Indonesia or Costa Rica for example, and your bartering skills are good, you can stay in amazing palaces for a few nights for comparatively very little. Staying in these luxury hotels does not mean you are not travelling independently anymore and are somehow now just a tourist, as these hotels are different from the package resorts you can get from travel agents and it is still possible to travel independently as a backpacker would with just a few concessions such as making reservations at hotels, but in style and with a lot of luxury.
The benefits of course are obvious, apart from saving yourself a small fortune on the commission that the travel agents add on to the cost of organizing your trip for you, comfort and luxury can be benefits in their own right. You will have nothing to worry about travelling in this way, and everything can and will be sorted for you, at a cost.
The downside to travelling exclusively in this way of course is that it can often shield you from the culture and the adventure that most backpackers revel in. The only locals you are likely to meet unless you venture out of the hotel are the porters and the hotels staff who are there to serve you. There is absolutely no right or wrong way to travel, how you travel is exactly up to you.
Many backpackers, and I include myself in this number, choose to travel via a combination of these ways.
I quite frequently move in between budget and midrange travelling as needed, quite often on the same trip, but I do count myself on the whole now as a predominantly midrange backpacker.
I have done my time in hostels and impromptu beach side camp sites around the world and still do from time to time, but now I am a little older and have a professional life to come back to, my trips are often in shorter bursts of a month or two and I can afford to splurge a little more. I do budget out of necessity and save money when I can, this allows me to extend my travels for as long as possible, but I also choose a little comfort where I can as well and do not deny myself experiences just to save money.
This is where you will need to discover what level of budgeting you are comfortable with, and to be honest a large part of that will only come with time and experience.
But if you budget a little more than you think you will need, travel within your budget at a level that is comfortable for you and allow for the odd splurge, then you will be able to backpack through any country or region very easily and comfortably. So now that you have an understanding of budgeting basics, what are the things that will crop up during your travels that you will need to budget for?