Penny Pinchers: How to Budget a Trip

Great! You know where you are going, when you are going and with whom you are going. So, how much is this going to cost?

Well it all depends. The first part is determined by the above information. Your airfare depends on to and from where you are traveling as well as when you will be going. The number of people in your band of merry travelers will provide the cost of your lodging if you decide on a B&B or hotel, or if you are best off with a hostel. Awesome! That is the easy part.

What seems to plague travelers is determining how much money to take with them when venturing out into the world on grand adventures. It is also the most commonly miscalculated piece of the price tag. When traveling outside of the USA, it is always safest to over estimate and allow yourself a large cushion for spending, both for food/drink and souvenirs. It is difficult to truly know the cost of eating out, 3 meals a day when in another country, where you will want to taste all the exotic cuisine that lay before you around every corner!

Here is a guideline I use when figuring a budget:

You Have to Eat

(Cost of a mid to high-level lunch out in your city) x (3 meals) = (cost per day)

(cost per day) x (number of days away from home) = Food/drink budget

ie. $20 x 3 = $60 per day = $60 x 12 = $720

Yes, I can easily eat pretty well in my city for $10. However, it is not unheard of that a “sit down” lunch with a beverage can eek its way closer to $18. With $20 per meal per day I cover this possible discrepancy. It allows me to estimate that I will spend about $60 per day for food. So, about $720 for a 12 day trip.

But we don’t stop there. When traveling to Europe and everywhere that I have been to in Asia, I have found that it can be difficult to know where the inexpensive locations are, the off the beaten path places that only locals know about, which is why you assume that you will spend no less than $20 per meal per day. Rounding up to $750 in this case is probably safe. This estimate would change depending on where you stay as well. If your hostel/hotel/B&B includes breakfast, then you would take off $5 per day = $55 x 12 = $660 for a 12 day trip. It is important to note that this number may actually end up much smaller/larger depending on your research regarding the destination, your eating habits/desires and how strictly you adhere to a price per meal limit which you set.


This can be a bit tricky because it is difficult to know the value of something you haven’t seen or even know to exist yet. What I do, is I plan on buying one nice souvenir for myself, my husband and each of my kids from each city/country we visit and determine how much I am comfortable spending on each item.

ie. $30 x 4 = $120 x 2 = $240 ($30 each person in 2 cities) which I will round up to $250

I also will buy and send home postcards to my parents, in-laws and to my own home. So, $3 per card, per house, per city. $3 x 3 = $9 rounded up to $10 x 2 = $20 for post cards + $20 for postage

Souvenir cost will go up if I plan to buy a magnet, or Christmas gifts for siblings, in-laws, parents, grandparents, nieces and nephews. Obviously.

If you are limited on space to carry souvenirs home, this number can be estimated lower per person, or, you can return home with money you didn’t spend!

Getting Around

Another item that is often underestimated is the cost of public transportation in and around a city/country. It is important to look at the cost of a rail/bus pass in relation to the number of trips which will be completed using this means of transportation.

ie. In Ireland, Scotland and Northern Ireland, we found it more cost effective to purchase round trip train fares for each of us for specific journeys like from Dublin to Galway (and return), Dublin to Belfast (and return), and one way fares from Edinburgh to Inverness to Glasgow to Edinburgh. Within each city, we just walked everywhere, only taking a bus, tram or train when necessary.

Miscellaneous Incidentals

Things happen. Yes, you will be careful. You have checked your packing list and rechecked it. You downsized your clothes to make room for souvenirs so you don’t have to ship anything home. Great. But you left your contact solution on the bathroom sink in the last hostel. Your shoelace broke. Your razor broke. You blew the fuse in your hair dryer. The seam in your favorite pants gave way and you’ve got a hole the size of your hand on the inner thigh. You get the picture. Things happen and it is best to give yourself an extra $100 for these incidentals. Don’t factor this into your food/souvenir/transportation money. Pretend it doesn’t exist.

It is possible to budget all of these things even lower. You will need to do a good bit of research for the destination(s) and know the average cost of meals and how far you are willing to walk to save a few $/€/£/¥ etc.

“Keep your heart open, a suitcase packed and wander often, for the world is wide and adventure awaits.”

~ Emylee





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