After reading countless forum threads, comments, and facebook posts about travel budget, I felt compelled to write my own post. Mr and I have been traveling for six months now, on a daily budget of US$120 together. This doesn’t include our around the world ticket, but does include intercity travel, and some internal flights. This is our average overall, which has seen us through three months in the USA, a week in Canada, two weeks in the UK, three weeks in Italy, one in Denmark, a week in Paris, a few days in Vienna, and now a month in Tbilisi, Georgia.
We went over it in Scotland because we stayed in a castle for our anniversary, and over it in Vienna because we posted some things home and I lost a 50 Euro note when I was walking to the supermarket.
We actually came under this in Paris, Copenhagen, Rome, Venice, and went significantly under in parts of the USA. This is with about 14 nights spent couch surfing (the rest paid), and having rented a car for a part of the US, all of Scotland, and most of our time in Italy.
People keep disbelieving this figure, so I figured I’d send out some pointers.
Unless you have oodles of cash at your disposal, you’ll probably want a budget for your trip.
Do some research before you book your tickets. How much does an average hotel room cost? What about a hostel? Google it, and write it down. Is there a vegan restaurant? Look up the menu and write down some prices. Do the same for transport (bus tickets, trains, taxis, and how are you going to get to and from the airport), museums, sights, staple supermarket food and anything you else you intend to pay for.
You don’t need to be exact, but having an idea of the prices of things before you go is helpful. Don’t just look at a thread on a travel forum – they all say “Paris is expensive” or “Rome is cheap” but they don’t tell you what the speaker’s idea of “Expensive” or “cheap” is, or how long they stayed. Also, remember that most people aren’t vegan, so saying “food is cheap in <city>” probably doesn’t mean “protein filled, vegan food is cheap” – vegan street food isn’t that common.
Once you have an idea of the price points, look at your available cash. Then, set out how may days you can afford to stay in any given place based on your resource and different modes of travel. You should end up with an average price for each city you want to go to, or an average high and low if you’re going to be there a while.
Be realistic here- our budget is low because we are traveling for a long time. We have a long time to get our fill of museums, vegan restaurants and castles and we don’t go to one every other day. If you have only two weeks, you’re going to want to pack it full of everything you can eat/see/do and you will be flying or traveling more frequently, so your daily spend will be more.
You have more accommodations options than you imagine, so before you book the cheap dingy motel, look around.
- Think about how you want to travel. Are you a people person? Then a dorm room in a hostel might be for you. If the dorm thing is a bit much but you’d like to meet locals, use AirBnB, FlipKey and others to find a room in someone’s house (much nicer and cheaper than hotels). If you’re a bit of a hermit (I can be) you may want to budget for some alone time in a hotel or private room in a hostel from time to time.
- Try couch surfing, staying with a friend or using BeWelcome, Couch Surfing, Hospitality Club or others (as a plus, these mean meeting local people with common interests as well as free accommodation).
- For long trips, consider setting up a home base for a month, and rent a flat. Its much cheaper than paying by the night, gives you a kitchen, storage space so you can day trips unhampered by all your gear, a laundry and is usually quite easy to find. Use AirBnB, Craigslist, or local websites (google “rent apartment, short term, <city>”).
- In some places it makes sense not to book until you arrive. If you are on a road trip in the US, for example, you often get a better deal on little motels in small towns than those in larger cities, though you wont find them on the net. Drive in on the highway and check the prices (usually displayed outside). This also goes for places you intend to stay for a long a while – book online for the first few nights, then find more permanent accommodation when you’re there in person, to avoid nasty surprises when you get there (bad smells, bad beds, no hot water etc) and being ripped off.
- If you intend to stay in hotels, check out the extras. They usually have similar prices, but some will have a pool, a gym, airport transfers, breakfast, kitchen access, internet, parking, free snacks etc. Be aware that just because a hotel says it has wifi, doesn’t mean it has free wifi – I’ve seen it with a fee as high at $10 per hour, and the same goes for parking if you drive. Your cheap hotel can cost a lot more if you ignore these things.
Ok, this is a food blog, and I understand completely if your trip is intended to be mostly about eating as much foreign vegan food as you can fit (and maybe a little bit more). If your itinerary consists mainly of restarants, cafes and icecream palours, avert your eyes. If not, tightening you metaphorical belt in the culinary arena might be the easiest and most effective way to stretch your cash.
Here are my best tips for vegan food budgeting abroad:
- Carry peanut butter at all times. Seriously, I can’t tell you how many times this has helped these hungry vegans from chewing a limb off of one another. It makes a meal out of an apple or some bread, it makes porridge into a satisfying, proteiny breaky, and you can even eat it alone by the spoonful if it comes to that. And sometimes it does come to that. I think we can safely say that peanut butter saved my vegan credentials while we were living without cooking facilities in FSM, and has stopped several meltdowns since. Also, customs in every country we’ve been to are unfussed by foreign peanut butter passing onto their shores. Just be careful about using peanut butter in a communal kitchen or opening it on planes as many people have serious allergies.
- Carry chocolate. Ok, as above, this has helped us out on several occasions, but more for the sugar, caffeine, and general heart-warming-ness of chocolate than for anything else. Pull it out on long haul days when you stink and are tired and grumpy and lost and cold, or when you just walked all the way to where you thought the vegan places was but it is closed/not there/not vegan, or for the beginning of a big supermarket shop. It has helped us make better decisions and intervened in impending hungry-tired-cold disputes more times than I can count.
- Don’t eat out all the time. Yeah, its tempting, but its expensive. Try to find accommodation with a kitchen (a hostel or homestay), or just make your own sandwiches for lunch. It saves a tonne of cash in western/European countries where a meal out is costly. If you want to eat great meals but still save some cash, save the eating out for the top notch, vegetarian/vegan, swanky places where you know you’ll get a great meal, and make your own lunch instead of paying someone to give you over cooked pasta with flavourless tinned sauce at an omni place.
- Eat out at lunch instead of dinner. This goes mainly for towns with a busy CBD and cities in Europe. Places here often have a lunch special which makes it cheaper to eat the same food during the day than at night.
- If you have wheels, stock up on oil, margarine, sugar, cereal, soy milk, grains and some spices so that your cooking has some substance, and you don’t waste money on single serve things. It means you only need to track down vegies and a protein source before cooking, too, rather than doing a whole shop every two days.
- Eat what you want. Whenever I see a menu with a vegan dessert on it, I must have it. Mr prefers to eat his fill of “healthy” food and only have dessert if he is still hungry. While this is the more grown up option, what happens in real life is that I eat the “healthy” food, then get the dessert anyway, and the result is more cash spent and stomach discomfort because I ate too much for me. If you want it, just order the damn cake as your lunch, don’t much through a sandwich for form’s sake. (and tell any detractors that you’re saving money. And also to fuck off opinions about your food).
- Share. Everything looks good? Don’t want to skip dessert or that fab starter but it costs a mint? Order a starter, a main, and a dessert and share them. Or see above, and order only the good bits. The waiter might look at you funny, but if they really require a minimum spend, they should really say so on the menu.
- Have breakfast ready the night before. Make sure you have soy milk and cereal, or bread or pastry or whatever, ready and with you before you go to bed. Its so very much cheaper than paying for breakfast, and frequently you can’t get any vegan breakfast anyway, so you end up hungry, and you lose time looking for it.
- Don’t buy drinks (alcoholic or otherwise), just don’t. They don’t fill you up, they waste a lot of plastic, they cost much more than they are worth, and they’re usually not as exciting as they sound. Drink water, and take a water bottle everywhere you go. Don’t forget to empty it before you go through airport security though – its useful to have because you only ever get 100ml at a time on planes, and if it is full it might be confiscated.
- Check out what the costs are for driving vs public transport, as its not standard across the world. Don’t forget to include parking costs when figuring out how much renting a car will cost. If you can drop the car at the same place you picked it up from and do a loop it can be quite affordable.
- Check out cheap air and bus travel – Ryan Air, Mega Bus etc. Also, ask locals how they would travel. In Italy the website most easily found and used for train travel is also the most expensive (by up to hundreds of dollars). If you can read the local language, or get someone to read it for you, you’ll get a much cheaper ride.
- Ride share – in the US use Craigslist to find someone who is going your way and negotiate a fee. Usually people just split the costs. It is a good way to meet people, and is much quicker than the bus, and cheaper than the train. Just be careful to check the safety of the car and the ideas of the driver before you get in by asking some questions about safety, speed, drugs, timing, and smoking.
- Take a backpack, not a suitcase. Unless you plan to visit only currently-wealthy, well maintained countries, take taxis everywhere and stay in nice hotels, a suitcase, even one with wheels, is a pain in the arse. You have to haul it up stairs at the subway, hold it on your lap on the bus, swerve it in and out of people on the street, and get it over bumps the size of small children in the case on badly maintained footpaths (as in most of the US), or carry it awkwardly all the way where there are no footpaths (see lots of SE Asia). A backpack is not exactly fun, but it is tied to you, doesn’t drag through drains, the handles don’t fall off, and its much softer if you have to carry it on your lap. Added bonus- you can sit on it, and it doesn’t break. How does this save cash? You wont feel the need to get taxis everywhere and stay in nice hotels because you just can’t bear the thought of doing it all over again, several times in a week.
- Don’t get taxis to and from the airport unless you are late. Seriously, almost every aiport on the planet has a bus, train or tram that goes to the city for a lot less than a taxi costs. Plus taxis charge extra for bags in the boot in a lot of countries, and frequently you will find the driver doesn’t understand your accent and takes you to the wrong address by accident, and you get to pay the fare twice. It helps to figure out what route to take on public transport before you get on the plane.
- Check out how the public transport works. Its usually cheaper to buy a weekly or multi-ride ticket than individual ones. If your transport options include a boat or ferry, be aware that this will cost more than the bus (though it is more fun). Check how the weekly tickets work before you buy one – often they will go from Monday to Sunday only, so if you buy it on a Saturday, you lost your cash.
Sights and Things to Do
- Make a list with your priority must-dos. Include anything you will feel cheated about if you miss at the top of the list, and things you feel like you “should” do at the bottom. If you don’t give a damn about art, don’t go to the Louvre. If you don’t like heights, don’t go to the top of any big statue or landmark for a view that freaks you out, just because you saw it in a movie. Similarly, don’t forgo visiting something you’ve always wanted to see on the other side of the world because it is expensive – think how much that plane ticket cost, and remember you probably wont get here again.
- Utilise the power of the google. There are countless travel zines around, and every single one of them has a to do list for anywhere you choose to go. They also have a to do list of free things, so check it out. Most of my favourite bits of our trip so far have been free or cheap – wandering around Rome at night, talking to people in a couch surfing place in a village of 50 people in Italy, seeing snow in Tbilisi, and watching turtles in Hawaii.
- Check out the local scene for whatever you’re into, to find fast friends and a full calendar. Being the political nerd I am, I usually check out the local anarchist or feminist book store and any veg groups (generally all online) to see what is going on. We got to go to a concert in the woods, a book fair, some film screenings and a few interesting public talks by doing this.
- Check the websites for any museums or exhibits you want to see – they usually have a free or cheap time of the day, week or month.
- Don’t buy one of those passes for multiple attractions unless you’ve REALLY done your homework. They let you in to “more than 355 attractions”, but think – how many can you get to in 3 days? Probably more like 6. They also tend to include things that are already free to the public, and things you probably don’t want to visit, like zoos, kids fairs, creepy doll museums and the like.
- Split up. If you are traveling with a buddy or partner, it doesn’t make sense to do everything together unless you have exactly the same taste and never get annoyed. Mr doesn’t like sitting in cafes, or looking at art. I don’t like wandering through yet another second hand military gear store, or museums about ancient history. So we split up, which means we’re both happy, we get some alone time, and we save the ticket price.
Have an idea of the weather in different places before you leave home. This way you can pack what you need, or if that is too heavy (if you change climates often) budget for buying a second hand coat. Its not fun to find out that for all your fabulous skirts, you really need ski pants.
Wash everything you intend to pack before you go, and check the drying times. This sounds over the top, but it totally sucks to have only socks that wont dry overnight. Doesn’t save cash, I just wish I had done this 🙂
Do you have any money saving tips for traveling vegos? Any disaster stories?