Tips, Tools, and Tracking Spending for a RTW Travel Budget

In previous posts I wrote about how much we have budgeted for a year of round-the-world travel and the tricks we use to stick to that budget on a daily basis. For me, the most fundamental piece of adhering to a travel budget is to know how much I am spending. Joe and I track all of our spending. We use the app Trabee which allows us to track our expenses and converts the foreign currency transactions into USD. We record every. single. expense. in Trabee. We are those people who are crunching numbers on our phones before making a purchase to ensure it won’t put us over our budget for the day. We are also those people who get our phones out after buying every little thing to record it. There is no transaction too small to be recorded; that 30 cent drink or 50 cent bus ride is getting recorded immediately.

Trabee does have some limitations for RTW travel and we have had to establish mini-budgets for each new country we visit, which doesn’t give us great visibility on total trip spending. I believe there are some other apps out there for iOS that are more conducive to RTW travel, but we are Android users so we have to make do with Trabee.

In addition to Trabee, we also track spending on a spreadsheet that Joe made about two months into our trip. I had a bit of a breakdown because Trabee could only tell me how much I spent for that day but did not provide an updated budget for how much I had left to spend.

Joe creating our budget spreadsheet in a library in Taipei

I would feel really good on the days that I came in under budget and beat myself up on the days I went over budget because I couldn’t see my average daily spending. Joe solved my problems by developing a spreadsheet that calculates our average daily spending, how much we can spend per day for the rest of that leg of the trip, average daily spend for the entire trip, what our daily budget should be after adjusting for previous spending, and how many days we can travel before we run out of money. He even color coded it so when we go over budget or drop our future daily budget below $50, the cells turn red, and if we come in under budget or bring our future daily budget above $50 it turns green. The spreadsheet is an awesome tool because it gives perspective on the entirety of our trip and keeps us in line budget-wise both as a whole and on separate legs of our journey.

I have learned so much about sticking to a travel budget through this process, and if I could give recommendations to anyone starting off on a long-term budget trip, I would suggest the following:

Break your overall budget into smaller budgets that will still allow you to meet your goals. When we first started our trip, we had to create individual budgets for each new place we visited due to the limitations of the Trabee travel budget app. It became a bit much to create a new budget every few days since we were going to new countries quite frequently. We then changed our strategy and grouped countries with the same daily budget together. For us, this meant that we had a period of three months where we were sticking to a $25 per day budget across five countries. We ended up going over budget for this leg of the trip because it was just as hard to keep perspective on spending three months down the road as it is a year in advance. If your trip is a week long, the overspending you do on day one catches up with you rather quickly and you have to make adjustments. When a trip leg lasts three months, there’s a ripple effect. Each little bit of overspending or unexpected expenses adds up and by the end of the three months there’s nothing left to make adjustments with. It’s also much easier to justify overspending when the end of the trip is so far off. You feel like you can catch up, even if realistically you probably can’t. My suggestion is to create mini-budgets of a month or less and stick to them fiercely. If, at the end of the month, you find yourself under budget, by all means splurge on something you want.

Include onward travel as the first item in your current budget. We learned a lot about budgeting on the fly. When we first started our trip, we purchased some flights that were nearly the entirety of our budget amount for those locations since we were spending only a week or so in each country. For example, flying from Singapore to Hong Kong meant that I had spent all of my budget for Hong Kong before we even got there and would therefore have to rely on Joe to pay for our meals, lodging and activities. My response was to keep bumping the cost of these flights to the next leg’s budget, so pushing the cost of the Hong Kong flights to our budget for Taiwan so we would have enough money for Hong Kong. Joe busted me on that line of thinking because that only meant that we would not have enough money for flights out of Taiwan and those costs would eat into the next country’s budget. Even if we kept pushing the costs to get out of a country onto the next leg of the trip, eventually our travels would come to an end and we’d be stuck with a bill for all the flights we kept pushing off. Joe suggested we include onward travel as the first line item of each mini-budget so that way we know how much we actually have to spend per day. This got us on track and has helped us stick to our budgets for each leg of our journey because we have a necessary expense included as the first item and can better plan for daily spending.

Just because you have money in the budget, it doesn’t mean you have to spend it. We started our trip in Australia and New Zealand, which are two expensive destinations. Our budget was $75 USD per person per day in those countries. Due to several factors such as being familiar with the countries from having lived in Australia and visited New Zealand before, relocating campervans rather than renting, and staying at free campsites rather than paid, we actually felt like $75 a day was a lot of money. It was the beginning of our trip (AKA we were dummies) so we were feeling flush. We spent money on things like souvenirs and alcohol (mad expensive in Oceania) because we were coming in under budget. Oh, how many times in the eight months of traveling since then did I wish to have back that $70 we spent on gin? I mean, yes, it helped us survive the flies of Western Australia, but that’s also three days’ budget in Southeast Asia. Since then, whenever we have come in under budget I have counted it as a win and put the extra aside for the future, when we may go over budget.

Budgeting for a year of traveling around the world is difficult, but I have learned ways to be more successful at it during the last eight months of globetrotting. It’s important to track all of your spending and use apps and other tools to have a clear picture of how much you have left. It’s also important to keep your spending in check even when you feel like you are in a good place, because chances are something will come up and you will wish you had some extra cash. Those are my main tips for budget tracking for long-term travel. What do you think? Have you stuck to a budget while traveling, either long-term or short term? Do you have any budget tools you love? Let me know in the comments!

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