How to determine how much money you need to travel


Warning: this post contains math.

I want to expand on a point I made last time about reasons people don’t travel: namely not having enough money.

I’ve been having an ongoing conversation where I’m trying to convince someone to take action and commit a trip that she seems to really want to take. But I’ve been getting a lot of pushback on the money part. And if you agree that lack of money is really just lack of preparation and intention, there’s still another important question to ask.

How much money do you need? Often, people get stuck here, but how can you know that you don’t have enough money when you don’t know how much money you need?

Oh right, that’s what you meant by preparation

So how do you figure that out? You start out be doing some research and determining the one-time costs, daily costs, and length of trip.

  • One-time costs are things that you only need to buy once on the trip. These are things like plane tickets or rail passes. These are usually a fixed cost regardless of the length of the trip.
  • Daily costs include everything you need to survive on a daily basis. This includes things like food, lodging, and other entertainment costs.
  • How long you would like to go for might be a guess at first, with the length of time refined later.

Then the equation for this turns out to be:

Eq. 1 Cost of trip
Eq. 1 Cost of trip

So as an example if you want to go for eight days, your one-time costs are $1000 and your fixed costs are $100 per day, then your total amount required is $1800.

Making the numbers add up

You may wish to adjust these numbers. One-time costs are usually rather price inflexible, though. The real price flexibility comes in the daily costs.

Lodging is the biggest price drain. If you stay in hotels, you can wipe out a piggy bank pretty quickly. But there are other options other than hotels. Hostels are the expected cheap option, but many people don’t like staying in bunks. That said, many hostels have private rooms (many people don’t know this) that are still significantly cheaper than a hotel. Alternately, you could find a deal on Airbnb, and rent out someone’s spare bedroom. Or, if you really wanted to save money, you could just find a couch. I use a combination of all of these methods.

You can save money on food too, by buying groceries for a few meals instead of always going to restaurants. I’ve found that if I take breakfast in my lodging, a packed midday snack while I’m out and about, and then a nice dinner at a simple restaurant, I don’t exactly feel like my trip is lacking!

Once you have the daily costs reduced, you can also adjust how many days you stay. As you can see in the equation above, this is a multiplication factor, so for every day you reduce your trip by, that’s one fewer day you need to incur daily costs. But don’t shorten too much, as then you fixed costs will dwarf your other costs, and make your trip less cost-effective.

From “how much” to “when”

Once you figure how much you need, the next step is to figure out how long it will take you to get that amount of money. Let’s assume that you’re starting from a zero point of savings. (Obviously if you have this amount in the bank already, you could go tomorrow.)

Here’s the simple equation for figuring out when you can go:

Eq. 2 Months before travel. I knew writing all those physics lab reports would come in handy someday. I bet my profs are proud.
Eq. 2 Months before travel. I knew writing all those physics lab reports would one day come in handy.

So using our last example, let’s assume that our trip requires $1800. Let’s also assume that you have budgeted to save $50 a month. Using this handy formula, it will take 36 months (three years) to have enough money to go.

Look Ma, no credit cards!

Want to go sooner? Reduce the amount required or increase the amount you save. Repeat this process to refine your numbers until you come up with a plan that’s both workable and affordable.

Then stick to it.

Then go.

What is your strategy for figuring out how much you need to travel?

Comments are closed.