Is it a good idea to have an “Adventure” expenses category when traveling?

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If you’ve read this site for any length of time, you know how about you can obtain best results with your money by tracking your expenses. Moreover, if you categorize your expenses, you can learn even more about how you spend your money, which can lead to making better, more informed choices. (And most likely you’ll spend less as well, without even trying.)

When I talked about how to track your expenses while traveling, I mentioned that one of the tactics I sometimes employ is to use a separate “Adventure” category, one that encompasses everything that you are likely to do while traveling: food, lodging, events, whatever.

You might be surprised to find such a category in my list. After all, isn’t a “catch-all” category kind of antithetical to the whole “categorizing” idea? Why not just have a “Life” category?

But I believe there are reasons why you may want to sometimes use such a category.

The Adventure category explained

The “Adventure” category is holistic, in that it takes into account all of what you spend per day. For example, if you look at your average projected costs during a trip, and you anticipate that you will spend $100 per day on everything, and your trip is 7 days long, you can set a category target of $700. Or, for a 5 day trip with $200 per day in expenses: call it $1,000. You get the idea.

Figuring out average daily costs in advance for a trip is a very good practice. It takes some time to project this out throughout an entire trip, but it can be done. You can find average daily costs (Google it) for a city that you’re visiting if you don’t know where to start.

Reasons to use an Adventure category

Here’s a big question: have you saved up for your travels?

Travel is not cheap, and (news flash), traveling is almost always more expensive than staying home. Depending on what you’re up to and for how long you’re up to it, your travel can easily dwarf all of your other expenses combined for a given month.

Take a hypothetical travel from the U.S. to Rome. This site mentions that you can do a budget trip in Rome for around $71 per day. That includes bunk bed accommodations, which might not be your speed, so you may want to inch this up to $100 per day. I daresay that at home you are spending this much.

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Also don’t forget that you need to get to Rome, and a plane ticket could easily cost you over $1,000 from the U.S. That’s a one-time cost, but it still has do be accounted for.

I don’t know about you, but $1,700 is not something that I have just lying around in my monthly budget. I would either need to save up for it or dip into savings.

If you’ve saved up for the trip separately from your normal income and bills, then you may wish to use an Adventure category.

Similarly, if your projected expenses on your travel dwarf your everyday spending, you may wish to use an Adventure category, even if you haven’t saved up in advance.

Also, we all know that planning is hard. After you start planning your spending, you’re going to get it wrong. Very wrong. In fact, I’d wager that your first 3-6 months of spending plans are going to be way off. That’s okay.

But similarly, when we’re on the road, we’re even less adept at determining how much we spend in what category. The Adventure category is an acknowledgment that getting the categories right is less important than keeping your overall daily spending plan on target. A trip is bounded, and therefore it can be thought of as a single entity, and a single category can encompass this.

Reasons to not use an Adventure category

Sometimes, a trip just isn’t that large.

Let’s say you’ve got a weekend jaunt to Kansas City. (I love Kansas City, but I use it here because it’s just not known as a particularly expensive place.) You get a cheap flight there ($250), and you have two nights in an inexpensive hotel ($100). Add in $50 for incidentals, and you’ve got a $400 weekend.

Let’s also say, for purposes of argument, that you have enough wiggle room in your plan that you could account for the trip:

  • The flight and hotel are one-time costs, so I would count them both as bills (see glossary)
  • Counting the above as bills and would reduce my total expenses targets across all categories by $350. (Remember: Income = Bills + Expenses, so if Bills go up, Expenses need to come down.) Spreading that around across multiple categories would be best.
  • I would tally the $50 of incidentals in whatever category they counted in (Food, Transport, etc.).

In short, if you can adjust your monthly plan without pain, then there may be no need to have an “Adventure” category.

There is no “best practice” here; these are just different ways of accounting for the exact same things. Because of this, you can use the method that works for you. Just make sure you account for your spending somehow. After all, just because you fly off doesn’t mean that your plan flies off too.

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But enough about me. How do you account for your spending when traveling?

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