Traveling forces you to deftly target who you are in this moment, and devote yourself to exploring the world as only that person can.
Wherever he is, whatever he does, always disaster personified.
Well hello there!
Your question inspired me to revamp my general travel advice post here, which can hopefully answer many of the shootoff questions (including tips and ideas on couchsurfing) that this post might raise.
As for the money question, I’d say that 3,000 of any currency is a very good start, especially if we’re talking euros or dollars. My current situation is a bit different from most: I’m based in Paris, and take trips to surrounding countries whenever I can. I don’t pay rent either, but “normal” expenses still give me some trouble. I’m an actress living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and money is very tight. The price of prioritizing travel often results in daily tradeoffs. Get a hair cut, or buy a 50 euro ticket to Ireland? Buy a sandwich for lunch, or pack one? Buy new clothes, or repair the old ones?
So, I’m going to take your question as an opportunity to talk about an essential part of travel prep: creating a travel budget. In all honesty, this is one of my favorite parts of trip planning. Sounds weird, but bear with me.
Once I start preparing for a trip, I start making small changes in the way I go about my daily life. This is good practice for economizing while on the road, and it helps me get used to how unpredictable it can often be.
I’m obsessed with lists. Over the course of my travels I’ve formulated a few essential guidelines for personal accounting that have helped me to remain realistically inspired for future trips.
The three main questions I ask myself while making a travel budget are:
A: How much do I currently spend, and how can I economize that sum?
Start thinking like a traveler before you get on the road. Ask yourself: What would it take for me to successfully pull off my trip with my existing resources?
The key to my success as a young traveler has been to really understand my current spending habits. Once I’ve wrapped my head around what I do now, I can predict what I might do in the future — and if my predictions aren’t what I would want or expect, I know exactly by what degree I have to change to measure up.
B: How long will I be on the road?
Three months, or three years? Even if you don’t know, pick a time frame and stick to it. Those 3,000 ducats of yours won’t do you very much good if you’re planning on spending 10 years somewhere. In the same way, shorter trips require less money. If you only plan to spend 2 weeks somewhere, put most of that money aside, and save it for future trips (…you lucky bastard).
C: What will my expenses be?
The most basic travel budget should include categories for food, drink, accommodations, incidentals (which should be roughly equal to food + drink combined), and travel. I split travel into two categories: inter-regional (trains and buses between cities) and internal (taxis, buses, and trams within your destination city).
I like to think that I know myself pretty well. I can eke by on water and bread, but no one really wants to do that when they’re traveling. I cut corners left and right by using couchsurfing, hitch-hiking, and busking —- but your budget doesn’t know that, and won’t forgive you if and when something goes wrong.
Write down how much you think you’ll spend each day that you’re on the road, and multiply that by the amount of time you’ll be gone. Add it up, and voilà: a rudimentary budget.
Don’t ever forget to allow for incidentals. Your spending habits will vary from trip to trip, making it hard to predict how much you’ll over or under spend. Stay on the safe side and calculate that you’ll need more money, and not less.
The last thing you want is to make a budget so unforgiving that you’ll find yourself stranded with insufficient funds. Even if you consider yourself to be a most disciplined consumer, you’ll end up spending twice as much if your plans change at the last minute (or if your spare cash reserve is stolen). That’s why your budget should assume the worst. I generally insert an artificial control on my budget by accounting for an increase of 10-20% in spending in addition to my incidentals category. If my couchsurfing host falls through, I know I can afford a hostel for the night. By calculating a bit of wiggle room into my budget, I’m almost always pleasantly surprised a bit of extra cash floating around. And in the worst case, I’m prepared.
||| So…now what? |||
Find a sheet of paper and a pen, and write down the answers to these questions. Sure, you could think about it nice and hard, but there’s nothing quite like seeing the numbers to help you wrap your mind around a potential trip. I like to post my budgets around my apartment to keep me inspired. Further evidence for why some people find me strange, but it keeps me focused and inspired.
Don’t like what you see? Shift your assumptions, and do your best to make a budget that you could realistically follow. What would it look like if you halved your food allowance? If you only paid for accomodations for half the time you’re gone? Make a few different budgets, and see which ones seem like a good trade-off between comfort and utility. I like to make a strict and loose budget, and assume that I’ll spend somewhere between the two.
Also, I get it. You’re a traveler. You go where you want, when you want, and you’ll figure out the money as you go. To a certain extent, so do I — but I feel much more comfortable with the riskier trips (like hitch-hiking or traveling with very low funds) if I have a plan.
Beyond the obvious utility of organizing my spending habits, budgets play a much more important role in my travel prep. They help me get up the courage to start thinking about my trip in very real ways, and they help me plan for the trip once I’ve convinced myself that I can pull it off. Just by writing down your ideas, you’ve already taken steps towards achieving your goals. Planning is a lot like improvisation — practice always makes you better.
Nervous about going somewhere solo? You’ll be ready to grow past that if you know that all other aspects of your trip are under control. Often, we use immaterial obstacles to prove why we can’t achieve something. Once you’ve shown yourself that you have all the resources you need to get on the road, you’re well on your way to turning an idea into reality.