One of the most important aspects of taking a gap year is your budget, but saving up and planning your travel budget well is only part of it, you have to know how to manage your money on the road as well, and that means knowing how to stretch your budget out so that it lasts.
knowing how to stretch your budget out and knowing where and how to spend your money to make it last is an essential skill on your gap year, that is if you want your travels to last and don’t want to end up like the many backpackers who run out of a years budget 3 months in and have to go home early.
The good news is that it really isn’t as hard as people think, and there really isn’t any arcane or hidden secrets to it, you just have to do your research, be realistic and balance your budget out.
So here is how you make sure you can stretch that budget out and not run out of money when you are on the road.
Don’t Forget The Pre Trip Costs.
Everyone always forgets about the pre trip costs, and then ends up using some of their actual travel budget at the last minute because they haven’t got insurance or suddenly find out they need vaccinations.
These are the expenses for things that are essential for your trip and unfortunately there is very little you can do about them, they are what they are, and they are necessary.
I run my own travel clinic and every single week without fail I will get travellers who have left everything right up until the last minute and then ask how much all the vaccinations they need will cost, and only then do they weigh up if they should get the shots and spend some of the budget that would have gone on a few weeks in a nice beach hut, or risk going without them because they suddenly find they don’t have enough money.
Budget for all these necessities, plane tickets, vaccinations, insurance, visas and more before you start budgeting for your actual trip. They are necessary.
Find The Balance In Your Spending.
On your gap year you will be heading to a whole variety of different places, some expensive, some not so much. You will have days where you want to sit by the hostel common area and relax, and days where you will be partaking in every bucket list adventure you will find. Some days you will spend a lot of money, other days you will barely spend anything. The trick is to balance it all out. Know when to treat yourself and when you can splurge, and perhaps more importantly, when to save.
There were many days and weeks on the road where I came under my daily accommodation budget and all that extra money added up over time, giving me extra budget that I could use to splurge on a private room upgrade from time to time or an extra activity or two.
There were also times when unexpected expenses cropped up, a broken camera, a surprise activity I didn’t plan for, a detour to a tropical island I had just heard about in the hostel, whatever it may have been. You can’t plan for everything. That is why when those expenses do crop up it is important to weigh up the pros and cons, and then find a way to balance that expense out by cutting your budget a little and sticking to pasta at the hostel for the days or weeks after.
Backpacking versus flashpacking. Remember, there is nothing wrong with spoiling yourself and splurging on a nice private room or a fancy restaurant from time to time, just make sure your budget is balanced out with all the times you stayed in ultra cheap dorms and ate street food for days so you didn’t spend as much as you planned for.
Have A Back Up Fund Separate From Your Daily Account.
This is separate from the essential emergency fund that everyone should have as a back up plan just in case, and this is not your activities budget. This is basically an extra chunk of money set aside to pay for all those extra things that may surprise you on the road.
Exactly how much you put in will depend on exactly what you want to do when you travel and that will be different for everyone. Think you may want to splurge on a few massages on the beach in Thailand? Think you may take a few detours and need to pay for extra visas? Think you may want to get your tastebuds going with a few fancy restaurants or maybe you want to do some classes while you are on the road? Whatever it might be just think how much maybe one of those things will cost and then how many times you may want to do that over a month. Add that up and then multiply it for however long you are travelling.
You may not use it, you may do, the point is to have that ‘splurge fund’ as part of your planned budget and you won’t find that you have suddenly depleted your entire years budget with a few surprises.
Know Exactly What You Want.
Everyone’s trip is different because everyone’s individual priorities and wants are different and this should be a part of your thinking process when you are planning your budget out too.
You can’t plan for an extreme basic budget if you know that you really want to party and drink a lot of alcohol every weekend or you want to test out the fancy restaurants in Singapore, and there is no point in planning a huge budget for a private hotel room every night if you plan on sleeping in hostels and couchsurfing, and vice versa of course.
I don’t need to worry about an expensive alcohol budget for example because I don’t drink, and I don’t mind slimming down my accommodation and food budgets and sticking to hostels and cheap street food, if that means I can have more money available for those once in a lifetime experiences and courses that are one of the main reasons I am travelling in the first place. I’m not going to travel to Cairo and blow my budget on a fancy hotel if that means I can’t afford to pay the entrance fee to Giza.
So what exactly do you want to do? There really isn’t a right or wrong answer here it is just about planning your budget around what you want to do.
Research, Research, Research.
And that leads very nicely into doing your research on the destinations you want to go to. There is no point in trying to plan on how much you want to spend on accommodation per night or planning a budget for getting your PADI certificate if you don’t know how much those things are.
The good news is that now it is so easy to do that with just a simple Google search. It really is that easy. When I first started travelling 20 years ago all we had to rely on was the already out of date info in our Lonely Planet’s! Things have changed so much!
Don’t be one of those travellers who turn up to a place and then are shocked by the price of a local beer or blow a months budget on a single adventure tour because you didn’t know how much things would be.
So if you are planning on accommodation for example just look at any of the aggregate sites to give you an idea of the prices per night in any given area. Even if you plan on walking up yourself and dealing direct (which usually ends up cheaper) at least you have an idea of how much you should be expecting to pay for the standard you are looking for. Want to know how much a cooking class is? Google local classes in that area.
You can pretty much plan your entire budget down to the penny now so there is no excuse for underestimating how much you will need.
Use Aggregate Sites To Research, But Not To Book.
Accommodation aggregate sites are a great research tool and they can on occasion be really useful in booking accommodation when you really need it, but I rarely advise using them all the time.
Frankly it is really easy to look for and find your own accommodation when you are on the ground and you can usually pay a lot less than the online price for doing so, especially if you find those hidden gems that aren’t on the aggregate sites yet.
So for example if you do your research and you find that on average a room is around £8 – £15 a night. Budget at the top end of that and plan to spend £15 a night, but then when you look around and find you can barter the price of a room for £6 a night then suddenly you are coming in under budget, and that is always a good thing.
And this is one of my biggest pieces of advice whenever anyone asks me how much they should plan to spend on their gap or snap years. Whatever you think you are going to spend, plan your budget at the high end of that so that you won’t find you have to squeeze every last penny at the end of every week.
Slow Down Your Travels And Make Your Money Last.
This is particularly relevant for those backpackers travelling on an extended gap year or longer trip. Basically I always advocate travelling slowly anyway as it is just a nicer way to travel, but if you can try to plan some extended ’empty time’ in your itinerary. This is the time where you will want to rest, sit on the beach and read a book, this is the time you will want to catch up on some sleep or simply have a day or two to yourself doing nothing in particular. If you are running yourself ragged most of the time trying to fit in all those amazing tourist sites and adventure activities then this time is absolutely essential to stop yourself from burning out but it can really help with your budget too.
It’s just common sense, you will spend less in the weeks you do less than in the weeks you are taking in every activity you can find, and again this comes back to balancing that out.
But this can also help with accommodation costs too as it is often a lot easier to bargain a decent room rate down if you stay a little longer than the usual few days, and that means you can stay longer, explore deeper, soak in more of the local culture and spend less in the long run.
Watch The Alcohol.
This has never been much of a problem for me as I don’t really drink all that much but the price of beer and alcohol in many places is sky high, and I have lost track of how many travellers I have met who have struggled with their budget because of one to many nights out.
No one is saying don’t have a good time, this is your gap year after all, you should enjoy it, but just be aware of how much nights out will cost and budget accordingly.
You can’t plan a £20,000 gap year on a £5000 budget. That should just be common sense but I see people trying to do this so often. Just be realistic, know exactly how much you will be able to save for your big trip and plan according to your actual circumstances and not what you wish you had. Hell, if we could actually do that we’d all be planning round the world trips on private planes.
It really is this easy to make sure your budget lasts on the road. It’s not rocket science and anyone can do it, it just takes a little bit of forethought and planning, and if you do that then you can make your travel funds last!
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