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South by Southeast: How to budget for long-term travel
Perhaps the most daunting obstacle for anyone considering this type of long-term trip is deciding how much money to bring. It's not an easy question to answer - search around online and you're likely to find all kinds of responses, ranging from the extravagant to the frugal. So how does one create a budget for long-term travel? And how in the world do you save up the money to make it work? Let's take a closer look at how to do it, in five steps.
1: Decide Where You're Going
The most important factor in your budget is the decision of where to go. Although you don't have to pick a destination when you're planning a trip, it helps to choose regions you want to visit and consider general costs. As a rule of thumb, travel in North America and Western Europe is most expensive, whereas South America, Southeast Asia or Africa are far cheaper. For my trip to Southeast Asia, I took the region's cheaper cost of living into account, deciding I could afford to stay longer and stretch my dollars farther.
It's also worth considering how much you plan to move around. Will you be visiting multiple regions of the world? Or will your trip cover just a few neighboring countries? If you only have a week to see all of Southeast Asia, the flights are going to get expensive quick. But if you're able to take your time, you might be able to save lots of money on cheaper bus, boat and train rides.
2: Get Some Inspiration
Lots of numbers get thrown out when it comes to travel budgets. According to general wisdom, $20-30 per day is enough for Southeast Asia. This includes a basic, clean guesthouse, three meals and a few activities. If you want high-end hotels, it can cost much more. Regardless of how you travel, wouldn't it be great to have real-world examples? Thankfully, there's plenty of resources online to help answer this question.
For general budget queries, head to the message boards at Bootsnall or Lonely Planet, where questions such as "How long will my money last in XXX?" and "Is $XXXX enough for XX months?" are frequent topics for debate. Even more helpful are the budgets of long-term traveler Megan and backpacker David, who posted detailed spreadsheets of their expenses online. With these figures it's much easier to know what's realistic and what's not.
3. Don't Forget the Extras
The general assumption of long-term travel is you're on a tight budget. But keep in mind there's a difference between "tight" and "idiotic." For every expense you planned in your head, consider there are 10 others you haven't. There are visa fees to enter some countries, immunizations, and of course, the occasional splurge on a nice hotel. Consider these "other" costs as part of initial budget. You'll thank yourself later when you have the money to cover them.
Although it's been suggested $20-30 per day is enough for my trip to Southeast Asia ($900/month), I've left myself a bit more to handle unexpected incidentals. That's not to mention several hundred dollars I spent pre-trip on immunizations and anti-malarial drugs. Take these costs into account.
4. Get Creative About Earning
By now you've figured out where you want to go and settled on an estimated budget. Hopefully you've also left padding for those extra expenses. But a good question remains - how on earth do you earn this money? You do have a life after all, and putting it on hold to plan a long-term trip doesn't mean you have to become a hermit. Instead, you need to get creative about ways to save up. Here's a few ideas:
- Bring lunch to work. Those meals out add up quick.
- Coffee drinker? Brew it at home.
- Have a mortgage to pay? Can you rent your home while you're gone?
- Sell stuff you don't need. It's amazing what people bought from me on Craigslist.
- If you have a car, could you sell it and take mass transit instead? Or a bike?
- Have friends over to your house instead of going out to eat or to the bar.
- Take on a second job. There's plenty of freelancing and web-based jobs like blogging you can do from home.
5. Remember You're Coming Back (eventually)
It's a great feeling to be able to spend the money you've been saving during your travels. But don't forget that at some point, even if you extend your trip, you'll probably want to come home. Remember not to spend your travel fund down to the very last dime - you might need a few bucks when you get back to rent an apartment and cover basic expenses during the transition.
Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures "South by Southeast" HERE.