For better or for worse, there is no one size fits all for travel budgets. If two different friends came to me and asked for helping on planning a trip to Prague, these budgets wouldn’t look the same, even if they had the same amount of money to spend.
That’s because we all have different interests and priorities. Money is stressful; I get it. It stresses me out too, but travel is so worth the investment in yourself. People ask me all the time: How are you able to travel so much? And although it’s a complicated question, some of what it comes down to is having generous parents with airplane points. But it also translates to how I travel and how I spend my money while traveling.
When I took a 3-week Europe trip with friends, the cost of the trip was virtually the same for everyone, but each person spent their money very differently. Some people on the trip spent hundreds of dollars going out to bars every night. Some people balled out on fancy meals. Others bought lots of souvenirs. I bought gelato at least once every day in Rome.
I like eating, but personally, that’s not where I want to spend most of my money. I’d rather spend it on experiences like museums or activities. Or when it comes to food, my money is going to dessert and coffee. At the end of the day, it’s up to you and your travel mates, but let’s map it out so you have a plan.
Decide what’s most important.
A lot of people say they love travel, but that love for travel looks different for every person. Some prefer luxurious hotels and resorts. Others would rather skimp on lodging and ball out on activities like parasailing or a Broadway show. Are you a foodie who can only eat at 5-star establishments? None of these are better or worse, but they are different. It’s so important to decide for yourself and as a group where you want to put your money. Pick your top three travel values and discuss them as a group. These can include your travel plans (road tripping or flying first-class), food (buy groceries for meals or eating out every meal), experience activities (more window shopping and hiking or renting a yacht), educational activities (only free museums to historical walking tours), pace (sleep in and stay out late or up at the crack of dawn), souvenirs (a postcard and that’s all or a whole new wardrobe).
See how a person could spend the same amount of money but on very different things? Your travel friends could become your biggest annoyance if you don’t discuss these priorities before departure.
Don’t guilt yourself for spending money.
I’m preaching this to myself. Once you’ve created a budget, stick to it, and don’t feel bad about it. In each city we visited on my European adventure, my friends and I went out for one fancy meal. I didn’t completely ignore the prices, but I let myself enjoy it. I’ll never forget the steak-frites and champagne I had in Brussels. It’s part of the experience, and if you’re counting pennies and having high blood pressure, it completely ruins the experience.
Put a number on it.
No, not a ring, but let’s make it official. For my Europe trip, I planned to spend around $30 on meals and snacks per day, which is pretty modest. Some days I spent more, but others I spent less. Have a ballpark idea of how much you want to spend per day or maybe per category. Your plane tickets, transportation methods and lodging are more or less fixed; those can be subtracted from your budget right away. But for the variables like excursions or food budget, pick an amount you want to spend per day or per category. I’m going to spend $50 each day whether it’s meals or activities. Or I’m going to spend no more than $100 on activities for my entire trip. Whatever makes the most sense for you, go for it!