“How much does it cost to travel to [Spain/Japan/for 3 months in Mexico/Around the World*]”
*insert trip plans as appropriate
I get asked this question a lot. After three dull head thumps on my desk, I have to start my response with, “It depends…”
Do you want to stay at 5-star hotels? Are you going low-cost carrier or first class all the way? Would you spoon your eyes out at the idea of drinking anything other than Champagne? Do you want to see the Greek islands on a luxury yacht? Will street food do or would you never stoop below 2 Michelin stars? Are you taking your mum, your dad, your cousins, their kids and the budgie, or are you going alone?
You get my point.
But, really… how much does it cost to travel?
How much does it cost to travel is a really tricky question to answer – it’s a bit like guessing the length of a piece of string (before you’ve cut it). However, it’s undoubtedly one of the most important questions we all face when we plan a trip.
Whether you’re arranging your honeymoon, hoping to travel around the world for a year or going away for a few months over the summer, budget is often the determining factor – not just of where you go but often how long you go for and, in some cases, whether you go at all.
So, for those reasons, I completely understand why this question comes up again and again. And although I’m rarely in a good place to simply hand over a number (ahhh, Spain you say, that will be $3421.67 all-in), I’ve planned enough trips (mine and other people’s) to know how to get from “I’ve no idea of what it will cost” to “it’s going to cost around $blah).
In this article, I’ll walk you through 7 steps that should give you a broad idea of how much it will cost you to travel to your intended destination .
Ready? Let’s go.
Flights present a potentially large cost, particularly if you’re going long-haul or to more than one destination. Fortunately, the internet has plenty of tools for pricing your trip. If you’re at the ball-park figure stage, I recommend going onto Skyscanner and searching for tickets in your month of travel. Assuming you have some flexibility on dates, a broad search should give you a good idea of how much your flights are going to cost.
However, don’t just rely on the cheapest price shown: dig deeper. Skyscanner is just a flight search engine and the final price usually jumps a bit when you access the real-time prices. Also, those cheap flights usually leave at o’dark-thirty on a Wednesday. Be realistic about the kind of flight you’ll end up taking (carrier, flight times, direct or indirect) and use that number as a rough figure.
I mention Skyscanner not because they pay me (sadly, they don’t) but because I consistently find them to be the cheapest and easiest way to search for flights.
Pro booking tips
If you’re looking for more flight booking tips, check out my article: 101 Tips for Cheap Flights
If you’re trying to decide between one-way tickets and around the world fares, check out my article: Planning a Travel itinerary
And whatever you do, don’t get stung by the airline scam of dynamic pricing. A technology cheat that can add thousands on your flight price – find out how to get around it here: Dynamic Pricing: Flight Pricing’s Biggest Scam
Oh, and don’t forget to search for return flights unless you’re going one-way all the way.
Your next biggest cost (and potentially biggest cost if you’re into luxury digs) is going to be your accommodation. Again, it’s pretty simple to get an indicative price for rooms. I’d recommend using any of the websites below to get a good ball-park figure for the nightly costs for your trip.
Hostelworld is a good place to check accommodation prices if you’re a solo or budget traveller and you’re happy with dorm beds. In some locations it can also be cheaper to book a double rooms in a hostel than in a hotel. But that’s not always the case, so do you’re research.
Trivago is my favourite site for searching across a lot of hotel options in one place. This aggregator pulls together the prices across a good range of hotel booking websites like Expedia, Hotels.com, Booking.com and many others. Beware, some websites like Priceline charge a booking fee, so the overall price might be higher than the prices you may have dismissed from their competitors.
Priceline Express is perfect if you want to stay in a chain hotel in a particular area of a city but don’t particularly care about the details. I’ve saved up to 60% off 4-star hotels using this site. You can read about it in my article: How to Book Cheap Hotels
Airbnb is one of the best websites for booking apartment rentals around the world. However, also check out GoWithOh! especially if you are looking for something more swanky in Europe. I had a great apartment stay with them in Berlin.
A word on couchsurfing
You’ve all heard of couchsurfing, right? Where you get to stay with locals for the grand total of zip. It’s a brilliant way to see the world while cutting out one of the most significant expenses. However, before you write down ‘$0″ for you accommodation expenses, be aware that lining up a couchsurfing stay might not be as simple as you’d like – some stays can take weeks of emailing to plan. Some hosts never reply. And, sorry guys, but girls tend to have a higher response rate than you. Creepy!
If you’re going on a longer trip, I’d recommend searching for prices over an extended period e.g. a couple of weeks so you get a feel for weekend and peak prices. And, of course, get indicative prices for all of the countries you plan to visit, including specifically looking at the capital cities, where prices are commonly higher.
Once you have a broad price, times it by the number of nights you’re going to be away.
Unless you’re staying in one location, you’re going to have transport costs to get between the different places you’ll visit.
Rome2Rio is a great site for working out the best way to get around once you arrive in a country. The website pricing can be a bit wonky (on the high side) so you’re better double checking the rate with the transport company directly, which can usually be done pretty easily online. So, for example, if you’re travelling around Italy by train, search on TrenItalia for train prices.
The Voyages-sncf site is a very good place for getting train costs throughout all of Europe.
If you’re after a rental car, a quick search on rental cars should give you an indicative price.
4. Major sightseeing and experiences
Next, make a list of those major sightseeing expenses or experiences that you want to include in your trip and, again, have a look online. Most tours companies will give their prices. The same applies for most of the major city passes like the Firenze Card in Florence.
Scuba lessons, food tours, museum entry – all of these costs can be estimated in advance. You can also research what free tours might be available in the places you visit.
Pro Travel Tip
Often it’s can be cheaper to book trips and tours when you arrive at your destination. For example, day trips to Isla Espiritu Santo (from La Paz in Baja Sur, Mexico) were selling for $100-$150 online. Locally, I paid just $45. TripAdvisor is a great resource for this kind of local information.
Also, as a general rule, paying in the local currency rather than USD is a good indication of whether you’re being given an inflated price.
5. Eating and drinking
In addition to the above, you’re going to face one cost on a recurring basis – 5 times a day if you’re anything like me. That cost: food and drink.
Pro Travel Tip: Numbeo:
If you want a more detailed idea of how much food and drink costs in a particular country, check out the website numbeo, which includes indicative costs for basic items like bread, milk, chicken, coffee and wine as well as typical restaurant prices.
The cost of eating out might make some people panic. They think of their last restaurant bill (+$50), times it by three, then times it by several weeks and suddenly the whole venture seems unaffordable.
Fortunately, there’s good news: even in some of the most expensive countries in the world (Japan and London come to mind), you can still buy food for a few dollars. You just have to skip the expensive restaurants.
Instead, look for tasty but cheap street food or ready-made food from supermarkets. Even better, if your accommodation has a kitchen, you can cook a few times a week saving a heap of money. You can safely count on as little as $15 a day to cover your food and water if you’re prepared to eat this way. In some countries you can spend a lot less and still survive (I’ve lived on as little as $2 for a day’s food and water in Thailand – it’s challenging but possible).
That said, do budget for the occasional splurge because even if you’re on a strict budget and taking a longer trip, supermarket basics and ramen noodles can quickly become tedious. Plus, eating the local food is often a great part of the experience.
Pro Travel Tips: Drinks
Water: if you’re in a country where it’s safe to drink the water out of the tap, do it. Bottled water, even if it’s not too expensive, can really add up over time.
Alcohol: don’t underestimate how quickly your budget can go off-piste when you start to consume alcohol. As the saying goes: you order the first two drinks and those two drinks order the rest…and the late-night pizza…the club entry…the cigarettes…the drinks for your new friends… and the hangover breakfast the next day. If you party, be strict or be realistic with your budget.
Coffee and Cola: non-alcoholic drinks can be just as much of a budget buster. One of my biggest expenses overseas is take-away coffee. I could probably retire 5 years earlier if I cut out this three times a day (ok, five times a day) habit. But I’m not prepared to, so I do actually have a budget just for consuming coffee. You might have the same problem with soft drinks. Either curb the craving or add the cost into your budget.
6. Travel gear
Why is it that a new trip makes us want to go out and upgrade all of our travel stuff? You know how it goes – new trip: new bag; new shoes; new toiletries. Before you know it, you’ve spent hundreds. Fine, if you have the money in your budget. Not fine if you don’t. Either way, you need to come to a number for all your trip essentials.
The best starting point is to make a list of the things you want to buy for your trip and put a cost next to them. Travel gear companies will have prices on their websites while Amazon is another good resource for pricing items.
Once you come up with your horrifying total (and don’t forget that a trip to the pharmacy can easily tot up to $50 without thinking about it), whittle the list down into two columns – essentials and nice-to have. That figure should look much better.
If you’re not sure what to pack, check out articles about packing here:
Pro Travel Tips:
eBay: If you’re buying electronics or anything that can be bought second-hand, look on eBay to save further costs, though make sure what you’re buying: a) works; and b) comes from a legit seller.
Shop overseas: Don’t forget that there are shops overseas, too. True story. Toiletries are most certainly going to be cheaper in developing countries and I’ve always found Asia (Thailand and Hong Kong) to be excellent options for buying electronics thanks to the low tax rates.
Buying clothes: Clothes is another purchase you might want to wait on. Apart from cold-weather gear, where it pays to buy technical travel clothing, buying clothes in the country you will visit is often cheaper (especially if you’re off to Asia) and commonly offers more appropriate material – India sold cotton trousers thin enough to cope with the heat that I couldn’t have bought in Europe.
Just when you think you’ve got the figure nailed, you remember there are a couple more essentials to add to the list like travel insurance, (yes, it is essential), vaccinations and boring items like the cost of travelling to the airport in your home country. Again, you should be able to get these costs from the web.
And finally, add in a buffer. I ended up spending way less on my around the world trip than I’d budgeted for, but it was still comforting to know I had a bit extra in the bank in case I needed it. If you don’t have the cash, can you get hold of an emergency credit card (and, no, those Jagerbombs at the full-moon party are not an emergency). I added a 10% buffer to my budget and I didn’t touch it, but it was nice to know I had it when a few tricky moments cropped up.
A bit of perspective
It’s going to be tough to nail down all the costs with accuracy, especially for a longer trip, so there’s going to come a point where you just stop planning and set a budget.
You’ll probably see a huge spike in your spending at the beginning of your trip, when you haven’t really gotten into the groove of keeping to a budget. However, the longer you travel, the better you will get at spending less money Don’t worry. Most people go through it and it usually evens out in the end.
Remember that not all days are created equally: you may have a budget of $50 a day, but some days you’re going to go over it (the day that you go skydiving) and some days you will be way under (the days you sit on a beach eating mangoes from a tree). So long as the over and under days are roughly in proportion, you’ll be alright.
And there you have it: my formula for figuring our how much it costs to travel. Of course, this is unlikely to be your final number – you may spend more…you may spend less, but at least you’re closer to knowing how long the piece of travel-spending string is.
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Do you have any other tips for figuring out how much does it cost to travel? Any recent travel costs to share? Let me know in the comments below.