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Budget & Travel Tips


Planning your budget & trying your best to stick to it!

Travelling long term relies on budgeting well. Some friends of ours were inspired to travel as they had seen so many of the experiences we have had over the years. They set off on a trip for their honeymoon which was planned to last for 6 months but were back in 3! Yes, they had a blast, but we can’t help but think if they had concentrated a bit more day to day & been a bit savvier, they could have seen so much more!

The first step when working out your budget is to spend a little while researching each country you are planning on visiting, reading through travel blogs, what people who have been there think  is a realistic daily budget is & how they break that down. Try searching things like “daily budget in Brazil”, “Cambodia on a budget”,  or “backpacker budget in Nepal”. Before you get into the nitty gritty of the budget & how much the cost of a beer in a bar is, make sure to check out how long ago the blog was created. It's not that a 5 years old blog will not be informative, you just need to bear in mind that things have probably gone up in price since!

Once you have that, the fun part begins! Immerse yourself with inspiration for your trip so you can come up with how long you think you'll need in each country. Remember to allow at least 1 day per week for hiccups along the way, or so you can add in the place you missed during your research that a guy at the bar said not to miss!!

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Travel Credit Cards

A key tip to getting the best rates for your travel money is not to exchange all your cash with the Bureau de Change or the Post Office before you set off. You will always be stung with an awful rate & believe me 2-4% difference soon adds up!!

Having done extensive research on different cards the UK market has to offer the top card I found was the Barclaycard Rewards. The card has no annual fee, does not charge for any foreign purchase or cash advancing (withdrawing from an ATM) in foreign countries.  As long as you pay off the statement balance in full before the due date it won’t cost you a penny. Just simply set a direct debit to pay the balance in full you don’t have to worry about any nasty late payment fees or interest. A nice little additional perk is that they pay you to use it by giving you 0.25% cash back.

Another card we have (as it’s always good to have a back up in case one gets blocked/stolen) is the Halifax Clarity. It is not quite as good as the earlier mentioned Barclaycard, but so long as you are savvy it can still work out free to use. The main thing to remember with this card is that although purchases are free abroad, the cash advance element attracts an interest change as soon as it clears on your statement. If we ever need to use this card we log on to our online banking after withdrawing from an ATM & check what the pending balance is & pay it off with a bank transfer before it clears. Given it’s a little more effort but much cheaper than paying the high street banks charges for using your debit card abroad. Even if you do end up paying for a week or so interest as you forgot to pay it off, it will still be much cheaper!

ATM fees abroad

ATMs abroad have a nasty habit of charging a withdrawal fee (not the fee your bank charges, it is an additional charge for the pleasure of using their machine!). It can sometimes take stopping at a couple of different banks before you find one that doesn’t charge, but in major towns or cities it doesn’t normally take much walking to find one. One brand to avoid is Euronet. They are the bane of my life as they always seem to be the one you spot first & they always charge BIG!!

Pay in the local currency or accept conversion

Always, always, always withdraw/pay in the local currency! The rate offered on ATMs/card machines is always shambolic & simply a way to cream a bit of commission off you. If you say to withdraw/pay in the local currency Mastercard/Visa will charge you the current exchange rate, or extremely close to, with no added commission. 

Emergency cash

It’s always good to have a few USD (you could probably get away with Euro’s or GBP but USD are the most widely accepted internationally) to fall back on for that emergency situation where you turn up in a town with no ATM or option for card payments . It happened to us in northern Laos & we were running through scenarios or trading jewellery/electronics in some type of barter for around an hour before remembering we had stashed some USD in a secret pocket in Becca’s bag before we left home. We normally try to have around $100.

With the world moving on a little since our stressful night in Laos 12 years ago, you are not often very far from an ATM.

Withdraw a small amount at the airport/port of entry

When you first arrive in a new country it is best to only withdraw a small amount from the airport’s ATMs to allow you to get to your accommodation & to the nearest bank. Although these ATMs are going to be a better rate than your Bureau de Change back home, there is a strong chance that the conversion rate is slightly lower than a bank in the town/city. I’ve never really got to the bottom of why this is (presumably simply because they can, as they have the monopoly) but when you check your statement for the rate you received at the airport in comparison to the bank in the city, the rate seems to always be around 1% worse.

Using your phone abroad

Becca posing with a giant jaguar phone booth in Bonito

Depending on your phone provider travelling around Europe (from the UK) can still be covered in your regular allowances. If not a small bolt-on may be reasonably priced to allow you to use your normal SIM. However, if you are going a little further afield, you’ll likely find the prices to use your UK number abroad eye watering! Before our current trip to South America, I spent a bit of time trawling through the different networks charges abroad & all were ridiculous.

The best bet for using your phone abroad is to make sure your phone is unlocked before you set off and buy a local SIM* when you arrive. In all likelihood you want to keep in contact with friends/family back home or those you have met along the way, the best way to do with this without your telephone number changing every few weeks is to keep your WhatsApp number as your original UK number. When you first log into WhatsApp with your new foreign number it will ask you whether you wish to continue using your UK number. So as long as everyone contacts you via WhatsApp for texts & calls rather than SMS & normal calls there is no need to have to update everyone with your new each time number. Halleluiah!!

*We have just experienced for the first time a situation where the SIM we purchased in Rio de Janeiro does not work in the whole of Brazil. After speaking to the network provider it seems that in Brazil they have area codes on their SIMs & so you are only covered in that area code and not the whole country. They don’t offer the option of using the SIM under roaming either as the SIM is classed as invalid. This may just be a one off but in future we will be asking if the SIM covers the whole country.

Avoid tourist traps

Eat and drink where the locals do. It’s not exactly a secret that cafes/bars/restaurants near major tourist attractions are expensive. They can charge more for convenience & generally cater for what they think the tourist wants. You will find the food in these places isn't typical of the local cuisine and usually not the nicest either. Get yourself one or two streets back from the main street/square/attraction you will get a lot more bang for your buck and be able to sample the real local food.

Turtles eating choped vegetables

Travel in Shoulder Season

High season always attracts the highest accommodation/food/travel prices. Arriving somewhere just before or just after the season will hopefully still give you decent weather, but at a considerably more palatable price.  Less crowds make travel a little easier and mean you have more breathing space to enjoy the attractions. It also gives you better Instagram shots! 😉

Travel Insurance

I know its boring & you are probably thinking “do I really need it?” but I can hand on heart say YES! The chances are you will get through your travel scathe free, however the longer you travel for the more likely you will need it. On our 2 previous ‘big trips’ both have unfortunately ended with us having to curtail our trip for different reasons. On both occasions our insurance paid out & more than the premiums we had paid for the cover. The monetary pay out was great but it also made the experience less stressful. On top of that on a couple of occasions we have had money stolen, unfortunately there is a good chance that at least one of your desired locations may have a considerably higher crime rate than where you call home.

Lastly, & I can’t stress this enough, the most importantly reason for having insurance is  for health cover. We are extremely lucky in the UK to have the NHS and unlimited health cover but this is not the case when travelling abroad. On your travels you are likely to be taking part in a few little more dangerous activities than your commute at home, whether its climbing Kilimanjaro, scuba diving the great barrier reef, skiing, sky diving… you get the point. Make sure you read what you are covered for & chose your level of cover depending on what your plans are.

The company we have always used for our travels has been True Traveller, each time they have come out the cheapest, but we have always had a great experience with them. A bonus is they allow you to extend your trip, or even start a new insurance whilst on the road, which many insurers don’t allow.

True Traveller unfortunately only covers EU residents so if you live outside the EU, a close 2nd on my research in the past has been World Nomads. We have never used them as they always come up a bit more expensive than True Traveller however, they are a massive company & they do provide cover to many more nationalities.

Trail Wallet screenshot showing overall spend pie chart

Keeping a track on your spends

Write down everything you spend. It may seem tedious, especially for the small purchases but everything adds up and you can loose track of where your money is going if you are not careful. Initially when travelling we had a notebook and pen and would jot everything down and then tally up at the end of the day. Now we use a great app called TrailWallet. The app allows you to add multiple trips so you can set individual budgets depending on which country you are in. You can also add custom categories to track your spending in different areas, i.e. accommodation costs, travel expenses, eating out etc. It shows average/total spend  for each trip & you can store it for future reference. 

Purchase a water filter bottle

We have recently invested in LifeStraw bottles; it may seem like a strange thing to talk about when budgeting, but as you cannot drink the tap water in a lot of countries, buying bottled water can soon add up.. We opted to spend a little more & go for the aluminium Lifestraw Go Filter water bottles to avoid the risk of dropping the plastic version & breaking it. Additionally the aluminium bottle offers a decent amount of insulation to keep your water cold. Whilst in the Pantanal we stayed at a lodge in Porto Jofre where they did not offer any filtered water. There are no shops nearby & the lodge were charging 50p for 200ml & no big bottles!!! A couple we met there were forced to pay these prices for the 4 days they stayed, ouch!! Luckily with our LifeStraw bottles we were able to safely drive the tap water! 😁

The great thing about the bottles is that you can put any water into the & drink it through the filter. Therefore, if you are out on a hike, you can use stream water without fear of getting ill or even water from a puddle (we have tried loads of tap water from around the world and some streams, no dirty puddles yet!).

There are other filter bottles on the market, but after doing our research this was the one we felt most comfortable with. Either way we strongly suggest you get one for your next trip to somewhere without safe tap water, as not only do they save you buying bottled water all the time, you are also doing a great thing in reducing the amount of plastic waste.

Shop around

When booking anything it’s good to check multiple prices. Whether this means speaking to multiple travel agencies in a town or checking prices online.

When booking accommodation, you will likely come across different prices between HostelWorld,, Airbnb & directly with the accommodation itself. It isn’t a case that one is always cheaper so its best to take the extra 5-10 minutes comparing. It is also worth noting that have a great loyalty programme called “Genius”. All you need to do is create an account to benefit from this, the more times you book your “level” increases & you are offered a higher discount! 😁

When booking transport check with the company themselves as well as the comparison sites.  BusBud & ClickBus are great for finding who operates a route & they generally quote the same price as the transport company do initially. However, you will notice when you try to proceed, just before paying, a booking fee appears which you don't get if you book direct.

Travel overnight

When embarking on a long bus journey or even a flight it is more economical to travel overnight. You might not get the best night's sleep, but when travelling on a budget it's a great way to save money on accommodation. You don't want to pay for a bus journey, spend all day travelling and then have to pay for a bed somewhere that evening too. Overnight travel optimises your time spent in a place as you can use your days for sightseeing, sleep on the move and wake up somewhere new ready to start exploring again!

Cook your own meals

Cooking your own meals, especially in expensive countries will save you £$£$£. As foodies we are not going to tell you not to eat out, as part of the experience of travel is to sample the local cuisine but staying in a hostel/Airbnb with a kitchen & making some of your own meals will go a long way. It’s also a good idea to take a set of cutlery in you day sack. When you’re out exploring you can grab bits to throw together a salad/sandwich & eat it in the park 😊.

Bring us that horizon making new friends by sharing a meal cooked in the hostel

Get a rail pass

When travelling round Europe it is a great idea to grab a railcard & in Switzerland they have the Swiss Pass or Swiss Half Fare card which can save you a small fortune!

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