In this article I’ll first outline the budget considerations for a backpacking trip.
Following this I’ll offer some budget examples and you can download our FREE Excel travel budget planner calculator template to figure out your own budget estimate.
Planning your trip is daunting. What if you forget something? Well, this article has the complete roadmap to everything you need to get sorted.
Research and planning are also the key to getting the best prices when travelling. There will always be someone making a living from ripping off tourists, from Indian taxi drivers to the “art student” scams in Beijing. If you turn up NOT knowing your stuff you are a prime target.
There is no super quick fix to planning your own budget. But, with this guide, you’ll save a lot of time as we cover the whole process in one easy-to-follow article.
Even organising a relatively short trip of 2-3 weeks can involve a lot of planning and research. Some people opt to spend money, rather than time, to get their trip sorted. If you are a budget traveller then its all about doing it yourself - Maximum adventure, minimum budget.
We focus on budget travel in our examples, but you can easily use the techniques presented to help plan a mid-end or luxury trip.
Everyday Travel Budget Costs
The Cheap: Dorms, hostels, guesthouses, Homestay with Airbnb ($25 off your first stay with this link)
The Cheapest: Couchsurfing, Housesitting (get a 15% discount using this link and the coupon code “5DP“)
Top Tip: Read more about the 3 “Cheapest” options, linked above.
Budget Info: Every country has differing prices. From $5 double rooms in SE Asia to paying $40+ for a dorm bed in a major western city. Couchsurfing is, of course, free everywhere and is relatively safe (safer than you’d think if you have never tried it), but don’t assume that you’ll be able to Couchsurf every night. That’s why we mainly Housesit and then use couchsurfing or AirBnB when we can’t.
When those options are not available, budget hotels or hostels are a good backup.
Read more on this topic –
Live for Free with Housesitting – How to become a pro housesitter in less than 3 months
Accommodation price guide (by region) inc. tips on finding the cheapest rooms worldwide and some ballpark figures to help you plan your budget.
The Cheap: Food Courts
The Cheapest: Street Food & Supermarkets
Top Tip: Street food, in Asia particularly, is often more authentic than the restaurant meals which are often adapted to meet the palette of western tourists.
Budget Info: Even in developed countries it is possible to find some very cheap food in ways you might not have thought of. If you are couchsurfing you may even get free food more often than not. I’d say estimate a minimum of $3 per person per day for super budget destinations (Like Asia), and up to $20 per person per day for the UK/USA/Australia etc.
If you are the sort of person who will want to try all the best restaurants then you’ll need to think about setting that figure a lot higher.
Read more on this topic – Ideas for eating cheaply in western countries, and More food stories.
The Cheap: Buy your alcohol from the store, not the bar.
The Cheapest: Stick to tap water
Top Tip: If travelling in a developed country, where the water is safe to drink from the tap, don’t buy bottled water when you are out during the day, just drop into a bar/cafe and get a free glass of water, and also fill up your water bottle at your hostel in the morning.
Budget Info: If you like a lot of beer or can’t start the day without a coffee then you are going to have to factor that into your budget.
The Pint Price website lets you search for beer prices in different countries. With average prices from 35c a beer in Cambodia up to over $10 in Greenland (and I’ve paid a lot more than that in Norway for a pint) try and figure out how often you are likely to go out drinking, how many drinks you’d normally have in a night and whether you are happy enough buying booze from the liquor or if you have to drink in the pub.
If you try hard with your budget you can party it up every day in almost any country for under $15 per person, sometimes a lot less, so try and estimate a realistic figure based on your habits. Non-drinkers are going to save a fortune… Although, in some countries beer is cheaper than tea!
The Cheap: Non-touristy entertainment for the locals
The Cheapest: If it ain’t free, don’t do it – Go to the beach.
Top Tip: From local festivals to beaches, waterfalls or just meeting other travellers and sharing travel stories, there is always something fun to do for free. Do a google search for your destination and check out the entertainment aritcles for free stuff.
Budget Info: For most of us it will detract from the overall travel experience if we never enjoy any of the entertainment opportunities available whilst abroad, but be selective.
Estimating a figure for what is essentially an unknown entity is almost impossible, so I would suggest allocating a set amount of money for entertainment and be mindful of this when you open your wallet.
If you allocate $10 per person per day then that is $70 per week - spend it wisely.
5. Attractions & Tours
Top Tip: Many of the top attractions worldwide offer student rates, if you don’t have a student card then get a fake one, its a lot easier to do than you may think and it will save you a lot of money… I take no responsibility if you get caught.
Budget Info: You want to see what you want to see. Visiting Siem Reap in cambodia without visiting Angkor Wat would almost seem like you’d missed the point of going! As with the Entertainment section above I would allocate a set daily amount, maybe $5 per day for unexpected attractions, and any major attractions you KNOW you have to see, make a list and check their prices online (Wiki Travel or a google search for all the major ones normally works) and add them to the pre-booked/planned tour” section below.
If you are more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type, then forget the research and just allocate more to this section, maybe $20 per day.
The Cheap: Tuc-Tucs, Metro.
The Cheapest: The local, non-aircon buses
Top Tip: If travelling to Asia, taxi drivers normally try to extort tourists. Read our 16 Asian Taxi Scams (and how to beat them)
Budget Info: In undeveloped countries the taxis are normally very cheap and far more convenient for short journeys than busses, especially outside of major cities. In developed countries you have to say goodbye to taxis if you are a budget traveller, they are always a budget killer. Try walking.
To estimate daily costs think about the sort of travel you are doing. Long term travellers may be making only one return trip a day and taking it easy… If you are on a two week action adventure then you may be jumping between multiple sites in a hurry.
Figure out how many trips per day and you could estimate $2 per person per trip (Which could be a cheap 1 zone trip on the metro in Barcelona, or a 20 minute Tuc-tuc ride in Chiang Mai) and somewhat higher for countries like Australia/USA/UK.
Read more on this topic – We discuss a bunch of ways to save money on transport in our FREE Ebook: 101 Travel Tips: That WILL Save you money.
Long-Term & Trip Costs
Top Tip: Get insurance. I know its expensive, especially when you are travelling long term, but the cost of being helicoptered out of the jungle with a broken leg is going to be a lot more… when it comes to adventure travel it’s very high risk, so it’s worth it. Plus, if you travel with Laptops / iPads etc, you may find some insurers are not so good at insuring those high value items as standard.
So we recommend you take a look at World Nomads insurance – You can also get a 5% discount with this World Nomads Promo code: WN5DP
Budget Info: There are a multitude of options from Backpacker insurance to multi-trip, single-trip, discounts for couples, families and many more. Do a google search for “Backpacker insurance”, “Travel insurance comparison”, different options for all different countries and prices vary wildly from country to country too.
Use a comparison website to search for all the different companies that offer that type of insurance and make sure you read the small print to see exactly what is included – assume NOTHING. The cheapest policy does not always include the right cover for you, so be careful before you purchase anything.
Read more on this topic – Do NOT buy travel insurance until you have read this!
- If you are travelling to multiple countries overland try getting your visa in a neighbouring country rather than in your home country as its often a lot cheaper – but make sure you take any documents you’ll need to make the application with you.
- Check your passport will still be valid for at least 6 months by the end date of your trip. Some countries will refuse entry if it’s not.
- BRING PASSPORT PHOTOS, you might need quite a few if you’ll be getting a lot of visas. Also note: USA passport photos are a different size to the rest of the world, China expects a blue background, not white, etc.
Budget Info: Visa prices and conditions change ALL the time. I rarely rely on any blog information that is over 6 months old, and normally the best option is to visit the actual embassy website where prices are normally published. Using an agent is also an option, it will cost a little more but is can save you some hassle.
Read more on this topic – The Project Visa website attempts to keep up with worldwide visas. It’s worth double checking the information with the official embassy before travelling.
9. Pre-Booked/Planned Tours
Cheapest: Book direct to the people who run the experience, not through a travel agent.
Top Tip: If you are not on a tight schedule then book your tours when you arrive at your destination. Its normally cheaper, but do some research in advance in case the tour you want usually has limited availability – do independent research. A travel agent will always tell you to book in advance so they make commission.
Budget Info: Major attractions normally publish entry prices online (once again, google and wikitravel are good starting points). This is one of the most fun parts of the planning phase – searching online for all the things you could do whilst travelling.
So take your time and look around, don’t just book the first thing you see. Keep a list of prices and when you have all the main stuff you want to do/see listed, add them up.
Read more on this topic – Two of the best tours we ever booked:
- We ride elephants bareback, learn how to command them and take them for a mud bath (Thailand)
- We took a motorbike trek to remote mountain villages in Burma and didn’t see a single tourist for 3 days.
10. Vaccines, Medications, Creams/Sprays
Cheapest: Don’t skimp on these unless it is safe to do so…
Top Tip: Four tips:
- In Some countries where the population is predominantly dark skinned you may find it hard to find cheap sunscreen, so it is cheaper to buy it at home before you go.
- If travelling to a cheap country take your prescriptions with you and buy your medications/vaccines when you arrive – but always check that is a safe option, some medications need to be started before arrival in certain areas.
- Long sleeves and pants are a cheaper long term solution than buying multiple cans of bug spray!
- Keep your blood type card in your wallet.
Budget Info: First time travellers heading to an undeveloped country may need a lot of shots in advance. You can find info online but recommendations are often subject to change so it is a good idea to go to a doctor. Make sure you keep a record of what shots you’ve had and when. If you are abroad and get sick the doctors in that country may not have access to your medical records, so keep it in your wallet and/or keep a digital copy on your email account.
Read more on this topic – The travel doctor website has info on what shots and medications are recommended for any country.
Info: Flights can make or break your trip budget, so you have to shop around. There are ways of getting to places for a fraction of the price charged by major airlines.
My process for always getting a great rate:
- I visit skyscanner or momondo to get a benchmark price.
- I take a look at the budget airlines guide on Wikipedia to see which airlines operate from that country.
- I visit the budget sites directly and take a look at their “Route Map” to see where they fly and if I can construct a cheap, indirect route with them.
There is, of course, more to it than that. My full method on how I find the cheapest flights without using air miles or standby rates is coming soon.
Read more on this topic – Our guide to getting the absolute cheapest flights (COMING SOON).
12. Trains, Ferries, Coaches – Long distance overland travel
Cheapest: The 3rd-class-hard-seat-no-air-con options…
Top Tip: Taking the train is normally far more comfortable than a bus, often more comfortable than a plane and allows you to see the country-side, meet the locals and often have some unique experiences.
Info: DON’T ASSUME OVERLAND IS CHEAPER. There is a lot to be said for overland travel, but with the advent of some seriously budget flight options between major destinations (especially in Europe) you may find flights cheaper.
For routes to lesser destinations you are almost certainly going to be travelling overland. A quick google search that is specific eg. “cost bus from bangkok to phuket” normally yields good results. For countries with an extensive and cheap rail network like India and China you may even want to consider basing your travel plan around where the train goes to. – After buying train tickets in Europe you sometimes have to also make seat reservations on the day, worth checking in advance.
Read more on this topic – We travel overland from China to Mongolia and beyond.
13. Travel Essentials (Backpacks etc.)
Cheapest: Whatever gets the job done.
Top Tip: Good footwear and a proper waterproof backpack are essential – blisters on feet and your travel documents being destroyed by rain does not a happy traveller make… We use the Overboard 30 litre Dry bag (pictured).
Info: If what you already own will do the job for the next trip, stick with it. For first time backpackers it is more than likely that the gear you have is not going to cut it, for example carrying a massive bath towel around rather than a light-weight micro fibre towel is going to be massively inconvenient.
If you are lucky enough to already have most of the stuff you need then this will be a nice cheap section.
If this is your first backpacking trip there is a lot to think about. Take a look at these resources:
Cheapest: Beg, borrow, steal.
- If your hotel provides free toiletries, stock up. If you are travelling budget then many places will not provide these for free, so make sure you take advantage whilst you can.
- Hand sanitizer – Carrying a bottle of sanitizer to clean your hands before eating will reduce your risk of getting sick. Don’t expect to have the option to wash your hands before eating in many countries.
- Some CouchSurfing hosts may let you use their washing machine for free.
Info: For short trips under a month, you’ll probably be bringing what you need with you. For longer trips you will have to factor into your budget anything you are likely to need along the way. It’s not massive costs, but being aware that ultra-budget hostels do not always provide this stuff is important. You WILL need your own toilet paper in many countries.
Doing laundry sucks! But on long trips its going to happen a lot. From hand-washing in a bowl to getting laundry service from the hotel, there are many options. Think about how much time you have to do laundry and allocate some money depending on if you’ll be going to the laundromat or just smelling like a tramp for 3 months.
Read more on this topic – The ladies’ toiletries guide: To take or not to take., 9 crucial toiletries for backpacking Asia
Anything else not already covered.
- Travel laptop / tablet
- Money for Souvenirs – We say photos and experiences are the best and cheapest souvenirs
- Travel tech and gadgets – Cameras etc.
If you can think of anything else that is important please let us know by leaving a comment.
The Travel Budget Calculator
Now you have an understanding of what things will effect your budget, it’s time to plug in those scores and find out your winning number.
Five Dollar Traveller Budget Calculator You can download this and run it in Excel or any other spreadsheet style programme.
If you do not have access to such software you can sign up for a free account with google for Google Drive documents – which is really useful to have anyway. Once you have an account you can open the downloaded file into google docs straight off your hard drive.
I’ve put together 3 example budgets below. These are never set in stone and it is all down to your personal travel style as to how low you can get the prices, but this will offer you some ideas on how to manipulate the numbers.
- It’s better to have money left over when you come home after your trip, rather than having to come home early because you run out.
- If you have never stayed in $5 accommodation before and don’t like roughing it then plan to have more money for guesthouses in case you change your mind after the first couple of dirty hostels.
NOW, download the calculator file above, and play with the numbers for yourself.