Last Update: 7/10/23 | July 10, 2023
One of the most common questions I get asked about my ability to travel long term is how can I afford to travel that much. Am I rich? Do mom and dad pay? Do I have a rich uncle? Did I win the lottery?
Before I could turn this blog into a business, I spent years traveling the world doing one thing: I tracked my expenses.
That really is the secret of long-term travel. Very good money management.
Simple and boring.
Yes, you have to save before you go (or work abroad to keep your bank account replenished) but long-term travelers are especially good at money management because you have to make a finite resource (your bank account) last a long, long time.
When I first started traveling, I was pinching every penny and saving money every chance I got. While I sometimes splurge lavishly as if it were a thing of the past, I make up for it other days by staying in and cooking pasta. (After all, do you live like a pauper at home to go to Australia and not dive the Great Barrier Reef? Of course not! Sometimes you have to live a little!)
I keep a journal of what I spend so I can track my spending and make sure I'm staying within budget. (Side note: I love it when travelers keep an expense journal to track their budget. They are the travelers who finally stay within budget!)
While on the road (just like at home), there will be unforeseen circumstances that drain your savings, such as missed flights, lost cameras, or a change of plans where you have to pay extra for accommodation (which is why you have travel insurance so you get these costs covered ). You can't avoid these kinds of things, but you can be prepared.
To help you make your money last, here are strategies that have helped me make my money last:
1. Know what you want to spend money on
When I travel, I don't budget a lot for accommodations, tours, or transportation. I found the cheapest accommodation around and I walked everywhere. If I need a ride, I'll take public transit or hitchhike!
But I will spend a lot of money on food and drink.
Because that's what I want to do!
I'm not pinching a penny so I can fly to Australia and spend my nights watching Netflix, nor am I going to France just to cook a meal in the hostel every night.
No not me. I came to eat and drink.
And I'm willing to sleep in a big dorm, on the floor, or walk seven miles to make sure I have the funds to make it happen.
Knowing what you're willing to spend will help you create a realistic budget based on your travel desires so you have enough money for what you want and don't feel guilty about spending it. I see a lot of travelers blowing their budget fast because, even if they plan to do a lot of activities or eat out, they don't include it in their budget.
2. Create Your Budget
When you know yourself and what you want to spend your money on, it's easy to create a budget that will cover you during your trip. This is where pre-trip research comes in.
When I started planning my trip in 2005, there wasn't much travel information online. I spent a lot of time reading guidebooks and looking for whatever information I could find about prices. I put together a complicated spreadsheet of how much I would spend each day at various places based on how much I could save and what I found online.
These days, you don't have to go too crazy when it comes to planning your trip, as there is so much information available online about prices. You can literally Google prices for whatever you want!
Too often I see travelers blindsided by unforeseen costs.
Wow! That tour was so expensive. I blew my budget! “I didn't expect drinks to be so expensive!” “This place is more expensive than I thought.”
I just shake my head at these comments, because these are people who clearly don't plan.
Don't be like these people. Do your research, plan ahead, and avoid the pitfalls that will get you home sooner (and a lot poorer) than you wanted.
My travel guide to over 300 destinations is a great place to start.
Write down all the things you want to do, where you want to do them, and how much they will cost. Take into account food, insurance, transportation, flights, accommodation, booze, activities and anything else you find relevant.
(Note: I won't be covering how to save for your trip in this post. But I have tons of posts on how to do it. You can find them here.)
3. Keep track of all your expenses
When on the road, you need to keep track of all your expenses. The people who have to go home early are always the ones who don't know how much money they spent on the road.
By tracking every expense — from dorm boarding to the snacks you buy — you can see if you're on the right track or if you're overspending (in which case you can fix your spending).
This That the most important thing you can do to make your money last!
If you only do one thing, track your spending! Sure, you have to remember to do it, and it's easy to forget, but doing this actively will ensure you become a better budget explorer, and it will soon become second nature.
You can track everything in the journal (I'm using a Moleskine notebook) or use an app like:
I suggest tracking your expenses for a few weeks at home before your trip to get used to it. That way, when you're on the road, it won't feel like a chore. Here are some free budgeting templates you can use to get started.
4. Travel free
As I've said, making your money last is really all about managing your budget, saving money, and tracking your expenses down the road. But another great way to make your money last is to not spend it. And there are many ways to do it.
First, you can always work on the go. There are lots of jobs out there for travelers. And you can always work on the farm through WWOOFing, which is a great cultural experience that many travelers do.
Second, you can use the sharing economy to keep costs down. You can live with people for free, share rides and more. Sharing economy websites and apps connect travelers with locals and bypass traditional travel gatekeepers. Now you only save money but you get to meet locals!
Third, use points and miles. The best trips are free travel and accumulating points and miles can allow you to get free flights, transportation and accommodations. You can do this before traveling and on the go through your daily expenses. I have written a lot on this topic. This is the number one way I travel so much for so little. Download my free guide and learn more!
Your budget will only last as long as you plan for it. If you plan your budget well, it will last you until the end of your trip. Whatever you do, write down your expenses!!! Keeping track of your expenses will allow you to make adjustments as you go and ensure that your travel money lasts as long as you want.
By planning and tracking like a financial ninja, those things are impossible. That means more days on the road, more adventures, and more amazing travel experiences.
The better you know yourself and budget accordingly, the longer your money will last you on the go!
Book Your Trip: Logistics Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find cheap flights using Skyscanner. This is my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the world so you always know there's no stone unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, go for it Booking.com because it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guest houses and hotels.
Don't Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you from illness, injury, theft and cancellation. It's comprehensive protection in case something goes wrong. I never travel without it as I've had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
Want Free Travel?
A travel credit card lets you earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodations — all at no extra cost. Check out my guide to choosing the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to work with when you're on the go. I list everything that I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can't go wrong with them on your travels.