This post is the second in a series. To start at the beginning, click here.
I have to admit, when I first dreamed about gallivanting across the African and European continents, I didn’t really consider how much it would cost. I had enough for my first roundtrip ticket, to and from home, already saved and sitting in my bank account. I bought the ticket and then worked out how to fill the 5 weeks in between over the course of the year.
Let me tell ya! As my budget took shape and I saw thousands of dollars staring back at me, I wondered a) if I was being sensible and b) how I was going to gather what I needed in time. Having a budget was essential though; it helped me make informed decisions about everything from accommodations to what I ate for dinner my first night. Moreover, trying to get a snapshot of the costs ahead of time helped me to be diligent in planning.
My goal was to make this trip as economical as possible. I was working with an adjunct lecturer/tour guide/writer salary. Furthermore, when I got back from the trip I was going to cut out the ‘adjunct lecturer’. I knew, even before I started on my budget, that I wouldn’t be staying exclusively in hotels, eating all my meals at restaurants, or doing lots of shopping. My priorities were simply to see new places, try new food and explore as much as my finances would allow.
I definitely got to do those things! And I could have done this trip for less if I didn’t have the wedding to go to. That’s not to imply that I’m sorry about the wedding at all, since it was the reason I left in the first place, and one of the highlights of my trip. I had a few days of luxury in the Cape Winelands, and I got a beautiful dress tailored just for me – both out of the ordinary for the way I otherwise travelled. Once you decide your priorities, you can tweak things to work for you!
So how much did I spend? All told, my trip cost me $6,457.39. That includes my flights, travel insurance and registration for Workaway. I was fortunate not to need any visas or vaccinations.
|* The two expenses that really kicked up this
category were my dress for the wedding
and a new pair of tennis, after mine literally
fell to pieces.
I absolutely was not planning on making a journey like this when the year started. Nothing big was even on my radar, and I’d never done anything quite like this before. It helped that I’m conscientious about my finances and already had savings I was comfortable using for the trip. Since I hadn’t taken a vacation in years, I also felt I could spend a little more than I might for an ordinary holiday. Even so, I was still trying to save several thousand dollars over the course of a year. Here’s how I managed it and how you can do the same:
1. Be clear on your goals and your motivation.
Travel is something that I value and want to be a regular part of my life. Even so, there were many times when I wanted to indulge in a short term pleasure, or felt I needed X or Y thing. Being grounded in this higher priority helped me find workarounds or say no altogether. Having a trip in sight made it even easier; I knew I was trading something in the short term for an even greater experience in the long term.
While internal motivation was great, creating concrete financial goals was also necessary to make practical, daily decisions. I wasn’t fearful about every purchase, and I didn’t live like a complete hermit, because I knew what I had to work with each month. This leads me to my second tip…
2.Make a budget.
A budget is such a helpful tool. Even if your personal finances feel shaky, having them laid out in front of you will give you information, and how does that cliché expression go? Knowledge is power.
I already use a budget in my everyday life, which made it easy both to incorporate a line item for my trip and to see where I could cut costs. In the first part of the year I was kind of arbitrarily saving, but as the planning progressed I realised I needed a separate document to clearly organise everything. I am not, however, an Excel ninja, and I owe thanks to Shannon at A Little Adrift for the (bomb!) template I used. Ahead of my trip I worked on filling in the blanks to give me an idea of how much money I’d need. Looking at the ways costs in different categories affected the overall expense of the trip, I was able to adjust my expectations. How badly did I want to go on safari? (Not enough to add in the extra cost!)
During my trip I replaced my estimates with the real expenses, which helped me see how I was doing. It also showed me where I could be flexible. I spent less on food so that I could do more. 😉
3. Be ruthless.
This was necessary for me because I was so behind in planning and saving. I didn’t just set aside what I had leftover at the end of every month. There’s an ‘entertainment’ line item in my budget that I cut completely, and rerouted the money toward my trip. There’s a ‘miscellaneous’ line item that I cut in half and used as sparingly as possible so that I could reroute the remainder. I don’t have a gym membership or Starbucks habit, so those weren’t up for grabs, but anywhere I saw room to spend a little less, I did.
4. But don’t punish yourself.
Although I didn’t treat myself regularly, I didn’t live like an ascetic. Instead of going out for lunch, I invited friends to have picnics with me at different parks. I suggested the free art galleries and hosted loved ones in my home. I also had a couple of local weddings (and accompanying showers) to go to, and those are always fun. Continuing to spend time with friends and family helped me manage the restrictions that came with my budget. Again, having a budget meant that I could make informed decisions and not feel like I was taking my trip on a wing and a prayer.
All these things helped me save money throughout the year, but I also made decisions to keep my trip affordable. I’ll get into these details in an upcoming post, so you can read about them too.
Lastly, I want to say that I didn’t neglect any of my commitments to make my journey happen. I belong to a church, and continued to contribute my offering every week. Dental hygiene is important to me – we only have one set of teeth! – and I kept my cleaning appointments. I’m trying to be intentional about saving for retirement, and I continued to put money into that bucket.
Basically, I didn’t prepare for this trip with complete blinders on. I tried to be conscientious and deliberate, and want to encourage you to be the same. It’s part of being clear on your motivation, and how your trip lines up with everything else in your life. Go for it! For sure! But not at the expense of your responsibilities or your integrity.