This week we are pleased to welcome a guest post from Jimmy Eats World. Jimmy Dau is a fellow food lover who is currently eating his way through Central and South America after selling all his possessions and hitting the road. His blog follows his passions for food, culture, photography and travel. Here he brings us some excellent money savings tips for a life of travel….
Budget planning and keeping costs down on the road
There’s no speciﬁc science to budgeting on the road. Ask anybody travelling and they will have a particular method. So far I’ve been on the road and have managed to come in around where I have planned to do so. I wouldn’t say that it was due to military like monitoring, but down time put into to the research and planning well before leaving. I’ve been asked at times by readers and friends, “What budget should I work to?” It’s a question I wish I had an answer to. However, just like buying clothes, car or a shoes, it comes down to personal preference, what you want to get out of the trip that ultimately affects how much you spend. Before I start on blabbering about how to stick to budget, lets rewind back to before we purchase that one way ticket and assess our travel goals and and plan.
Setting expectations and a plan
Everybody is different in their travel goals and priorities. The older we get, I ﬁnd that the more speciﬁc our travel goals become. As a young whipper snapper many moons ago, I was like most kids: Fresh out of uni and living off beer and pizza and smashing the bars at night. So you can imagine where most of the budget would go to. Ten years later, my tastes are a bit more reﬁned and I don’t go out as much. Most times I’m ﬁnding out where the best places to eat are or waiting for the right photo opportunity at sunset. It’s what we want to get out of an adventure that deﬁnes our budget and length of travel and the greater the diversity in activities and priorities then the more pre travel planning is required.
Before I decided on how long I would travel, I researched how much time I would need in each country based on the activities available in each country and then the cost of accommodation, food, and transport. Of course you could research the Big Mac Index to calculate the purchasing power of your currency in each country, however there are plenty of bloggers out there who have already done the hard work for you. Particular ones I’ve used are from Wandering Earl and Nomadic Matt. Matt has a good guide to each country and the costs of accommodation, food, tourist destinations and transport. I had a clear idea in mind what I wanted to do in terms of activities so I factored these into the overall costs.
Being a bit of a spreadsheet nerd I created a spreadsheet by week and activity which added up the weekly costs. I knew that I would spend more on eating and activities such as scuba diving so I allocated more of these to the budget. I did this for each country and estimated the number of weeks I would need to spend based on the research I had done for each of them. So when you have done this, then you know how much you need to save and spend on each area and how long I could spend away. Of course things will change and you will need to make adjustments and projections once you’re on the road. On the other hand you may want to plan the other way around and ﬁgure out what you can do with a ﬁxed budget.
Click on the image to view the spreadsheet
Keeping costs down on the road
So, you’ve touched down and then what? Below are my tips on keeping costs down based on the four months that I’ve been on the road. Please note that these are techniques that I use for myself. As I liked to cook, I found ways of reducing my overall costs by doing something I loved.
Make your “mistakes” early.
You will need to learn for yourself, make mistakes, you will get ripped off by taxis and spend more then what you should. These thing will happen but it’s best to have it happen earlier on so you can get a feel for the value of what things are worth. This will happen in each country, you will go to. In Legals Nomad’s book she says most likely your ﬁrst meal in each area will be expensive and not the best and I’ve found this to be true. You’re new to an area, you’re tired and all you want is something in your belly. The same principle applies to transportation, the area you choose to stay and how you do your grocery shopping.
Tuk Tuks in some countries may be seen as a rip off but in Central America they are widely used and very cheap
Talk to people
Hostel staff can be great so the best places to go, where to eat and ship. However, ask more than one staff member and even other hostel guests. A lot of the times, most of the staff are fellow travellers. As nice as they are, some don’t have the same travel goals in mind and don’t know the area as well as a local employee would. The very minimum, the staff will know where the happy hours are where you can save money on booze.
Ask locals where they would eat
You will probably need to catch a taxi, so ask them where they eat, and be speciﬁc on where THEY eat. Take the same approach to strangers. If you’re a gringo they will most likely point you in the direction of a KFC or other western franchise. However, these places aren’t the budget options that they are in the western world. Be speciﬁc on where they would eat as a local and they will appreciate it even more because you want to learn more about their culture.An example of this is a fellow blogger here in Colombia who struck up a conversation with his taxi driver he ended up giving him a tour of the city for $5. Try to learn a few phrases in the local language on where you can get local food.
Local markets should be one of the ﬁrst places to go to
The local ‘mercado’ market is where you can ﬁnd an abundance of food. You can also ﬁnd out what fruit and vege that are in season and unique to the area. There are a lot of crazy things that you may not know, but all you need to do is ask and they will let you try and chances are it will be cheap. You will always get the best local hawker style food here as all markets have a section for cooked local foods.
Just show some interest and they will let you try
Cook and share food
Not only is it a great way to meet people, it’s more economical to cook or buy food for 2-4 people. Most recipes are for four people because it’s just not possible to buy, 1/4 onion, half a carrot and 1/8 of a capsicum. Majority of the time, they will return the favour but more often than not you’ll make good friends out of the exchange. Don’t limit this to those in your hostel. There’s nothing wrong with inviting local people you’ve met over for a meal at the hostel. Just check with the staff beforehand.
This cost $10 between three people to make
Chances are you will have leftovers whether be from the meal itself or ingredients you didn’t use in a meal. You can use these as snacks or can be transformed into other dishes such as fried rice.
When you have the munchies or are out on a day trip, try to pack some snacks. These don’t have to be gourmet and not intended to replace meals, however you still need energy and fruit/vege is handy in places like Central and South America where the food is meat heavy but fruit and vege are cheap at the supermarket.
This guacamole cost $1.50 to make. Enough for four people and great on a bread roll by itself or with some ham
If you are constantly travelling from place to place then you will spend more money. Not just on transport, but on the ﬁrst point I made: You will pay more for cabs, food, accomodation and everything because you haven’t had time to ﬁnd your bearings and ﬁnd out where and how you can best minimise your costs. I’ve been in Medellin now for a month. The ﬁrst I did was ﬁnd people who were interested in the slow travel and before we knew it we found an apartment. As a result we cook more, don’t pay for hostel beer prices, have peace and quiet and a place for friends we meet along the way to visit.
King size bed for the same cost per day in a shared dorm? Yes please
Don’t be a slave to the budget
There will be times where something will present itself that will cost more money or the overall city/country will be expensive. Don’t let that stop you. When I was in Cost Rica, I was haemorrhaging money but I had already knew it was expensive. I was only passing through but there were adventure activities available which I wanted to do. Although I hadn’t originally planned on zip lining or paying $20 to go for a walk in the cloud forest, they were things that ﬁt into my travel goals and I knew that Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia would be cheaper countries so I could recoup the expenses by then. As long as you can still exercise some sort of ﬁscal discipline over the course of the journey then you should be able to make things balance over a longer period of time. Just be ready to adapt and change plans constantly.
You need to splurge or reward yourself from time to time. This could be a nice meal or a bottle of wine. A reminder that travelling should be rewarding and fun still.
Keeping track of it
With smartphones and technology it’s easier to track expenses. I intended on updating my expenditure and spreadsheet each week so it would give me a projection on my overall expenditure. However, since leaving I haven’t touched it as I’ve been using an app called iExpenseit to track my spending. Whenever I spend my cash on something, I record it under speciﬁc categories. Sometimes immediately, sometimes at the end of the day. It’s an intuitive app so any new categories you create it will remember it.
As I say, there is no one correct method to budget setting and tracking. Hopefully what I’ve taken you through is a good starting point and during your research you’ll ﬁnd other methods to aid you in budget setting and and tracking. However, feel free to contact me if you have any questions as I am more than happy to assist.
I’ve updated my blog to provide a breakdown of what I spent in Central America with screen shots of the iExpensit reports as well as a copy of the planning spreadsheet for anybody to download
Thanks Jimmy for the fantastic words of advice! We will definitely be following them once we are on the road. Here’s where to go if Jimmy has wet your appetite for more: