Travel Budgeting: Don’t Cry, Make A Plan

by Stephane Alexandre /
Stephane Alexandre's picture
Dec 17, 2016 / 0 comments

As kids, we never had to budget. And life was good. I started learning about budgeting when I became a fresh(wo)man in college. Initially, I was petrified of that word. I learned about bank accounts, food expenses, saving money (what little I had), and even balancing checkbooks. I started working two months after my 15th birthday so I could pay my phone bill. I really wanted a cell phone, but also understood that my dad was a single parent and I needed to help wherever I could.

Almost 7 years after my first job, there is STILL so much left to learn about budgeting. Since I love traveling, it is crucial for me to understand a budget and to make it work. It is especially difficult converting that budget in different currencies and still having to make it work.

Money from India, Argentina, Chile, USA, Peru, Uruguay, Rwanda. From Travel Budgeting: Don’t Cry, Make A Plan

Money from India, Argentina, Chile, USA, Peru, Uruguay, Rwanda

As I am coming to my last days studying abroad in Chile, I have traveled to 4 countries in five and a half months (Peru, Uruguay, Argentina, and of course, Chile!). Friends, let me invite you to my budgeting struggles and let's hope you fare better than I have.

Travel Budgeting: Don’t Cry, Make A Plan

Make A Budget

Never leave anything to chance and don't play it by ear. In Peru, I ended up spending less money than I thought because we had to take a break after an unfortunate episode with salmonella. 

After flights, the main bullet points are food, transportation, and lodging. 

It is sometimes easier to buy fresh produce and split the cost with friends and make dinners together. I ate stir fry four nights in a row, and I am a better woman for it. Additionally, if you've cried chopping onions for dinner with someone, you've bonded for life. Guaranteed. 

For lunches, we are usually walking around, so it helps to find cheap food in the area. However, street food is seldom (if ever) recommended. If needed, please re-read the salmonella sentence until THAT reality sets in.

Transportation DOES include to and from airports because if you found a cheap flight that gets in at 5am, the public buses might not be running that early and you do not want to be stranded.

Make the budget in two columns; one for USD and the other for the visiting country's currency. You might have some time in the airport, so it helps to familiarize yourself with the exchange rate and cost of common goods in the area. This was the easy part.

Travel Budgeting: Don’t Cry, Make A Plan

Stick To The Budget

This is part is the most challenging part. This requires following through with your plans. Over the past few months, I am learning that I rely on my travel partners to book our lodging. My motto is "give me the number, and I'll venmo". Sometimes, I get so excited to be in the city sightseeing that I don't think twice about where we're going to sleep. But lodging is part of the budget and you have to get your money's worth. In most cases, you will find that your pre-made budget was just a framework of how you want to spend your money.

In Uruguay, we found a company that provided free walking tours, so the extra money I saved towards excursions (art exhibits, museums, etc.) could be shifted to food, which was a delicious experience. In Cusco, there were MANY free museums and some only required a suggested donation to help maintain the museum. 
It is not always going to be easy sticking to your budget, especially in touristic cities that might inflate prices and are used to foreigners visiting, but it is worth it! If you find yourself five thousand miles away from home like I have, you might have to decide between a pair of earrings and a quality meal the next day. I hope you make the right decision for you. 

Travel Budgeting: Don’t Cry, Make A Plan

Reward Yourself Accordingly

Sometimes rewarding yourself accordingly might mean calling your dad and sobbing to him on the phone. Begging him to send you more money. That has happened. I had an unfortunate habit of eating out every time I could sophomore year and I had to buckle up because I did NOT have unlimited resources. However, there are victories, sweet friends.

In Buenos Aires, we all had money left over, so we all got a nice dinner after tango class! It was a marvelous experience, though I am a far better-skilled eater than I am a dancer.

I have also started collecting foreign currencies for my collection; I would not suggest saving the equivalent for more than $10 USD. You can also buy souvenirs or exchange the money back if you have a substantial amount.

Travel Budgeting: Don’t Cry, Make A Plan

Travel Budgeting: Don’t Cry, Make A Plan

Budgeting is an earned skill and it is harder for some to grasp or even comprehend. And as with all hard-earned skills, they benefit many areas of life. I have to eventually come to the realization that I will have to budget for the rest of my life. I fully expect to make mistakes, to miscalculate or over-calculate. Budgeting is a friend. However arduous it is to get along with that friend, it is for your benefit. There is only one way to make a friendship work. Together.

Travel Budgeting: Don’t Cry, Make A Plan

These photos were taken at various beaches in Montevideo, where we laid on the warm sand for free.

Travel Budgeting: Don’t Cry, Make A Plan


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 Travel Budgeting: Don’t Cry, Make A Plan

Purple money is SO pretty---chilean pesos; Green one in the middle is Uruguayan peso; Top purple is Rwanda


Stephane Alexandre is the Intercultural Immersion Editor for Wandering Educators. A Tufts University student, she is currently studying abroad in Chile - this is her last day!

All photos courtesy and copyright Stephane Alexandre