How to Budget for a Trip Out of the Country

Amy Daniels |

How to budget for a trip abroad

Whether you’re finally embarking on that study abroad program or you’ve planned your week-long dream trip, check out the tips below to get the financial aspect of your travels squared away!

Calculate your approximate cost per day

The first step when creating your budget is to determine how much money you plan on spending each day abroad. This process is going to look different for everyone because, naturally, everyone likes to spend money differently. What you will want to do, no matter what your interests may be, is to research your destination and get a feel for what a realistic budget would look like. The simplest, yet most effective, tool I have come across is provided by Tripbase, where you can determine the cost per day for your trip by the amount of money you’re comfortable spending (budget, mid-range, or luxury). It doesn’t include factors like gifts, souvenirs, outings, etc. because those will vary greatly and are largely up to you. Take a look at a few other websites to understand what activities you’ll want to put on your itinerary. While you go through this process, consider the following points and implement them into your budget plan.

Find discount programs

Of course, one thing you’ll want to do is find discount programs for everything from airfare to lodging. Really, any one of the bundling options out there will save you some cash, so search around and choose your favorite. For me, I like the simple search structure of Kayak.com. If you’re a student, you can actually find beautiful souls out there who want to cut you a discount. Student Universe is a great example - and they even find discounts for alumni. But these aren’t the only great resources out there. Spend some time looking around the Internet to see what you can find.

Research what you must do while you’re there

In order to better determine your cost per day, you’ll want to do some research on what the area offers. I recommend choosing just a few “tourist”-type activities or destinations and then branching out of your comfort zone for the rest. Consider this CNN article about why Americans don’t travel abroad and determine if any of these concerns apply to you and what you really want to get out of your trip. Resources like Rough Guides provide great breakdowns of what to do, eat, and see while you travel. There are plenty of places to look to get the inside scoop on the best a country or city has to offer. If you love organizing, you can plan out an itinerary for you stay. Like to go with the flow? Jot down interesting ideas so that you have a bit of direction during the trip.

Give yourself freedom

One tip I highly recommend is to be a little broad when creating your budget. You know that you’ll be spending money on things like transportation, lodging, and food. Apart from that, however, it may be a good idea to make a “miscellaneous” budget category and work with it. Perhaps you’ll want to spend more money on perusing the local museums, or maybe you’ll discover a newfound love for ethnic food. Don’t waste time and stress yourself out; budget out how much you can spend each day abroad and then let yourself be adventurous while you’re there.

Factor pre-departure expenses

As you determine how much you’ll be spending while you’re abroad, consider any expenses that you may need to make prior to departure. Two such expenses will include your passport purchase/renewal (and visa, if applicable), as well as plane tickets. Depending on your destination, you may also want to think about purchases such as:
  • One or more TSA approved locks for your luggage (approx. $5-$15 per lock)
  • An appropriate power adapter for the country you’ll be visiting - remember to check voltage! (approx. $20-$50 depending on your needs)
  • Suitcases and identification tags, if you don’t already have some (find discount suitcases at places like T.J. Maxx)
  • Either a bag or jacket where you can safely stash your cash and avoid pick pocketing
  • Any clothing or shoes you may need for the region you’re visiting
Meanwhile, don’t forget about money you may need to spend at home. Depending on the duration of your stay and your personal needs, you may need to consider ideas like house, baby, or pet sitting. Particularly if you’re getting ready to study abroad, it may be worth your efforts to find nearby storage options to keep your belongings both out of your parents’ house and secure.

Start savin’

Hopefully you have some tips and tricks for how to best save your money. An easy way to lighten the blow on any big purchase is to save up for it, bit by bit, over the months. For example, say you determine that you’ll need to spend $4,000 total for your trip, and $2,000 of it comprises your “cost per day” budget (the money you’ll use while you’re there). If you have five months until your trip, ensure you reach your goal by saving approximately $500 per month so that you’ll be ready one month in advance. The numbers will look different for everyone, so take a moment to determine how you’ll have that spending money well before the big day arrives. An online financial resource I swear by is Mint.com, where you can input a goal and receive budgeting assistance. If you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed, you could even create separate savings plans for your airfare, pre-trip purchases, and cost per day budget. Ultimately, think about what works for you and stick to it.

Before you leave…

The biggest step to take before you leave is to figure out your budget and take care of big purchases. There are a few other points to consider before you step onto the plane.

Figure out a plan for getting your money

There are a few ways to access your money while you’re abroad. My personal recommendation is to utilize your debit card and use ATMs while you’re there. Another option is so take cash with you and then exchange it upon landing. I typically frown upon this idea because you’ll be charged absurd rates for the exchange and you’ll likely get caught in a long line at the airport. If you’d feel much more at ease landing with correct currency on hand, you could also look into getting foreign cash at a local bank or credit union before departure. Whatever you decide to do, you’ll definitely want to make sure you get the plan squared away before leaving. If you do choose to use your debit card, get a feel for where nearby ATMs will be once you land. You’ll also want to call your bank and inform them of your trip so that they don’t freeze your card for suspicious activity. No matter what method you prefer for your travels, take care to keep only small amounts of cash on you (rather than your entire trip’s budget).

Figure out your cell phone situation

One question to ask yourself concerns your cell phone: will you use it abroad? Depending on your circumstances and the duration of your trip, you may need to. Or maybe you actually enjoy the idea of disconnecting from the world for awhile. If you do opt to use your cell phone, contact your provider and find out what your options are. You’ll likely be charged hefty international rates if you simply dial up while you’re out. One way to avoid this is to purchase prepaid minutes and data. Check with your provider to weigh your choices. PS: If you choose to take your phone for offline activities like the camera and your apps, make sure you switch its status to “airplane mode” so that your phone doesn’t even try to waste data by searching for nearby WiFi connections.

Once you’re there…

Don’t buy it just because it’s “foreign” - a word on souvenirs

One of the easiest ways to destroy your trip is to spend huge chunks of your time looking for souvenirs to bring back home. Whether you want to find something special for a loved one or you want to show the world that you traveled to a particular country, souvenir-hunting certainly sounds like a worthwhile endeavor. And it is - but only to an extent. When you spend your entire trip trying to fill up your already packed-to-the-brim suitcase with little trinkets that happen to have the word “Italy” on them, you lose valuable time that you could spend exploring your destination. You also tend to lose your carefully budgeted money, since many of these types of souvenirs are sold at inflated prices, and you can more easily justify the expense because “it’s sentimental”. Have you been on the receiving end of a gift someone brought you from abroad? Unfortunately, the sentiment is always nice but the gift itself tends to make me think “. . . Why did you get this for me?” I only feel worse knowing that the gifter probably snagged it out of obligation and paid way too much for it. My recommendation is to keep a mental or written list of people from home you want to buy for. Don’t spend all your time at the tourist vendors and crowded gift shops; instead, commit to finding the offbeat path and keep an eye out for meaningful, affordable, and interesting mementos. When you simply keep this goal in the back of your mind, you can get out there and enjoy your trip while still settling your conscience - and without ignoring your budget you worked so hard to create.

Stick to your budget like your trip depends on it

Likewise, commit to yourself however you need - through a signed contract or via pinky promise - to stick to your budget religiously. This shouldn’t be so difficult since you did the research to find your cost per day, and you aren’t getting too categorized with your expenses. Avoid this mindset (one that’s all too easy to slip into): Well, I’m here and this is probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. So what if I go over budget just a little? Instead, swap it out for the truth that you’ll have a better experience if you don’t break the bank. First of all, you won’t break the bank - meaning you can come home and feel good about your trip long after it occurs. Secondly, it’ll force you to find tricks around spending money. Don’t let yourself believe that the best way to have a good time abroad is by finding things to buy. Life doesn’t work that way here; it doesn’t work that way anywhere else.

Some great travel resources

This article is meant to help you budget for a trip abroad, but there are many other facets to consider. Fellow StorageFront writer, Tyler Fallon, poses many great questions to ask yourself before leaving the country. There are also several great resources out there for a variety of traveling needs. A few of my favorites include the Reader’s Digest checklist for organized travelers, Lonely Planet’s travel forums broken down by country, and the impressive comprehensive travel guide from the U.S. Department of State. Remember that you can’t go wrong so long as you budget appropriately and travel safely. Take the time to do your research. Think about things like currency and culture. Learn basic conversational terms. Be smart. Get excited. And have fun! Photo credit: Best Western