How to Make a Travel Budget – and stick to it!


Often when I travel, I end up spending way more money than I meant to. I’m normally very conscious of what I spend, and I make good, mindful purchases. But when I leave my own city the cash seems to disappear.

The excuses:

“I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity to try this café again so I might as well go all out.”

“I’m on holiday so I shouldn’t stress about money.”

“I’m on holiday.”

So here’s what I did differently this time around, on my latest jaunt to London and Oxford.

1. I booked what I could ahead of time.

I did my research and realised that the most budget-friendly way to London from Stansted is by bus, so I booked my ticket.

If you book soon enough in advance for the Oxford Tube, fares are dirt cheap as well, so I grabbed a £2 ticket from London to Oxford as soon as I knew I’d be visiting.

I also saw Harry Melling in Hand to God [because I started a list of Harry Potter film actors I’ve seen onstage and I am addicted to lists], and invested in the special £25 Wednesday matinee price weeks before, so it felt free on the day. Yay!

2. I sat down and calculated everything out.

This takes a bit of time, but it’s worth it. Drink some nice tea, light a candle – do what you must to make this exercise as pleasant as possible.

I looked at menus for restaurants I planned to try, and CityMapper for my more complex journeys. I thought of every possible expense: meals, transportation, tea – I even gave myself a Muji budget [which turned out to be a VERY good idea]. 

3. I withdrew my budget in cash.

I’m always better at spending wisely when I hand over real, paper money, so I withdrew the whole budget from my savings.

Also, not intentional but cool – withdrawing the notes before leaving Edinburgh meant that my budget is all in Scottish* bills, so I get to carry a bit of Scotland with me. Feels good, and confuses people into conversation sometimes.

* for the uninitiated, Scottish bills are the same as British pounds currency-wise, but the design is different. They feature, you know, Scottish things. After getting used to the bolder colours of Scottish notes, the pastel English ones look like they’re Easter-themed!

How to Make a Travel Budget - and stick to it!

4. I divvied out the budget by day.

In the past I have divided my total budget by the number of days traveling for a rough estimate. With my itemised daily list, I noticed that some days would require much more money than others, so I divided accordingly. Ultimately they are all estimates, so I rounded to the nearest tens place. Then I added some cute post-it flags. Knowing myself, my heart will break a little if I “cheat” and grab from tomorrow’s budget if it’s folded and labelled prettily. STICK TO THE PLAN, Xandra. [hang on – no pun intended, but hey, sticky notes. stick to the plan. haha.]

5. Plus a little extra…

To round my total up to an even £200 I added an extra twenty pound note, labelled “extra” [with a heart, to remind me to save it for something special]. I also keep an emergency £10 in my purse at all times. I read that you will feel prosperous and spend more wisely if you keep a £100 note in your purse. Carrying £100 on me at all times would make me feel more worried than wealthy, so £10 is my compromise. 

How it went

REALLY WELL. I didn’t even dip into my “extra” budget. In fact, I added notes back to it at the end of the day when I had leftovers.

Why did it work? Let me emphasize the importance of specificity one more time: If I know I’m working with a rough estimate, I will be lenient with it. If I know that I’ve put time and effort into making more precise estimates, I will respect the process. I need to give my brain minimal excuses to deviate from the plan. 

The Muji budget in particular stopped me from indulging in temptingly minimalist purchases [their new skin care range, with beautifully simple packaging, and a Muji tote with a map of all the London locations]. It was hard to resist at the store, but in retrospect I didn’t need that stuff.

An unexpected plus: carrying my bags around really deterred me from making extra purchases. I would literally feel the weight of acquiring more things. 

What I would change

I underestimated the price of a London cup of tea. While £2 will cut it in Edinburgh if you know where to go, I would bump that up to £3 for central London. I found myself buying a cookie when I didn’t want one because it was cheaper than a cuppa. 

I would also top up my Oyster card online before traveling. Because I spaced out transportation fees per day, I kept topping up at the station. I should have taken my own advice and pre-paid when I could. 

With a little bit of planning ahead, a lot of stress can be eliminated so that you can actually enjoy your time away 🙂


P.S. my comprehensive guide to packing!

Lesson 9: How to Live More Luxuriously for $0

Lesson 9: How to Live More Luxuriously for $0

When I think of luxury, I think Gossip Girl. And, alas, for most of us, Blair Waldorf’s lifestyle is not exactly an option. But we can perhaps feel like her, because luxury is about what we’re used to in contrast with what feels like a treat. Luxury is relative. Because Blair is used to nothing less than designer, such is the norm for her, and her idea of luxury goes even beyond that, whereas for most of us, just one of the shopping bags in the above image would do as a treat.

Lesson 9: How to Live More Luxuriously for $0

Is it possible to live more luxuriously without spending any money? Yes! Luxury is a state of mind that you decide for yourself. Here are a few ways to redefine the luxurious:

  • Stand still. Our impulse is to fiddle with phones, or get something done if we have a moment to spare, but I challenge you instead to stand still and drink in your surroundings. We get used to the beauty of the everyday, of fresh air and architectural details. Take the luxury of time, even if it’s just a minute or two, to appreciate what’s around you.
  • Rephrase. A simple jumbling of vocabulary can work wonders: like “inexpensive” instead of “cheap”, “complimentary” or “included” instead of “free”. My friend Emma and I would “treat” each other to dinner or the movies as a way of paying each other back for things. The same amount of money would have exchanged hands anyway, but this mindset felt more like a gift, and allowed us to focus on the experiences themselves.

Lesson 9: How to Live More Luxuriously for $0

  • Refrain. Make yourself earn it. Sure, you could gob on chocolate all day, but if you save it until you can deserve it as a reward, it’s all the more special.
  • Go camping. Stripping down to the basics of survival can make you appreciate things we take for granted every day, like mattresses and warm showers.
  • Think about the value of your experiences beyond money value. I noticed that the average takeaway lunch in Edinburgh is about £5, and a restaurant also had a £5 1-course lunch deal. The latter includes the experience of sitting down to eat instead of just the rush of the on-the-go takeaway. Again, the same amount of money stretched out to a maximised experience value.

Lesson 9: How to Live More Luxuriously for $0

  • Take advantage of free resources. Whether it’s a lovely little park or a library full of books, remember that luxury does not always have a price tag.
  • Take a designer shopping bag shopping. This is a funny one. But sometimes when I’m in a fashionable city, I yearn to carry around a fabulous shopping bag like Blair’s above, a mark of the purchase rather than the purchase itself! Am I crazy? Probably. But one time, I took returns to the mall in a big pink Betsey Johnson bag, and just carrying that around satisfied my urge to purchase. Weird!


How can you redefine luxury? Think of one example and share with the class!

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Lesson 4: How to Be Informed

by Xandra Burns

Lesson 4: How to Be Informed

The Ravenclaw weeks of Blogwarts focus on “Readying Your Mind”. In order to excel as professionals and well-rounded ladies, it is important to be informed. Know what’s happening in the world, in the news, and in your field.

Find Your Medium

  • Do you commute to work? Turn on a radio station like NPR or download the BBC’s news podcasts.
  • Turn on the TV for the morning news while you eat breakfast.
  • Read the newspaper. My favourite somewhat neutral paper is the Wall Street Journal, but I also like to at least skim the local paper, be it the Boston Globe or my small town paper.
  • Subscribe to a magazine. I read British Vogue cover to cover for stories on art and culture exhibits in the UK, and at the airport or library I read through The Economist.
  • Subscribe to a newsletter. I like The Week‘s daily 10 things you need to know today, and Refinery 29’s more culturally mixed news roundup of 8 Things to Know This AM.
  • Download some apps. While scrolling through your iPhone, use apps like Flipboard to personalize news sources. If you’re always on social media, follow some key people and news sources on Twitter and Facebook.

Lesson 4: How to Be Informed

Always be learning

Listen when people are talking about news stories, from the latest election to World Cup gossip. It’s all relevant, says The Guardian!  If you don’t know what people are talking about, admit it, and ask questions. There’s so much news out there; if we all knew everything going on, we would have no lives. And it’s impossible anyway. So engage in conversation, and express your opinions – but only when you can back them up. Be informed to be interested and involved in the world, not to sound like a smarty Ravenclaw.

Ready for more lessons?

Blogwarts is an 8-week course and lifetime community for heroines in training who tire of living vicariously through fiction and want to burst their dreams into reality. Applications due 29 August, so sign up soon!



How do you get your news? Is it sufficient?

What is one step you can take towards being more informed?

Share your progress in the comments! 

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