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


Mar 16 2016

Gold Tape


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!

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