30 Days of Indie Travel Project: Budget

The theme for Day 18 of the 30 Days of Indie Travel Project* is Budget.

Every traveler has a budget; for some it just might be higher of lower than for others What’s your style? What do you spend very little on and what are you always willing to pay more for?

I have always considered myself a “budget traveler” but my definition and perception of “budget travel” has changed over the years.

When I first traveled abroad, I was fresh out of law school, weeks away from starting a six-figure job at a large law firm in Chicago – frankly, making more money than I ever imagined I would make as a 25-year-old. But when I booked a three-week tour of Europe, I still tried to do it on a budget.  I went with Contiki’s European Vista tour, at a cost of about $100 a day, which included breakfast every day, but just a few other meals.

I thought that was a great deal.

At the same time, I think I splurged on just about every possible “optional” excursion and I didn’t hesitate to spend money out for dinner or a bar.

My philosophy stayed about the same for the next six years. I took advantage of my vacation time and traveled to Spain, France, Australia, Norway, Italy, Austria and Portugal, as well as San Diego, Los Angeles and New York City several times. I always aimed to find hotel rooms under $100 (that was my definition of “budget”) and, while I stuck to fast food for most lunches, I didn’t mind spending a little at dinner. Enjoying the food was part of the experience.

In Australia, I booked day tours to wineries and to Kangaroo Island. In Italy, my mom and I paid for a guide and driver to take us around the Chianti countryside. And in Spain, I did another Contiki tour, again adding on most of the optionals.

On the other hand, while in Norway, I found the restaurants so expensive (over $20 for a run-of-the-mill dinner not including drinks) that I often stuck to hot dogs from the 7-11.

My mindset changed when I changed careers.

Leaving my career as a lawyer and taking a job at a university making one-third of my previous salary forced me to cut back in a lot of ways. Cutting out travel was not an option, but I did make some changes to the way I traveled.

Rather than a couple big trips a year, I stuck to one.

Instead of seeking out hotel rooms under $100, my goal became $50 – something that was much easier when I started to target cheaper destinations like Egypt and Peru.

If I enjoyed a sit-down restaurant, it would be for lunch, not dinner. I sought out street food more often.

For the first time, I actually developed a budget for my trips. I did more research and spent more time seeking out the best deals. I made spreadsheets comparing my options to help me make sure I was getting the most for my money.

But I didn’t mind splurging on things that I considered unforgettable experiences – like the four-day Inca Trail trek or a day trip to Middle Egypt.

When I started to plan for my career break, I had to completely overhaul my way of thinking about budget travel.

I knew that traveling long-term would mean no more hotels. At least not on a regular basis. While I never previously even considered staying in a hostel, I knew that would become my accommodation of choice.

I created more spreadsheets. And more spreadsheets.

I developed a budget for each country I am visiting and an overall budget. I am tracking every single dime I spend.

I am buying food at supermarkets and preparing my own meals in hostels or homestays.

I am seriously considering my options when approached with possible sightseeing opportunities or excursions. What is really worth it? How much do I really want to do it? How much will I regret it if I don’t?

I haven’t splurged much on this trip yet, but I have a few times:

A hotel room in Tallinn the night before and the night after running the Tallinn Marathon.

A hotel room again in Veliky Novgorod after spending a month in a homestay on the outskirts of St. Petersburg.

A guide to visit a Buddhist monastery outside of Ulan Ude.

A weekend trip to Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal.

I am planning to splurge again on a hotel room in Riga, Latvia at the end of my Trans-Siberian journey. I figure after a month of crossing Russia by train,  I will deserve it.

At the same time, I couldn’t bring myself to spend over $20 to visit the armoury at the Kremlin in Moscow and I waited to visit the Hermitage until the first Thursday in October, when admission was free. I am also debating whether I want to spend $50 to go dog-sledding here near Lake Baikal or $100 for a guide to visit the Stolby Nature Reserve when I get to Krasnoyarsk.

Those are things I would not have thought twice about five years ago.

*Throughout the month of November, BootsnAll is inviting bloggers from around the world to join them in a daily blogging effort – the 30 Days of Indie Travel Project –  designed to reflect on how our travel experiences over the last year – or whenever – have shaped us and our view of the world. Bloggers can follow the prompts as strictly or loosely as they like, interpreting them in various ways and responding via text, photos or video posted on their own blogs.

Photo by Images_of_Money

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