White sand beaches, sleepy palm trees, endless sunshine and secret surf spots. Ever wanted to travel, backpack, or see the world… but think you need hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so? Not true.
One year ago I set out to travel a small yet popular Central American country on a budget. With no idea how to budget myself, how much anything would cost, I did this one easy thing every single day that saved me hundreds:
I wrote it all down.
From the bus fee to the flight, from the coffee to the surf wax, writing every single cost down prevents you from overspending simply because it creates a mindfulness around your spending habits. We all can use a little help figuring out where that last paycheck went and the solution is easy. I’ve written about ways I budget before, but this post will expose it all.
I am a frugal person by nature, my upbringings were not overly lavish nor dirt poor. I have always been responsible for myself, not relying on the finances of family, for there was not an overabundance of spending done. This has helped me immensely on the road. By writing down your expenses… you can become the world traveler you’ve always wanted to be. Use a website to help you. Use a journal. Use your computer. The simple act of writing down what you do spend creates awareness. Awareness causes you to pause next time, before you grab that latte to go, that muffin on the corner, or the extra pair of shoes.
That extra pair of shoes could be your flight. The thirty lattes you had in one month could be your rent. The muffin on the corner every other day could be your food cost. It all adds up. You’ve seen those reports of how much a daily coffee from a coffee shop costs a consumer over a year. Listen to those reports. Use your head.
This is a screenshot of my expense report I created in Google Drive. I wrote down what I spent each week in colones and later converted it into US $ for ease of reading and understanding. This expense report kept me honest, kept me in line; transparency is allowing me to travel the world. The total trip cost ended up surprising me. I would’ve spent that amount on rent alone had I stayed home.
(Not included in the report was my flight, an American Airlines non-stop from New York City to San Jose, Costa Rica: 300$)
Breaking it Down
The category of groceries covers beer and wine as well as food for cooking. Anything that came home and entered my current kitchen was accounted for. Eating local- i.e. buying what is grown and local to the country and region helped in this department immensely. Rice and beans can be incredibly versatile.
Travel refers to expenses incurred with bus trips, taxis, and gas money for friends.
Dining out is an easy one to understand. I ate out. That is what it cost. Some weeks are better than others, celebrations come in every form when you are meeting new friends along the way.
My lodging in Costa Rica varied depending on what was available. In some areas I had an entire house to myself, in others I shared a room with seven people. Both experiences were enriching and comfortable. This was my room at Casa Colina, in Mal Pais.
Shopping was a hard one for me. I never said I was perfectly frugal. I bought some excellent surf bikinis and never missed the 60$. Trinkets and touristy goods to bring home were also included here.
Tourist Attractions, I am not big on these, as they tend to be the more expensive activities to do when you are traveling long-term in a new country. However, some things you just cannot see without strapping on your tourist hat. Entrance fees to parks and historical monuments, ATV rentals and guided mountain walks fell into this category.
However, more often than not, the best travel experiences are the ones that were an accident, completely free and unexpected.
Redefine your Goals
If you use money as an excuse not to travel, you’re wasting your breath. You can live on much less, save much more, and see everything you’ve ever desired. All it takes is planning, persistence and the willingness to drop your unnecessary expenses.
If you are dead set on seeing a certain country, evaluate where your money goes. Turn off the lights every time you leave a room. Drop the cable expenses, do you even watch TV on your TV anymore? Start brewing coffee at home. Bring lunch to work. Carpool.
Every journey begins with one step. Start walking.