Ah, budgets. No one likes to talk about budgets, but it’s one of the most common questions overlanders are asked. “How do you pay for this?” (The other, of course, is “where do you find the time,” but that’s another post.)
I’m breaking this into a couple different posts, and this first one I am going to be going over a few terms. Later on I’ll break down a travel budget. I’ll admit right up front that I am one of those frugal travelers. You’ll find a lot of overlanders are, since keeping costs down means you get to travel longer for the same amount of money. And long-term travel (not “seeing everything”) is the goal. This means there will be times I recommend a less expensive choice, camping instead of a hotel for example, and you might think “My wife won’t camp, she needs a hotel with breakfast every night – I won’t go without her.”
Fine. Get a hotel. It will affect the costs of your trip, perhaps shorten it some, but that is better than no trip at all. Go. Just Go.
So, the first and probably most important term I am going to go over is Dollars per Day. This is a number most overlanders will give you when you ask what they spent. It’s a common coin between us, so when we meet somewhere we can know, with this one question, if our traveling styles line up. Someone traveling on $20 a day won’t be able to keep up with someone spending $100 a day (though a single rider on $20 might blend in just fine with a family on $100 – it’s very relative in that way). This doesn’t mean one trip is better than another, or that you need to have X amount of money to start traveling. It’s just a base for the travel budget, both when you start planning and once you are on the road.
Next, Dollars per Day isn’t a hard, fast number. You don’t start out with that much money every morning and spend until it’s gone or the day is over. It’s more a running average – I usually carried a week’s worth of funds around. Most of the time it was too much, but there were times and purchases that ate into the total. But it’s the average that matters – not the daily totals. That doesn’t mean you can’t pay attention to your spending. It just means you don’t have to worry about it so much you don’t enjoy the trip.
Dollars per Day also varies a lot from country to country, so planning for a total over the course of months of years of travel can be hard. As you travel more and have a better idea of what you do and don’t want to spend money on, and the relative costs in some countries versus others. Then, when you see you are spending too much in an expensive country, you just have to move to a less expensive country for a while to bring the average back down.
Figuring out your Dollars per Day is pretty easy – see how long you want to be on the road and how much money you have. Divide and poof. So, if you have $30,000 saved up (or a loan or whatever) to spend for a year of travel, you have $82 a day – a pretty nice sum actually. Later we’ll start looking at a budget at around $60 a day.