On Track With Our Travel Budget

Every evening Brett writes down in a small journal what we did that day and what we spent that day as well. He brought along a roll of tape, and fastens each receipt received into the journal (he took this idea from the Senior Nomads). Finally, he enters the amount for the day into his travel spreadsheet and averages our daily spending to make sure we’re staying at or under budget.

As the first full month of travel for the two of us comes to an end it’s gratifying to see that we have been able to stay under the budget we gave ourselves of $50/day. We were able to keep our daily average to under $40/day in South America, but Paris (and Normandy somewhat) turned out to be more expensive than we imagined. In both of those places, whether it was admission fees, tips for tour guides, a meal out at a restaurant, filling the gas tank (very expensive here compared to American prices, over $6/gallon), everything cost more. Our Paris expenses also included the (totally worth it) taxi ride from the airport to our apartment in Montmartre, and our trip out to Mont Saint-Michel also turned out to be more expensive than usual (but again, worth it). However, with everything averaged we are still ending up the month under $50/day. Strasbourg is proving to be far more affordable – we’re back to around $40/day. We’ll end this month with a daily spending average of $47.92/day.

Our main savings come from eating “at home” versus going out to eat, although we haven’t denied ourselves that experience.  We don’t consider ourselves to be “on vacation” and just as we did in the past, eating out is an exception and planned in advance. The first thing we do when we arrive at a new location is find a nearby grocery store (and a bakery) and buy provisions for several days. Although I imagined it might be otherwise, I’m just not interested in cooking even though all the kitchens in the homes where we’ve stayed have for the most part had decent cooking equipment. We keep our meals simple but healthy, although sometimes I think we could be eating more vegetables. Breakfast is typically yogurt with granola (or muesli) and fruit, or a pastry with coffee and orange juice. We often skip lunch but then maybe have coffee or another small treat in the afternoon. We enjoy drinking a glass of wine every evening, and usually have cheese, salami, sausage or paté, fruit or vegetables, and maybe nuts along with crackers or sliced baguette. If we feel hungry later in the evening we have a bowl of vegetable soup. We’re currently trying out some ready-made main dishes from the Whole Foods-like store that’s close by. The meals are large enough provide servings for at least two nights, and so far they’ve been delicious (and also full of vegetables!).

Fifty dollars a day might seem like a lot for two people who are eating at home, but that amount goes far beyond providing food – it covers everything we might spend during the day beyond food. Those things have included but are not limited to transportation costs, admission fees, laundry, paid toilets now and again, a sandwich or pastry at a train station, an ice cream cone or a bottle of water on a hot day, or a small treat like a few macarons from a bakery. It all adds up, and quite quickly sometimes. Our daily spending while we were in Paris topped $70/day, so we’re thankful for the lower prices here in Strasbourg.

I can’t imagine trying at this point trying include in our budget the costs of getting from city to city or upcoming lodgings – my hat’s off to the Senior Nomads for managing that for almost five years. I’m grateful that we were able to save and take care of most of those expenses before we set out on this adventure so the rest of our monthly income is available for upcoming or unexpected expenses, such as the balance on our India tour which is coming due next month. Starting out with only two monthly bills (my student loan and our phone bill) and arranging for both to be paid automatically each month has also made life on the road much simpler, and our budget much easier to manage.

This is just one month out of fifteen though, but it’s been good to see how we handled expenses, and learn which things we can get better at, which things we don’t need, and where we can loosen up a bit.

16 thoughts on “On Track With Our Travel Budget

  1. Joan Simko says:

    Reminds me of the care we had to take when doing the ‘Five Dollars A Day’ trip in the early 70’s. Paris was easy with the yogurt, bread, fruit, veggies and cheese. Delicious too.

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    • Laura says:

      We just visited Aldi – 20 minutes away and amazing prices. We’ll be doing the bulk of our food shopping there from now on.

      You can eat very well here on not a whole lot of money if you make the effort.

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  2. Vivian says:

    Just went to Aldi here too. A whole bag of Gala apples for $1.49. A whole pineapple was $1.63.
    I don’t know if those were specials or if prices are always that good as the store is in another city and I don’t usually get to go.
    Paid toilets?? Is that normal? Does the city have a monthly bus pass?
    Did your daily hikes in Hawaii prepare you for all the walking or would you have done something differently now that you are actually experiencing European travel?
    I love the details in your posts. Things that I wouldn’t have thought about. Looking forward to the rest of your journey.

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    • Laura says:

      The paid toilets have been in the big train stations and at the museums. They’ve ranged in price from 1.50 euros to .20 euros, and you don’t get a choice not to pay. They do guarantee that everything will be clean.

      The walking did help. We sort of gave up the last couple of months we were in Hawai’i because of the heat and humidity, but we’ve picked right back up where we were when we stopped. European cities seem to be very geared toward walking.

      I’ll have a post up next week about our Aldi experience and prices here.

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  3. Joy Franks says:

    Very thorough record keeping job, Brett! It’s the only way to keep the guess work out of calculating expenses. It will be interesting to see how close you come to your target goal. When we were here that first winter, I didn’t set a target, I just kept track of every dime, just to see how our regular living, no penny-pinching, could play out if we moved here. We’ve since discovered it’s considerably cheaper! What a ball you guys are having. Almost makes me want to travel. 😉

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    • Laura says:

      We knew it would probably be easy for us to w-a-y overspend here, with so many new foods, experiences, etc. so we knew we had to set a budget. We looked at our income after our two monthly bills were paid, figured how much we needed to hold on to for upcoming expenses, and then divided what was left by 30 to come up with an average daily amount over the time we would be traveling. We knew we could adjust it if we had to, but so far it seems to be the right amount.

      Brett is right in his element tracking all of this stuff too (spreadsheets are not my thing).

      We are having a wonderful time (but I admit to missing Kaua’i now and again).

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    • Laura says:

      We had originally thought we would spend more time in Bordeaux, on the west side of the country versus staying in Paris for a long time (too expensive), but we also wanted to visit Strasbourg. When I tried to make reservations for an Airbnb rental in Bordeaux, nothing seemed to be available – it was like some sort of big event would be going on when we wanted to be there. So, we looked at Strasbourg, and it seemed to be a bit more affordable so we decided to spend more time here. We liked that it’s close to Germany and Switzerland so we could visit those places as well. It’s turning out to be a good choice for a longer stay, and we are heading down on Monday for a three-day visit to Lucerne. We also learned we can take the tram out front right into Germany!

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  4. Janette says:

    Amazing budget book Brett!
    I wonder if you will feel like cooking once the weather turns cooler.
    Do you find that it is easy to work with credit cards or do you use the ATMs?
    You two are an inspiration!

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    • Laura says:

      Long before we began traveling I had told Brett that I was tired of cooking, and that once the girls had left the nest I was going to cut back. I’m sort of giving that a try here and so far it’s working out. We’re happy with the smaller meals, and are eating less than we were.

      We use a credit card only if we don’t happen to have the cash to cover something, or if we eat out someplace, but we usually go to an ATM and withdraw around $150 every three days and that seems to be working well. I add up what we charge each month and pay it in full. I don’t mind using the card now and again because we get double rewards for using it at restaurants.

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  5. tpol1 says:

    I love reading your posts of the Great Adventure. Very inspiring! Glad you are having a good time and staying within budget. That requires discipline.

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    • Laura says:

      Some days are just more expensive than others, but we’re discovering that we can balance those out with days where we spend little or nothing so that we can keep our average where it needs to be.

      We had a good time today and it didn’t cost us anything – we took a self-directed walking tour through the Petite France area in the historic district. But we did stop for a sandwich to share on the way home, and something cool to drink – it was warmer than we expected! But’s that’s all the spending for the day, less than $10.

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  6. Laurel Hill says:

    I’m the record keeper here, so I admire Brett’s diligence. Makes life easier to have a handle on where the money goes and how quickly. Seems all of the work you did going into the Big Adventure is paying off! As others have said, I’m really enjoying following along and appreciate your willingness to share your trip with us! Cheers!

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    • Laura says:

      I am so glad we took care of so many of our expenses before traveling so we don’t have to worry about them now. Unexpected stuff still comes up (like the cost of the tolls tomorrow on our drive down to Lucerne), but we can cover those. I think having a mindset that “we’re not on vacation” and sticking to our usual frugal ways has helped as well to keep our budget in line.

      Brett enjoys the bookkeeping/journaling more than he thought he would before we set out. The first thing he does when we get back to our apartment is get out the journal/spreadsheet and get things registered there.

      We’re having a great time – I’m glad you (and others) are enjoying the pictures and posts. I’m looking forward to going back to them when we’re done with all our traveling, to see what we learned as well as what we loved and what we didn’t.

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  7. Janette says:

    I, occasionally, go back and read your beginning posts- June 2015. It was the first in the reality of me seeing your “think bigger- together”.

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    • Laura says:

      Wow – thank you for the reminder! I had forgotten that we were already thinking about all of this back as far as 2015. So much else happened along the way but here we are. It’s interesting to think about what I wrote then (Japan every year, other trips) and see what it’s turned into.

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