Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 37: Ross' Backpacking Europe Travel Budget

Money is funny and unknowns make me uneasy. Embarking on a 10 month journey through Europe is exciting but stressful. In order to have a pleasant trip, I had to budget my money. Coming home early is not an option!

I'm extremely lucky to be able to travel after graduating from Pratt Institute. When I was in high school one of my great uncles left me a nice chunk of inheritance. Part of the deal was I couldn't use the money until I turned 21. So the money sat in the bank and grew interest. On my 21st birthday, I had quite a nice sum. I could have saved the money for a downpayment on a house or bought a new car. I didn't know what to do with it so I kept it in the bank. When I made the decision to travel, I was glad I saved it!

Like I said, I am extremely lucky. Not everyone has money sitting around to go traveling. My experiences have put traveling into financial perspective. I'm realizing that even with a small sum of money it's possible to travel. By sharing my financial records I hope to put traveling expenses into context for all of you future nomads.

Going into this trip, I had no experience with budgets. I've always made enough money that as long as I spent wisely, I didn't have to keep track. Planning for this trip was different than any financial situation I've been in before. I have one lump of money to last the entire time. I knew I needed a budget but I had no clue how to make one. Naturally, I turned to my old friend, Google. After reading a number of sites about "How to make a budget," I understood the concept but I didn't know how to put it into practice. Thankfully my friend's dad is an accountant. I set up a dinner date!

A creme sauce perhaps?

A few days later I paid the Clemens family a visit. Ding dong! After a stellar dinner (thanks Mrs. Clemens!), Mr. Clemens and I got down to business. It was financial bootcamp. We reviewed what I learned earlier and then he asked me about my trip. At that time I had no clue. I didn't plan this trip at all. My "plan" was to fly into Rome, head to Florence, then figure it out. He sighed. Apparently, in order to make a budget, you have to have a plan. If I had all of my expenses planned, I would have been able to construct a budget around them. Since I didn't know anything, I was unable to set up a budget. Bummer! However our budget meeting wasn't useless. He suggested that I keep track of all my expenses and after the first two months I'll have enough data to set up a budget for the remaining eight. The most important advice Mr. Clemens gave me was to keep track of expenses other than traveling. Since I'll be traveling for 10 months, I would need to pay taxes in that time. I also had car insurance and a handful of other expenses that added up quick! I took his advice and subtracted this money from my reserve before I made my budget. Keeping track of my expenses has benefitted me in a multitude of ways.

Even without a budget, keeping track of my money has helped me out immensely. This is the first serious attempt I've made at quantifying my finances and it's been a positive experience. No offense to Mr. Clemens but if I were an accountant, I'd go crazy. Going into this, I was apprehensive because I thought keeping track of my money would be like filing taxes. I've found it to be quite the opposite. I actually enjoy knowing what I've spent money on. My mind is at ease! At the beginning I was very stressed about my money – pinching pennies at every turn. But now that I have records of how much I spent, I can plan ahead and not feel guilty about spending money. Large purchases would really stress me out. On my first train ride I got nailed for a €50 fee, causing my ticket to be €67,50 instead of €17,50. I was majorly stressed out because I thought I wouldn't be eating for a week or something horrible. More recently, I spent €188 on a pair of top-quality hiking boots. That's a whole week's spending money. But I'm confident that I can save that money in weeks to come by CouchSurfing instead of staying at hostels. That's cool! I've also learned a number of ways to save money from watching what I spend the most money on.

How I've saved money:
Avoid restaurants: I've eaten at one restaurant since I've been here and I got stuck with a big bill. Restaurants are fantastic ways to sample local cuisine, but they can be expensive. Ordering can be difficult and it's difficult to know how much you're spending. For example, restaurants in Italy charge more if you sit down. I enjoy buying food from the grocery store and cooking for myself and others. I dive into local flavor through my CouchSurfing experiences.

Not Buying Maps: I'm lost most everywhere I go but I still refuse to buy a map. I would rather spend that €2,50 on gelato! Most hotels and information centers give free maps. I also take photos of maps on the street or from my computer with my camera and zoom in later.

CouchSurfing: Housing is my largest expense. Hostels are cheap but €15 a night is more than half of my daily allowance. I love staying in hostels, but CouchSurfing is way cooler – and free!

No Souvenirs: My friends are the best and if I could I would buy them all something. But let's face it, most souvenirs are only good for collecting dust. I show my friends I'm thinking about them in other ways. Not buying souvenirs leaves me with more spending money and a lighter pack!

Cheap Entertainment: I haven't been spending like a king, but I am living like one. Traveling is awesome because I don't need to spend much money on entertainment – train tickets are my entertainment! The $12 that I would spend on a movie ticket in Brooklyn could be a train ride to Venice. Spending money on entertainment like museums or other local places enriches your experience but it's not necessary. Walking around is free!

Here is my backpacking Europe travel budget:

At first I was using TextEdit because I didn't have Microsoft Excel, but recently I discovered Google Docs. It took me a while to set up all the statistics that I wanted but I can't wait to use this tool. Now I'm able to calculate how much I can spend each day for the remainder of the week based on what I've already spent that week. I know this is only the beginning and I can't wait to see what else this powerful platform allows me to do.

This budget is live and will be updated every day. If you're thinking of traveling you should bookmark Ross' Travel Budget.

I hope this article encourages you lovely readers to travel. I've been extremely lucky but without my budget I would still be stressing. I wonder if Uncle Carl would approve of how I'm spending his money. I like to think he's watching over me. You can have enough money, but never have enough luck!

Au revior!

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