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The Budget Thing

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

Quick disclaimer : I'm not a vulgar person but my vocabulary can be colourful. My life is R-rated and my website occasionally reflects that. Be aware of some frank language. All my photos are PG, but please read blogs before sharing with kids.

All photos taken by lotzacurls unless otherwise credited.

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Saving up for travel can be daunting, but it’s easier than you think, and you might need less money than you believe. Financial habits follow us around like dirty socks in our gym bags; our weaknesses at home are often the same abroad.

Your style of travel can swing your calculated expenses onto a vastly different path. You could easily blow your budget by throwing caution to the wind. Solo travel allows me to strike a balance between the pinch-every-penny and you-only-live-once mindsets.

Wanna drop a ton of coin on a fancy hotel room, or save your pennies by crashing in a dorm bed? All the power to you. Want to save funds by buying groceries, or splurge on an expensive meal? Your decision. Want to visit the free museums in town, or spend all day at the Guggenheim? It’s your life. As a solo traveller, you have the last and only word on every dollar you spend.

You have two opportunities to save money: before you leave (conserving) and on the road (economising). So whether you’re broke AF or you’ve got a few bucks to spare, here’s how you can stash some cash before a trip, then stay on the right path once you get going.


Choose your destination

* Be reasonable. A month in Iceland is NOT easy on the wallet. If funds are limited, consider dropping by SouthEast Asia or Central America instead. There might be a spot closer to home that you can head to; you can have an adventure or get out of your funk without crossing time zones. It might be time to visit long-lost relatives or friends!

* Prices drop dramatically in shoulder seasons. If your time off matches a destination’s off-season, travelling there could be a steal. In October, some hotels in the Greek Islands only charged me a quarter of their high-season prices.

* Search for flights on Black Friday or Boxing Day. Skyscanner has a great feature: Type in your closest airport and the month of your departure, click on ‘Explore Everywhere’ and a slew of flights to international cities will pop up. Kayak offers a similar ‘Explore’ feature that shows deals leaving from your home city. Helpful and pretty cool.

* Travel books and sites like Lonely Planet and Rough Guides can be immensely helpful, if not strong motivators. They’re filled with gorgeous photos, great backpacking advice, and trustworthy reviews. But don’t make the mistake of relying too heavily on prices set in your guidebook. Costs increase with every edition (and inflation rises quickly), so don’t expect fees to have frozen in time.

* Check out Gilles Barbier’s fantastic breakdown of travel costs for over 40 countries on his webpage. Prices are given in Euros but it’s a fantastic referral.

Evaluate your current finances

Figure out where your money goes by tracking your spending habits.

A good savings allocation is the 50-30-20 rule; 50% of your net income goes to necessities like mortgage/rent, bills, 30% goes to wants (clothes, books, restaurants), and 20% goes into your savings. When saving for a trip, flip the 20% and 30% to save more money, faster.

Ask yourself these four questions:

  • How much of my paycheck goes toward housing, food, utilities, transportation, play…? Don’t speculate or guess; track where, and how much of, your money gets spent. Download a travel budget template to help.

  • What expenses can I cut back? Approach this with a simplistic view. If you don’t need something, hold off on it for a day. Decide whether or not to purchase next week.

  • How much can I put aside on a regular basis? Open up a savings account and have at least 20% of each paycheck transferred automatically into it; watch it grow!

  • How much will those savings eventually amount to? Come up with a reasonable final figure. Simply put: Save as much as you can. A daily cutback of just 5 $ brings in roughly 150 $ a month. Cha-ching!

Currencies conversions

* Sites like are immensely helpful. Before deciding on a destination, consider cost of living and favourable currency exchanges; 25.00 euros for a hostel dorm bed sounded like a bargain until I realised it amounts to nearly 40.00 $ Canadian.

lotzacurls solo travel budget
You won’t always have Internet access, so write down conversions to keep in your wallet. It’ll be a lifesaver at the grocery store.

A Few Extras...

* It might be worth obtaining a new travel credit card - here’s a helpful Canadian site. After a year of travels, I earned a free flight to Hawaii for my upcoming spring break. I felt like I had won the lottery!

* One of the worst travel mistakes out there? Not getting travel insurance. Don’t skip out on this one. Consider it an essential part of your travel expenses.

* What payments need to be made while you’re gone? Rent? Car insurance? Storage? Make sure to take them into account and to set up advance or pre-authorized payments.

* Bring your student or senior ID; the discounts are sometimes preposterous!

Access Your Money

Now that you've saved up, organise your moolah before you hit the road so that you can access it easily. Never keep all your cards or cash in the same spot; leave most cash and cards (as well as your passport) at your lodgings and take only what you need for the day.

CASH: There are many good reasons to carry cash: Your cards could be compromised, lost, stolen, or retained by the ATM. Cash is by far the preferred method of payment in some places and there are reports that certain countries like Japan and Germany wish to maintain a cash-based economy. See this article.

Keep a small stash of local currency in small bills, especially in developing countries where the economy is struggling and businesses can’t afford to accept credit cards. Pre-order bills from your bank a few weeks before departing and avoid currency bureaus at the airport; their fees are usually preposterous. Worse comes to worse, British pounds, Euros and US dollars are easily exchanged abroad (if you can’t order the country’s currency).

DEBIT CARDS: Mine almost never worked at grocery stores or restaurants abroad, but I could withdraw cash at certain ATMs. Pay attention to the layout of foreign ATMs; the buttons might not be placed in the same order you’re used to, and entering your PIN improperly could result in the seizure of your card.

CREDIT CARDS are my preferred method of payment, but watch out for your card’s foreign transaction fee. Cash advance fees, especially international ones, are usually quite high - only do this in an emergency. If you are given the choice between paying in two currencies, choose the local currency.

TRAVEL MONEY CARDS are on the rise. Travel money cards are pre-paid, reloadable, multi-currency cards that aren’t linked to your bank account. They are hard to skim and there are no fees for payments or withdrawing cash, as long as it’s in an approved currency. You can reload money through your bank via an app, or cancel it if it gets stolen. Here's a great video by explaining how it all works.


Consider the following elements before your trip, as they will influence your savings during your trip.


* How much will the flight to your destination cost? Is it worth the expense, considering how long you’ll be travelling? Can you fly somewhere closer or more central, then travel inland? A flight from Calgary to Cambodia could cost quite a bit more than a flight to Bangkok (Thailand) + a bus ride across the border into Cambodia.

* At your starting point, will you rent a car, take trains, boats or buses? For car rentals, leave room for insurance (read the fine print very well), gas money and toll fees. It might be worth getting train/bus passes. Do your research!

* Travel slooowly by curtailing flights. Buses and trains are low-cost and a great way to sightsee; night runs are usually cheaper. Spend at least one month exploring one country. Stay in an interesting city or area for one or two weeks and go on day trips. Travel slowly overland and get to know a region and culture all the better.

solo travel lotzacurls photography budget
This Vietnamese train has seen better days but it got me from A to B.

* Backtracking, both in the air and on the ground, costs you money and time. Get from Point A to Point B (and Point C and D) by travelling along linear cardinal points (ex: SW to SE) or in a loop.

* In cities, don’t forget about the metro (or boats, if a river runneth through it). Bicycles are my favourite way to snoop around. Most urban centres offer multi-use punch cards for the metro, trains, or hop-on-hop-off buses. I tend to avoid taxis like the plague.

hostels spain solo travel lotzacurls photography budget travel
A fun hostel room in Cadiz, Spain


* Where are you willing to sleep? Do you need your own bathroom? Can you handle a dorm bed in a crowded room or do you need privacy and elbow room? These standards are game-changers. Wallet-friendly hostels work if you’re on a budget, but you’ll be miserable if you’re craving alone time and your own toilet.

* 18.00$/night in a hostel adds up to roughly 540.00$/month. 25.00$/night adds up to 750.00$/month - that’s a big difference. There are all kinds of hostels, from cheaper party ones to fancy boutique ones. Check out photos, reviews and prices on or - figure out what you’re willing to spend on a bed.

* Downtown areas tend to be more expensive. Choose an interesting and safe district that’s close to as many coveted sights as possible.

* If you’re flexible with your dates, hunt down three-night deals.

* Splurge on the occasional hotel/private hostel room. If you've stuck to your budget, you could indulge when you need space, a hot bath or a roomy bed.

* Check availability online, then ask the hotel if that room is available at a discounted price from the online one. They may accommodate you to avoid paying the booking site’s commission fee.

* Don’t discount B&Bs; you can save by renting a room in an apartment/house. is useful, as is (crashing for free on an approved host’s couch or extra bedroom). My fave is - you can reserve everything from hostel dorms to fancy boutique hotels and resorts, you can cancel without a fee and you can read hundreds of reviews from past patrons.


* What kind of eater or cook are you? If you’re a hard-ass about saving, hostels usually have well-equipped kitchens for guests. Breakfast is often included but if not, cereal, oatmeal or toast are easy to prepare and store in the kitchen. Or rent a BnB with a kitchen suite.

solo backpacking travel lotzacurls photography budget
The not-so-shabby dining room of a Madrid hostel.

* Buy multi-portion groceries to get 2-3 meals out of them; pasta and pesto are backpacker staples for a reason! Don’t buy fruits/veggies if you’re leaving soon; transporting fresh produce (esp on a hot, humid day) is a bad idea. I speak from experience.

* Take advantage of food trucks and street food. Visit grocery stores or markets and prepare picnics. Check if your hostel has menus for supper.

* Keep your beverages in mind. Whether it’s your morning espresso, craft beer or wine, some drinks can cost more than a meal.

* Learn to eat alone and to not care if people think you’re a colossal loser. Local cuisine is one of the most enjoyable parts of travelling. I prepare breakfast, snacks and a light lunch, and splurge from time to time on supper. From a financial viewpoint, it makes more sense to eat out at lunchtime and to prepare supper back at the hostel. It’s also less intimidating to eat out alone at noon than at night, when restaurants are typically busier and everyone’s ogling each other in the candlelight. Barf.

Now For The Fun Stuff!

* Think about what’s important to you while I throw some fun words at you: Music concerts. Local cuisine. Stylish hotel rooms. Scuba diving. Museums. Partying. Chilling out. Theatre. Coffee shops. Hiking. Churches and architecture. Sandy beaches. Cooking classes. Adventure touring. Photography... Boom! (That was fun.) Your interests determine how much play money you’ll need. Worse case scenario: Plan one cool activity per week/month if restraint is necessary in order to afford food.

* Buy a local SIM card rather than pay your provider’s foreign deals. Find one at the airport or local convenience store, but ask an employee for help to activate it if you don’t speak the local language. Keep local police and international emergency numbers in your phone, in case of lost/stolen cards.

* Hostels often have free or inexpensive classes and events: I’ve enjoyed yoga sessions, pub crawls, flamenco shows, walking tours, games nights, cooking classes and surf lessons. Such bargains, man!

* Keep an eye on currency fluctuations. In Europe, I (somehow) got ahead of my budget. So I happily loosened the purse strings as I headed to Italy for a month, without verifying the euro throughout. Well... By the end of that month, I had unknowingly spent nearly a thousand dollars while the euro quietly spiked and my currency exchange widened. Let’s just say that my following month in Spain was tightly restrained, which suuuucked.

Irish buskers solo travel backpacking lotzacurls photography budget
If you must, put some wine in a Thermos and go enjoy the buskers. I had an absolute blast doing this in Ireland and it was a lot cheaper than drinking in pubs.

You can save or make money by working/volunteering in exchange for room and board. You’ll better understand the local culture, learn new skills and make contacts in your new country. Ask at your hostel about work opportunities (cleaning, bartending, serving food). One well-known organisation that pays room/board and even food in exchange for odd jobs on organic farms or homesteads is ; you might have to put in a few hours every day for 5 days/week. You can volunteer at festivals in exchange for passes (and sometimes food); check out Oxfam for an extensive list of UK festivals.


Budgeting doesn’t have to be boring or merciless, but don’t get caught up in the I travelled for less than 5$ a day game, either. Travel on your terms, reflecting your standards and interests. It should never be a contest to see who can spend less (or more). Leave your ego out of it.

Worse comes to worse, fall back onto a line of credit or (gasp!) your credit card. People put themselves in serious debt for their studies, their mortgage, their wedding, their car... I can’t think of a better life investment than travel.

I’m not a trust-fund baby; I don’t even remember having an allowance. I’m a professional who manages to save money because travel is my financial priority. I choose to NOT own a house, I drive a reliable shitkicker and I make sacrifices so that I can strap on my backpack in a new spot every now and then.

Maybe we’ll meet in the common room or on the road one day.

Happy travels, my friend. xx

A few more articles to enjoy:

The Arrival Thing

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