Long-term travelers get the same questions all the time about this dreadful topic called “budgeting your trip”. I am the last person to have solid advice for you. I cringe upon hearing the B-word and the following non questions:
“How do you fund your travels?”
“What’s your daily budget?”
“(How much) Do you save for your travels?”
My answer to all of them is either “I don’t know” or “who cares?” This is absolutely the most boring topic of travel, and that’s why I’m usually reluctant to share my views. So here goes nothing:
First of all, I’m a hitchhiker and hitchhikers don’t plan much to begin with, mostly because it’s totally pointless to do so. I aim for things, but I don’t expect them to happen. Also, I am not entitled to rides, so I might as well prepare for the worst. I can’t give advice to people who don’t hitchhike because I don’t know (and don’t care) how much your bus costs. I do care about the hostel prices, just to be aware of how badly I need to find a couchsurfing host (€10/night is my hard limit).
Secondly, for me it’s about cutting the costs to a bare existence minimum, not budgeting or saving in advance. I’ve never met a traveler who has managed with what s/he budgeted for the trip. Never. Even if you’re not hitchhiking and couchsurfing, you can’t prepare for those socks to be lost, that midnight snack you were craving or the money you lost on the commission when exchanging money. Three years ago was the last time I attempted bookkeeping my expenses, but it turned out to be inexact and it just made me stress out over every cent. Cutting the costs of your trip is mostly about thinking about everything you might buy and not indulging yourself. Do I really need this? The answer is probably no. Once you inhibit the urges to spend money spontaneously, you’re in control of yourself.
Thirdly, those people who claim to travel without money are probably lying. No, not probably, definitely! Sadly enough, money is the only language that is understood world-wide. What they mean by travel without money most of the time, is that they have a cash-based life with some backup cash for emergencies (which is the smart thing to do) and they are creative in ways to earn money when they need to, while at the same time seeking every opportunity to do or get things for free. One guy claimed to travel without money but turned out to have a shitload in Bitcoin – which he then needed to sell in order to get cash. There’s plenty of travelers the road who are bragging about traveling without money, but those were also the people who were talking a lot about money and sometimes went begging for money on the streets. I’m not the person to judge this behavior and sometimes I understand it, but I wouldn’t do it myself unless I really had to. I’d rather do something in return, like playing a song or doing a trick and let people come to me rather than me taking the initiative and threatening the goodness out of them. I’d also rather have something like food, refreshment or – before quitting – a cigarette than cash. The difference is subtle, but it’s there.
Obviously, it’s important for me to always carry some cash. The local equivalent of €35 is enough to save you out of any situation anywhere. Whether you need a sleeping place, a warm shower, an emergency phone call, a pack of cigarettes, a warm meal or that stupid stupid bus after all, this arbitrary amount will get you out of most shitty situations – probably even knife-point robberies.
It’s more important to be prepared for any situation physically, mentally and socially, than being prepared in terms of having a well-filled piggy bank. The real difference is that the latter will take you somewhere, and the former will bring you anywhere.
Welcome to no-budget travel.
Peace, love and tranquility,