How to Plan and Maintain a Budget for Open-Ended Travel

Traveling without an end date gives you the freedom to move slowly, make spontaneous choices, and change plans freely. Open-ended travel also presents some unique challenges, like figuring out how much money you will need for your trip, and managing that money while traveling. 

How much money?? 

Once you’ve decided where you want to go and how you want to get there do some research as to the day to day costs you will incur. It’s best to create an estimated budget per month of travel. Aside from the obvious costs such as lodging and food, make sure you include monthly costs like travel insurance, cell phone/internet service, and an emergency fund for unpredictable additional expenses. (Click here to read about our costs traveling through Mexico!)

Try to find travel blogs detailing the area you plan to travel to. Many travel bloggers break down their budget, and travel blogs are an incredibly useful tool in figuring out the cost of living in foreign destinations. 

Be realistic about the comforts you need, and the things you can do without on the road. For example, from the comfort of your living room the thought of wild camping for free 5 nights per week may sound like a great way to save money, but are you prepared to travel until nightfall, and get up and break camp before sunrise every day? Alternatively, do you really need a mocha every morning, or are you willing to make your own coffee in your hostel/on a camp stove/etc.? The answers to these questions are very personal, so try to be honest with yourself during the planning stage.

Now take a basic guess at how long you would like to travel for: 6 months? 1 year? Indefinitely? Figure out how many months worth of money you should save for your travels. If you plan on making money on the road, and won’t be starting out with some sort of income stream, I would plan to have at least 3 months worth of expenses saved so you have plenty of time to make more cash as you go.

 

Where will the money come from?

So you have a monthly budget planned out for your travel. Good work! Now, the big question... where will the money come from?

There are as many ways to finance your open-ended travel as there are destinations to visit. Some people own a home and rent it out to finance their travel, others save up for a year and hit the road with a lump sum in the bank, others work online while on the road to fund their trip. Figure out what you own that you could liquidate, what skills you have that you could monetize, and how you can save money while you plan your trip. 

We took a dual approach to funding our travels. First, we sold most of our possessions, including my car, so that we would have a cushion of savings in the bank for emergencies. This liquidation also funded our initial investment in gear (and eventually the purchase of our camper, which you can read about here) . We are lucky enough to have a small passive monthly income that will cover basic expenses, though we have to watch our budget very closely if we want to avoid dipping into our savings. Eventually we would like to create a location independent income that will fund our travels, but that takes time so if that is part of your plan, do not rely on that for at least the first 6 months. 

 

Sticking to your budget on the road

You’ve created a budget, you’ve saved up some money (or figured out how to fund your travels as you go), and it's time to hit the road! Now you have to learn to stick to that budget you spent so much time on. Sounds easy, right? You may be surprised by all the money pits you can run into while traveling. 

After a long day of travel it’s much easier to order a meal at a restaurant than it is to make yourself something, and on a rainy day a motel may be a lot more appealing than a tent (or a camper). It’s okay to splurge sometimes, but if you aren’t paying close attention to your budget it will be easy to spend beyond your means.

Long before we left on our travels I learned a system of budgeting that works very well for me, and for lots of other people as well, it’s called You Need a Budget (YNAB for short). While many budgeting systems are based on the amount of money you expect to have next month, this budgeting system requires you to work with the money you actually have at the beginning of the month, and it also allows you to categorize exactly where you want that money to go. YNAB offers a 34 day free trial through their website, and I highly recommend giving it a try at least one month before you leave for your trip.

When you know at any given moment exactly how many dollars you have to spend on lodging, food, excursions, etc it helps you make a good decision when faced with a splurgy purchase like a $15 restaurant meal versus a $5 meal you’ve cooked.

I won’t lie, after the one month free trial I did not pay for the YNAB program, simply because I was able to implement the concepts of the budgeting system without the software. However, this is a lot more work on my end, because I have to manually keep track of every single transaction I make. If you pay for the YNAB app/program it can be linked to your accounts, and everything is quite a bit easier/automatic.

YNAB is also an awesome tool to help you save more for your travels before you leave! It was a game changer for me, and I highly recommend it to anyone who finds budgeting to be a pain in the ass (that’s most of us right?!).

What are your tips for travel budgeting? Share them with us in the comments!

3 Lessons we Learned in our First 3 Days of Travel

A woman camping nearby offered to take this photo for me :)

A woman camping nearby offered to take this photo for me :)

People are nice!

Before embarking on our trip many people asked us about safety. Would we carry weapons? Were we concerned about the security of our gear? Honestly we did not spend a lot of time worrying about protection while planning this trip, aside from basic securities like good bike locks. However, all these questions about safety must have planted a scary little seed in our minds because on our first day we found ourselves hesitant to approach people.

The good news is, just a couple hours into our trip, a Fedex truck pulled over, and out came a super friendly fellow cyclist named Ryan. Ryan told us he always pulls over when he sees cyclists to say hi and see if they need any help, since he is an avid cyclist himself. It was such a relief to be reminded that there are plenty of good people around, and plenty of fellow cyclists!

Thanks to our meeting with Ryan I didn’t hesitate to knock on the door of a farmhouse later in the day to ask for directions. When you’re in an area with no phone service, and you’re unsure if you made a wrong turn your options become very limited. The woman that answered the door was extremely nice, and was happy to give us detailed directions to our next stop.

Every day we have met some wonderful people, and we’ve constantly been reminded that people are nice!


If you need to push, push.

When you’re pulling a 75 pound trailer full of furry dog behind you there are hills that just are not possible, no matter how low your gearing. When I still can’t manage to pedal, even in my granny gear, it is time to get off the bike and push. And guess what?!........ In those cases pushing feels GOOD, better than pedaling! It’s a nice break for my butt, and uses different muscles than cycling, so it feels like taking a rest. So, one important lesson learned: if you need to push, push!

 

Take your time. Rushing leads to problems.

It’s easy to start rushing when you want to get going. Whether it’s rushing to pack up, rushing to get to the next city, or rushing through a break to get back on the road, rushing leads to stress and disorganization.

Every time we rush ourselves packing up we lose MORE time when we have to find things later in a crazy black hole of a pannier (panniers are the bags that attach to our bikes and hold our gear).

Every time we rush to get somewhere we stop enjoying the journey because we are far too focused on the time. We have to move much slower than most cycle tourists because we are pulling Indy, so we’ve quickly learned not to pressure each other, or ourselves, over speed.

Indy takes a much-needed break.

Indy takes a much-needed break.

Breaks are so important, and they are only relaxing if we take our time. On our breaks we take Indy for a walk, stretch, and sit down with snacks. It’s incredible how much stronger we feel after a 15 minute break.


So there you have it, our first big lessons learned on this journey! Have you cycle toured before? What were your first few days like? Tell us about it in the comments!