Knowing how much money you have and where it’s going, makes things fall into place. Sure, things may look bleak in the beginning, but pretty soon you’ll see where you can make adjustments. You’ll know how much surplus income (I like to think of surplus income as strictly travel money. I don’t use it for anything else) you have, and you can make a plan as to how you want to use it.

*cough* Travel! *cough*

Travel Foreplay

Having a budget, and following it is an important key to saving money for travel, but it’s not the only one. Simply saving money is too general. Too broad. You need to have a realistic travel goal.

Believe it or not, coming up with a realistic travel goal [read: the monetary figure for your travels] can be a lot of fun. Why? You get to do travel planning! Travel planning is like having hours of torturously detailed foreplay! Think about it. Your skin tingles. Your adrenaline rushes. Your body vibrates with excitement. Travel planning is a crazy awesome aphrodisiac. Embrace it. Love it. Relish in it.

Making a Realistic Travel Goals

In order to make realistic travel goals (that fit within your budget), you need to sit down and make a list of the places you want to visit. Knowing – roughly – where you’d like to travel to is the first step in the process. Now don’t get your panties in a bunch yet. I’m not telling you to plan all of your travels now. No, no, I’m not. In order to make a realistic travel goal, you need a rough idea as to how much your travel dream will cost. So, think of this is the 1st draft – with the final draft not taking place until you’re actually on the road.

Here are a couple tips on how to make a realistic 1st draft plan:

  • Define your travel dream. Do you want to spend a few years travelling around the world? Do you want to travel for several months in Asia, or another continent? Perhaps you want to backpack around Europe for three months. Whatever it is, you need to define it (and don’t panic, you can totally change your mind later on).
  • Once your travel dream is defined, figure out (roughly), where you want to go.
  • Research! Read travel guides, travel blogs, hostel/guesthouse/hotel booking sites, check into flight costs, train passes etc.
  • Write down how much things cost. Food. Accommodations. Transportation. FUN stuff.
  • Think DREAM. When you’re doing your research, pick things you would LOVE to do/experience, and work those costs into your travel goal.
  • Look at your figures, and then pad them by about 15-25%. Sure, some guy says you can live on $10/day in Cambodia, but don’t base your budget on that. He could be crazy. You may discover you have slightly higher standards once you arrive. Look at your research figures, and pad them.

Let’s use me as an example (just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about).

  • My plan is to live in Thailand (using Chiang Mai as my homebase), and travel throughout Asia.
  • My country list is as follows: Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, Brunei, Borneo, Malaysia, and possibly India, and Nepal. I know I may not get to all these places, but they’re still on my list.
  • I’ve travelled to Chiang Mai a few times, I know how much food costs (I can eat on $10/day, and then splurge once a week and spend $20), as well as local transportation (60¢ per ride). I’ve looked into apartments, and emailed for current rates (I can rent a studio apartment for about $250/mth). Using those figures, I’ve decided I can probably live in Chiang Mai for about $500/mth – and I’ll be quite comfortable.
  • I’ve talked about travelling through Asia. I know that there are budget airlines with crazy awesome sales (like $25 fares). Travelling within Asia can be cheap (think bus, plane, train, boat). I’ve looked at costs for traveling from Chiang Mai to various countries, and I’ve decided to budget an extra $500 a month for travel.
  • Part of my plan is to do freelance writing while I’m in Thailandand possibly teach English. I know how much I’ll be paid for the majority of my articles, and I’ve made a decision on how many I want to sell each month in order to keep me in Thailand as long as possible.
  • I don’t want to deal with money pressure as soon as I arrive in Thailand. Keeping this in mind I have decided to save six months worth of living and travel expenses ($6,000) before leaving for Thailand.

The big thing with making realistic travel goals is… DON’T BE A HERO! You don’t have anything to prove to anyone. It’s not a competition to see who can spend the least amount of money (or the most). Think about your comfort zone. Pad your estimated figures, and then make adjustments on the road. Don’t undercut yourself. That can lead to you being a very unhappy traveller.

Courting Realism

Making realistic travel goals may mean cutting back on your travel list. That part sucks. In the beginning, I’d say, “I’m going to be in Asia, so that means I need to go______”, and then I’d name pretty much every country in Asia. Then I’d do a bunch of research, write down figures, and get depressed.

“It’s going to cost me $15,000?!?! It will take me FOREVER to save that money!”

I was working an okay paying job, but I had debts and bad spending habits. And I wasn’t willing to wait 5 years to make my travel dreams a reality. I was bogged down. My travel dreams started crushing me. It sucked balls.

Until I sat down and said “Screw it. I’m going”, and let my stubborn nature take over. I looked at flight booking sites, then hunted for flights that were under $1,000. When I found a flight (Bangkok, Thailand), I booked it, then looked at my plan and readjusted everything. I feverishly scratched countries off my list. My initial plan was to travel for a year, but when I arrived I discovered that I had undercut myself. I had a higher standard than the people I took advice from, and I cut my list even more and started looking for ways to make money on the road. I had to sit down and be realistic about my goals, my budget, and how far I could go – and still love what I was doing.

Start with a mid-level goal. Pick countries you know you can afford, and throw in a few that you’re not sure about. Use that as your initial goal, then as time progresses, change your goal. What do you think you can realistically do? Remember…

Travel planning is like having hours of torturously detailed foreplay!

Make it fun! Think of the possibilities. Find ways to stay inspired (I’ll talk more about this on Sunday).