My Incredibly Geeky But Effective Travel Budgeting Technique - This American Girl

My Incredibly Geeky But Effective Travel Budgeting Technique

tambor costa rica ferry


People often ask how I’m able to afford to travel for months at a time. You can read my response here.


Today I’d like to focus on one incredibly important aspect of funding travel: budgeting. Whether you’re in the process of saving for a trip or making your money stretch while away, budgeting is absolutely essential.


I have lived in a jungle hut eating nothing but rice and beans for weeks and quite contrastingly splurged on expensive flights all over Europe dining at upscale restaurants and buying exotic textiles. In the process I have learned to balance my travel lifestyle between one of frugality and one of decadence.


The key is to spend with intention.


For this reason, I have found that tracking my expenses is the only way to stay on budget. It is the only way that I am fully aware of how much I am spending, and where I am investing my money.


Some of you may know my history working as a Project Manager. Today you will see that crazy OCD spreadsheet-loving nerd unleashed.


Without further ado, here is my full-proof budget tracking process:





Ok so bear with me. I realize this is A LOT to take in.


Let me break it down for you.


We begin the month with our set budget. I set a budget of $1500 which I felt was feasible for a month of backpacking in more expensive Central American countries like Costa Rica and Panama. Based on a thirty day month, that equals $50 per day.


The first few columns track expenditures, as well as the category each expenditure falls into. The purpose for this is that later you can analyze what percentage of your spending is going towards which category. For instance, if you want to lower your budget, look and see how much you’re spending on average dining out and see whether you can decrease that expense.


Then we analyze whether we went over budget each day or not and what our remaining balance is as a result.


You will see that in the last column I put a daily budget. Why do we have this column if we already know that it’s $50? Well, I believe that budget is not a static figure. For me, it is a dynamic amount that changes with every dollar we spend. Suppose you decide to take an expensive tour one day. Now, because you broke your budget for that day, the daily budget for the rest of the month has now gone down. You can spend less each day following because you spent more one day. However, you can bring back up this daily budget by living frugally for the next couple of days.


At the end of the month I look at what my average daily expenditures were, to see if my budget was realistic or not. As you can see, I spent about $43 dollars per day. I can decide for the next month whether I would prefer to continue to save money and set my target around $40-45 per day, OR if I felt like I was deprived that month of certain luxuries (dining out, nightlife, tours, etc.) I can decide to keep the budget at $50 a day and remind myself to splurge a little more often.


While geeky, I have found this to be incredibly helpful in allowing me to both stay on budget and get an accurate gauge for exactly how much I should plan to save for my travels before I depart on my next adventure.


Happy saving!


UPDATE: You can now find and use my updated budget spreadsheet here.

Select file > download to create your own excel file, or file > copy to create your own google doc where you can plug in your own numbers. 


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  1. You’ve inspired me to make my own ledger for my upcoming trip but I think I trumped you on nerdyness lol. I pulled out my quantitative analysis skills from college and made a ledger with graphs and charts. The model fetches currency/exchange rate information based on whatever country I tell it I’m in and compares my spending to my monthly income and breaks down what areas I’m spending my money.

    This is what happens when you’ve got nothing to do except wait for your departure date lol.

    • Haha, nice Will! Glad to know I have a fellow nerd out there 😉 Your graphs sound amazing. Do you have them posted on your blog? Also, where are you headed next?

      • Where's Wil Says: March 19, 2013 at 8:00 am

        I’ll probably post them when they’re more then just templates (right now they’re waiting for numbers)

        My journey starts April 4th in Thailand! I’m going throughout Southeast Asia. After that I have no idea where I’ll end up but no intention of stopping either.

  2. I’m living and working in Colombia for 6-12 months and trying to save a good portion of my intern stipend for a few months of traveling before I start a MS program in F2014. I’ve found that it’s much easier to save money when working abroad because I’m not surrounded by my usual temptations of online shopping or fancy cheeses. I try to stay busy by reading books on my kindle, walking, attending community yoga in the park ($2 USD) and occasionally taking short trips out of the city on weekends. I’ve struggled many times during my 5 weeks here, but I’m trying to enjoy the journey to being more at peace with myself.

  3. I am not on an adventure, I just love to budget. Nerds unite! Can you share??

  4. Michelle Combs Says: March 20, 2013 at 9:45 am

    I am not traveling either, but I WANT to in the very near future… I would love it if you could share your budget with me! Thank you in advance :)

  5. This is incredibly useful!

    You know what would be even awesomer? If you made an excel template and shared with us who are not that fluent in excel… :)

    • Yes! This is what I’ve been emailing out to my readers, but it would be GREAT to put the file up on here… let me figure out how to do that… perhaps I’m not that geeky after all 😉

  6. […] my crazy anal budgeting spreadsheet that I use when I travel? Well guess what? The geeky fun never stops! I also make a super obsessive […]

  7. […] The best way I have managed to become more aware of what I spend is through tracking my transactions in this spreadsheet. […]