Can I be honest for a second? Money is the one thing that fuels my travels. Without it, it’s almost impossible to travel.
When travelling, money is always tied to the idea of opportunity cost. If I splurge in one area, I can’t splurge in another. It’s a constant trade-off that I need to justify to myself over and over again. These days, I spend more on accommodation because I work and travel meaning I want a good night’s rest and quiet and comfortable space to work in the day.
In my opinion, not enough people talk about money – how they make it, how they save it, how they spend it, how they use what they have to make more of it etc. While I’m obviously not an expert, I thought I’d contribute to this super important conversation about money, and the money habits I practice while travelling.
Before taking off
- Before going on any trip, I make sure I have enough money for a plane ticket home because you never know what might happen. From Europe, this would be around RM2000, from South East Asia I’ve found RM600 to be good enough. This means that the weeks leading up to the trip, I’m watching my bank balance like a hawk. Every cent spent is calculated and every purchase is assessed.
- I always buy travel insurance. Remember the time I got robbed in Bali? I thought I was going to be stranded without a safety net but I was lucky to have friends and strangers show me immense kindness. However, I am aware that I might not be that lucky the next time. Travel insurance gives me a little peace of mind – I know that medical bills will be covered, flight changes or cancellations will be taken care of and stolen items will be reimbursed. Sure, there are a lot of forms that need to be filled out, but at least the financial blow from a shitty occurrence will be softened (sort of).
- Have I mentioned that I can be a real cheapskate? Yes, I can be a lot of the time. To fuel my cheapskate-ness, I often find myself comparing prices of accommodation and activities online before making a booking.
- Travelling in the off-season has saved me a lot of money because everything is cheaper, sometimes up to half of the high-season price. Sure I don’t get to experience a destination in its full glory, but I also don’t have to fight with a million other tourists at every attraction. Personally, I prefer a more mellow experience of a destination.
- I make it a point to note the exchange rates. Obvious, I know. But I sometimes neglect to find out because the math is too hard. It’s terribly embarrassing.
- When I travel, I usually spend two weeks at a destination because it gives me time to learn more about the place and its people. I usually keep track of my spending for the first 3 – 5 days, making note of how much food, transport and other basics cost. Then, I set out a budget for the remaining days and do my best to stick to it.
- While on the topic of ATMs, let’s talk about banks. Before you leave, make sure to inform your bank that you’ll be travelling so that they don’t block your card while you’re abroad. It happened to me here in Chiang Mai because I forgot to let my bank know about my travels. Again, I was lucky to have my parents cover my expenses till I contacted the bank and sorted my card out.
- Also, it’s good practice to carry multiple cards from multiple banks. I carry two debit cards and one credit card at the moment, and they’re from the same bank and linked to the same account. The downside here is that if your account is frozen for whatever reason (re previous point), you have another account that can be used in the meantime.
- If you’re travelling to South East Asia, it’s cheaper to book accommodation in person than online. It’s common for backpackers to book a night or two online beforehand, then look for accommodation for the rest of their trip once they reach the destination. While I’ve read this piece of advice on a few blogs, it’s not yet proven to be true for me. In Chiang Mai, I’m now staying in a place advertised on Airbnb and the rates online and offline were exactly the same. Maybe I’m doing something wrong here? I’m not sure. Let me know! I’m a terrible negotiator. Fact.
- After the robbery, I bought myself a money belt but have been pretty crap at using it. While it’s uncomfortable, I do appreciate the convenience having my hands free and making myself a more complicated target for future robbers. So, use a money belt.
- While travelling, carry emergency Benjamins because they’re accepted everywhere. The next best currency is the British pound. I have 2 $100 notes, one with me at all times and another stashed in my backpack.
- Okay, this might come across a little crazy but I stash money in multiple pockets and multiple bags. For instance, in my day bag, I have money in my purse in the pocket of my trousers, but also money in a pocket of my bag. I also have more money in my larger backpack that I leave in my accommodation. I know it sounds crazy but I like knowing that in the event one money stash goes missing, I’ve got backups in other areas.
- When I go away on long-term trips, I never take enough cash with me because I don’t trust myself to be carrying hundreds or thousands of the local currency. Instead, I withdraw cash from the local ATMs. Honestly, I am more than happy for a bank to charge me a small transaction fee compared to what I could lose. So, I carry enough to last me a day or two, plus enough to pay for my accommodation if necessary. Also, don’t ever withdraw money from ATMs in airports unless you absolutely need to. They tend to charge a higher transaction fee or give you a crappy exchange rate.
- I never spend money on souvenirs. I think they are a waste of money and backpack space. I don’t need a key chain to remind me of my time in Lisbon, I’ve got pictures, my writing and friendships to remind me of that special time. On the flip side, how many times have you received a souvenir and actually used it or cherished it? Be honest here. If you really love your friends and family and want to remind them of your existence, send them a postcard. Better yet, spend time with them and treat them to a coffee or cocktail when you get home.
On giving regardless of where you are
- Give away 10% of your income. It’s not just a religious thing, it’s a good habit to practice because it trains your mind not to hoard every good thing that happens to you. It teaches you to share and to be generous. But man is it hard. I’ll be the first person to tell you that this is a hard one to practice. The more you earn, the more 10% represents, even if in the grand scheme of things, it’s only 10% of everything you make. To rip off the bandaid that is giving quick and easy, pick a charity or cause or even a church, and set up a monthly direct debit.
- Get rid of remaining coins before leaving the country. Practically speaking, no money changer dispenses coins or accepts them. Instead, give it to a poor student, use it for laundry, drop it in a donations box, give it to a busker, tip a waiter, leave a treasure trail for a lucky stranger – so many ways to use up those coins. Get creative.
Honestly, I think the one thing I’ve not cracked yet is when to be frugal and when not be frugal. For the most part, I’d like to think that I strike a good balance but there are times when I go a little insane on my quest to save a few cents here or a few dollars there. Other times, I go to the other extreme and splurge like a queen. Sometimes, my money habits just don’t make sense.
But hey, it’s all part of the journey, isn’t it?