Trying not to suck at shoestring travel

I’ve always been awful at sticking to budget.

When I left for my first backpacking trip, I had about $7,600 cash saved for 3 months in Europe. I had a $4,500 limit credit card that I had gotten “for emergencies.”

I spent it all and came back dead broke and in debt. I had such high expectations for that trip, but I hadn’t realized that when you travel, you take yourself with you–flaws and all. I wasn’t going to magically turn into a budget queen just because I was abroad. I was reckless before I left and I was just as reckless once I got there.

Mistake #1: Bringing my credit card to the bar

I did this almost every single night during the first trip, and I was amused/horrified when I read my bill and saw how much I’d spend on a night out. Ibiza was especially awful because every drink was around $20.

Crazy fun, but crazy expensive.

For my second trip I still did it once in a while, but I got way, way better at this. Also–I didn’t go to Ibiza that time around.

Mistake #2: Buying plane tickets last minute

I’m not sure if I really count this as a mistake, because I loved being able to do this. I’d look at a map of Europe and randomly decide where to go the next day, and it was the best feeling. However, it also ate up my budget. Sometimes I could have saved a lot of money if I had just taken a long train, but I was impatient–I wanted to go immediately. I don’t regret any of the choices I made. But next time around I’ll have to research more options or try to plan a bit more advance before making a decision.

Mistake #3: Eating out…all the time

I didn’t buy food at a grocery store until 2 months into my first trip. Can you believe that?? I ate out for meals almost every single day until then. I was an idiot. My second time around, I practically lived off of cartons of gazpacho in Spain until I thoroughly grossed myself out and had to stop (my Bloody Mary substitute, I guess).

Mistake #4: Cabbing everywhere

I was really good about taking public transport at the beginning. But sometimes showing up to a new city where you don’t speak the language was scary enough, let alone trying to navigate yourself around.

I was even scared to take the tourist cable car the first time around.

I stopped making excuses my second time around and did my research. But I easily wasted $200-300 during the first trip.

Mistake #5: Missing my buses/trains

Some of this was pure stupidity. I’d stay out all night then (surprise, surprise) sleep through a 7 a.m. alarm. But some of this was intentional, and it was worth it. I was supposed to leave Barcelona a million times that summer. I missed the first bus by accident. I missed the next one because a boy asked me to stay. I extended my stay there day after day until I was finally ready to leave.

Then…I came back and the same thing happened. So again, I don’t regret this. But it did eat a hole through my budget.

Mistake #6: Shopping

There was a point during my first trip when I was shopping every day.

Those 5 euro sunglasses add up…

I think part of it was because I was bored–I had become complacent in Barcelona and I got stuck in the routine of making the same loop every day. Instead of browsing through H&M (it actually took an embarrassingly long time to figure out what “HENNES & MAURITZ” was on my credit card bill) I should have been exploring different parts of the city, or making daytrips to Sitges or Girona. I had gotten stuck in my comfort zone (and people there dress so damn well).

During my second backpacking trip, I came back with almost a grand, but also maxed out my credit limit again. Since South America will be a much longer trip, I’m hoping that if I learn to budget now that it won’t be this much of a problem later.

I’ll keep you updated on how THAT goes…


4 thoughts on “Trying not to suck at shoestring travel

  1. We have found that the trick with last minute plane tickets is not caring where you go. You can use skyscanner and plug in where you are and then search by cheapest flights out to anywhere. Kind of like a game of destination roulette!

    Really fun if you are open to seeing some different things.

    • Oohh thanks for the tip!! I’ll definitely be using that in the future. Back then I had been using mainly just Kayak and I would read the price in Euros while forgetting about the exchange rate…

  2. Pingback: South America planning « adultescence

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