That holds true whether you’re traveling or not; but when you are on the go and converting currencies with a variable income there is a tendency to balance your budget on the fly. That’s where most travelers get into financial trouble because our brains have evolved to focus on large expenditures (called “efficient selection“) and ignore the details of those things that don’t excite us emotionally.
Fortunately for us, computers don’t have to care to care about keeping track of our money and what does excite us – travel – is just the incentive we can use to fill in the gaps from there.
You Suck At Estimating – Science Says So
The worst thing you can try to do is keep track of a budget without assistance. We consistently overestimate our memories and concentration. To avoid having that “oh, where did all my money go” moment you need a backup plan. Leaving everything behind to head out on an adventure is romantic but nobody ever writes about the traveler who ends up broke and living with mom. You don’t want to be that nomad, here’s how to avoid it.
Use A 3-Month Plan Rent Strategy
Your largest expenditure most anywhere in the world is typically rent and the most important. To survive in the travel wild you need to secure shelter and this 3-month buffer plan can help you identify problems before you’re living in the streets.
In case your income becomes thin:
- Month 1: Helps you identify a problem in your budget
- Month 2: Gives you time to find a solution and save
- Month 3: In case you don’t find a solution to your budget woes
This strategy can be adapted to your particular situation (6 month plan or something similar) but you need a buffer. Aside from keeping a roof over your head, this buffer – as you add on to it – will give you an idea of how much extra (read: travel) money you’ll have to enjoy. More buffer, more travel.
Find Banks That Don’t Charge You Fees
Depending on where you live and where you’re going this can vary but one of the best banks in the world (that often doesn’t charge fees for withdrawals from their own ATMs) is HSBC. They can be found in 85 countries and have over 7,200 branches; chances are there’s one somewhere where you’ll be visiting.
- Transfer Money Wisely – High-interest savings accounts like INGDirect or Ally can earn you a few cents and dollars each month but are also useful as fee-free money movers between bank accounts. (They also let you send and receive money from some accounts to avoid Paypal fees.)
Withdraw Big, Carry Small
Withdrawal and currency conversion fees add up (use Latte Factor to calculate how much) so limit how many times you go to the bank. As a general rule, each day you shouldn’t carry more than you’re willing to have stolen (as a precaution) but you don’t want to withdraw too often.
- Have Multiple Accounts – A main, a backup, and one for emergencies. Avoid carrying all 3 cards on you in case of pick pocketing.
Track Fees And See Where Your Money Goes
My personal favorite Mint is an online budgeting tool that connects to most bank and credit card accounts to closely track where your money goes. Mint is especially useful in tracking fees and sends weekly email updates.
- Don’t Get Stuck With The Bill – The free iOS/Android/Web app Splitwise lets you track expenses so everyone puts in their fair share during group trips.
Notify Your Bank And Protect Your Financial Flank
Now that you’re tracking your money, make sure you have access to it by notifying your banks of any international travel before your trip. Many financial institutions will place temporary blocks on accounts accessed from international locations as a precaution. (Another good reason to have multiple accounts.) A quick call to let them know you’ll be headed to Fiji for two weeks will help keep your account accessible, make the person on the phone a bit jealous, and have you even more excited to travel.
I originally published this post on the Travelllll, which will be closing its digital doors at the end of the month.