Money and Travel: When to Make and When to Break the Budget

Navimag ferry, money and travel

The Navimag ferry.

Money, that piece of paper or metal in your pocket, has no value — until you buy something with it. Then, its value is up to you. Is it:

  • One taxi ride or a bus and fine pastry?
  • One week at a resort in high season or a two week road trip in the off season?
  • DSLR camera or a top quality point&shoot camera and new walking shoes?

In advance of a trip, you may plan to spend so much on accommodation, a certain amount on food and another amount shopping. But on your trip, things can change. Unexpected opportunities arise and you are faced with the decision of when to make or break your budget.

Hotel Raquel Havana, money and travel

My hotel in Havana.


Know What is Really Important to You

As a solo traveler, you choose how to spend your money. You aren’t forced to spend money in way that doesn’t interest you. So, the question is: what interests you? What’s important?

Some people will almost starve to save money for a fabulous pair of shoes on a trip to Italy. Others would traipse around in decade old clothes to afford the Reserva wine at that special vineyard in Chile.

Yes, you can come in under budget one place to break it in another.

When I arrived in Santiago I paid the equivalent of $35 to take a taxi from the airport to the apartment that was generously lent to me for that trip. When I returned to Santiago from Patagonia, I took a transfer from the airport and paid of $12. When I left for the airport to return home, I paid about $3.60 going by public transit. Each mode accomplished the task. By not taking a taxi I saved $54.40 – the cost of the wonderful textile art I bought (but had not budgeted) was $60. You can see what’s important to me.

Know Your Relationship to Money and Stress

It’s easy to get carried away with cool travel gear but there is a point where cool can turn into stress. If your gear is expensive, you might travel worried about its safety. In this case, your choice to spend a lot, even if you can afford it, has compromised your travels. Know the point between cool and stress and you will spend the right amount.

When I was buying my latest digital camera I knew what I was looking for. One priority was a camera that was priced such that I would grieve the loss of my photos but not really the loss of my camera should we part. Yes, I would be upset if the camera disappeared. But it was $300, not a $1000. I didn’t sweat it. (Confession: I still mourn the loss of my Pentax K1000 lost in Paris in 1985.)

When to Make the Budget

Following these two thoughts above, I would suggest that you make (or even spend short of) the budget when:

  • You can get the same results/pleasure/satisfaction at a lower cost.
  • You don’t care about something very much.
  • The expense would worry you.

When to Break the Budget

Fortunately, there are always times to break loose and break the budget. Do so when:

  • It’s buying something tangible that you will value long term.
  • It feeds whatever you are passionate about in this world – food, wine, art….
  • It is fun in a way that is just not possible anywhere else.

Understanding your relationship to money and travel, and spending with awareness can help you travel more.


  • Cindy Van Vreede

    I will always try to travel on the cheap if I can. My last two trips I stayed with friends. No hotel costs, no car rental costs. Yeah me! I paid more for food than I would have, but the generosity from my friends made treating for a few meals well worth it. My travel plans for 2015 also include staying with friends. This is what I’ll need to do until my finances improve. And I really don’t have a problem with that.

  • Leslie Crump Anderson

    I loved splurging at the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong for their afternoon tea. Or on a $10 pisco sour at El Monestario Hotel in Cusco. I wondered what “the little people” were doing! LOL!

  • Spinster

    Way past time for me to live a little. Thank you.

  • solotraveler

    I’m glad it works for you. Stress is no fun. I hope you resolve the struggle.

  • Spinster

    Thanks for writing about this. This is something that I struggle with in all aspects of my life because I’m often stressed about money. Even now, I’m going to Italy in June and I’m worrying about how I’m gonna afford a plane ticket, how to get to the hotel, how to get around, what to eat & drink, what to buy for my aunt & uncle, etc. etc. you get the point. ­čśÉ I’ll save this to look at when the stress becomes too much. ­čśÉ

  • Akila

    Great topic! We always scrimp on our hotels and hostels, ensuring that they meet our budget, and usually overspend on food. But, as you say, that’s because we are passionate about food and it makes us happy to indulge in a good meal. We remember those meals much more than we remember our hotels/hostels.

  • Rich

    Absolutely. Money, or more specifically how u decide to spend it can really define your trip. It’s no good having the freedom of a fast and speced up notebook if it limits the way you travel because your worried about security and the cost of replacing it.
    The amount of times I’ve found myself glaring at a rickshaw driver for openly working me for an extra $1’s the principle right? I might have given it if we struck up an accord and he didn’t act so flatly entitled to it, but let’s not turn this into a discussion about rickshaws :)

  • Cam @ Traveling Canucks

    This is a topic that, as a traveling couple, we face often. We’ve found ourselves bartering hard with tuk-tuk drivers to save a dollar, only to then turn around and spend 10 dollars on a case of beer… it’s definitely interesting to see what items create heated discussion!