Managing one’s money during travels can be such a hassle. But, for budget travellers like me, every penny counts! I do not consider myself as an expert, having been caught in a financial rut at one point or another in my life. But, I do learn my lesson. :) Here are some of the few budget travelling tools I use, the workability of each I have gathered throughout my travels. :)
Create your budget before leaving. This is crucially important, especially if you are travelling abroad – so you can be sure that you’re bringing enough money during your travels. As you would be going out of the country, you need to know if you’re bringing enough money to have changed in the country you’re visiting.
I usually create an Excel sheet (because I find it easier for me to manipulate; but you can choose to write it on paper, if that suits you better!), where I list down all the foreseen expenses (transportation, food, hotel, tours, pasalubong, etc.), what have already been paid (usually, flights, hotel down payments, etc.), how much would be paid via credit card (usually flights, hotel down payments, etc.), how much would be paid in my country’s currency (cab ride to the airport, airport tax, terminal fee), how much would be paid in the currency of the country I’m visiting (food, hotels, tours, terminal fee, transportation, pasalubong), how much would be paid in USD (flights, tours, hotels). I also include about 10% for miscellaneous expenses.
I find this step to be useful because it gives me a less than rough idea of the money I’d have to bring for my trip. It also gives me an idea of how much dollars I need to buy, so I would have enough to have changed when I get to the country I’m visiting. This also lets me avoid the hassle of finding an ATM that would accept my local card or be slapped with a huge surcharge for withdrawing money from an ATM in a different country.
My first out-of-the-country trip was in 2011, when I visited Bangkok, Thailand, for 5 days. I only brought about 200 USD with me (not smart, yeah?), thinking that I wouldn’t be spending a lot since I would mostly be attending a workshop. Boy, was I wrong. My travel companion and I decided to go out in the evenings, visit the Grand Palace, and do some (well, a lot of!) shopping during our free time. I ended up withdrawing money from my ATM account and dealt with the huge surcharges afterwards. I overspent roughly 50% of my total (non-existent) budget because of that error.
When we wandered in wonderful Indonesia in 2013, though, my friend Angge and I created our budget before hand. We created our own Excel sheet for the cheapest flights, how much we would be spending on hotels, how much we intend to spend for tours, how much we intend to spend for pasalubongs, and how much we would be spending for food. We still mismanaged it at one point because we missed a lot of detail (like water expenses) so we ended up staying in Bali and not getting to tour around Bali and visit Ubud.
But, last year, I had two out-of-the-country trips – Singapore in January and Indonesia in September. In Singapore, I didn’t have time to create an Excel sheet but set a budget of Php 5,000.00 as pocket-money. My friend, Peach, and I toured Singapore with that amount! We ate at hawker stalls, rode trains and buses, did a walking tour of Singapore, and chose to visit a museum that wouldn’t charge a lot. :)
Last year, too, I again joined my partner and some friends in visiting Indonesia, this time we employed this tip. We created our budget, contacted drivers and tours beforehand, and did an extensive research in terms of how much we would be spending on food, hotels, tours, etc. For 5 days, I brought 350 USD for the tours, entrance fees, hotels, pasalubongs, etc. And, it turned out pretty good! I didn’t overspend (thank, God!) and I still had a few rupiah to spare at the end of our trip. :)
Buy dollars from friends or acquaintances to get a better deal. Once I’ve created my budget, it gives me a better idea about how much dollars I should buy. I usually ask friends who receive money from relatives abroad, or friends who have recently gone back from a trip abroad, if they have dollars they would want to sell. We usually follow the exchange rate on BSP website, which would be a win-win situation for us (this would give them a better rate than if they sell their dollars in a bank, the same way that it would give me a better rate than if I buy dollars from a bank or from a money exchange institution). I employed this when I visited Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia.
Bring enough PHP for the cab ride to the airport, airport tax, and terminal fee, as well as for the cab ride back home. This is usually taken for granted by people (it took me a few out of the country trips before I took this into account, when I create my budget), but is very helpful in terms of managing your travel finances. Having enough PHP in your wallet to cover these things before at least a day before your scheduled trip does away with the hassle of having to find an ATM to withdraw money as well as in managing your money when you get back from a trip. When we did our trip to Singapore, I mismanaged my finances and ended up having to eat the leftovers in my fridge to get by before the next payday (oops).
Get your money changed with institutions with the best exchange rates. For some, this may not be important. But, for budget travellers like me, again, every penny counts! Do your research or ask your local guide (esp. if you already trust him!) for tips.
I would usually get a 100 USD changed to the local currency, in the airport. Why 100 USD? Because, this usually gets the better rate (case in point, in Bali, we got better rates in the airport than we had our money exchanged while we were in the city proper). If you’re visiting several cities at a time, too, do your research with regard to where it is best to have your money changed. For example, in Indonesia, we found that the rates are better in Jogjakarta than in Bali – so I asked my partner, Justine, to have my money exchanged in Jogjakarta, where they spent a few days to visit Borobudur and Prambanan Temples, before we met up in Bali. The difference may only be a few rupiah, but hey, again, every penny counts!
Don’t let yourself be fooled as well with too-good-to-be-true exchange rates! These may be scammers and you may end up losing money than getting a fair rate. Please also watch out for surcharges. And, make sure to count your money before you leave!
Use an app or prepare a document, your choice, where you can monitor your expenses vs your available spending money. I prefer the old-fashioned notebook with columns for items (where I would list down what the money would be or have been spent for), USD (for expenses in this currency), local currency (for expenses in the local currency), and PHP (for expenses in my home country). This proves to be useful in terms of monitoring where my money goes and what currency I’m using – also to see if I still have enough left for the rest of my trip!
Have separate envelopes for different currencies. This would make it easier for you to know how much money you still have left, if you need to have more dollars exchanged, or if you still have money for the terminal fee and for the taxi cab when you get home. I bought this purse in Jogjakarta, that has two pockets – one for the local currency in the country I’m visiting, one for USD, and I insert my PHP in a sleeve. This helps in avoiding paying in a different currency as well. (That’s the purse, right there!)
Opt for a common fund. This is especially useful for those travelling in a group and if you prefer not to do the math every time you eat or pay for a cab ride. We did this several times in out-of-town trips and in our trip to Indonesia. We each gave 100 USD, had it changed, and I was assigned to handle the common fund. I would tell them if we are about to use up all of our money in the common fund and we will just replenish it before that happens. This does away with the process of having to compute now and then, having to remember who paid what – the entire math of it. :)
Use an app or know the exchange rate in the country. I use XE (can be downloaded for free on App Store) and I just make my own adjustments because they tend to offer a better rate. Or, I create a workable exchange rate in my head to ease the process of haggling. I’ve used this trick for several times now and this proved to be helpful! When we were in Malioboro, Jogjakarta, Indonesia, I asked Angge and Kuya to walk ahead of me because I knew that it would take me time to haggle – 20,000 IDR would approximately be equal to 1 USD. And, that made the entire haggling process so much easier for me!
Haggle. Some people are not comfortable doing this. Initially, I was, too! I felt like I’m short-changing the locals in terms of what they could really earn, should a different buyer purchase their goods. However, I learned later on, that, for some people, haggling is actually a game! And, that point of view made it fun for me. :)
Before leaving for Indonesia in 2013, my friend, Arianne, shared with me that haggling for Indonesians is a game. I didn’t believe it. I thought that it may perhaps be just her view. But, when we were in Jogjakarta, I experienced this first-hand.
As we were on our way to our hired van, a few vendors approached Kuya, Angge, and me. I initially just shrugged them off because I knew that buying in a place full of tourist would have the prices of goods skyrocket. Kuya would out rightly say no to the offer. The vendor would egg him on to haggle with him (cool, yeah?). Kuya bought one replica at 75,000 IDR (roughly 6.00 USD at that time). He thought it was cheap! Then, another vendor approached Angge and me – he offered us to buy the same replicas for 100,000 IDR (7.75 USD) for two replicas! We bought, of course. Haha! Then, another vendor approached us again – this time targeting me. I was initially irritated, thinking that I’ve already brought one and I don’t need more of it. He was persistent. His offer went down as we were nearing the van. Angge was telling me, “Dude, that’s cheap. Are you sure you are not buying? I don’t think it will go further down.” I told her, “Probably. But, I’m not buying it at that price.” She asked, “At what price will you consider buying it.” I answered, “100,000 IDR (7.75 USD) for 4 figurines.” Angge was like, “Haha! You’re crazy!” And, I was! Haha! But, the vendor asked me, “How much do you want?” I told him my offer. He hesitantly agreed. Score! (Picture below: with the stupas of Borobudur Temple, a replica of which I bought from the vendor).
I felt kind of bad, to be honest. But, I thought, if he really didn’t want to sell it to me or if the price I wanted for it was really off their SRP, then he wouldn’t give it to me, right? So, I kind of learned my lesson. And, I came up with my strategy when we went to Malioboro, still in Jogjakarta. I would ask how much they’re selling it for. I would ask if they can sell it to me at 25% the price. Of course, they wouldn’t! But, it would usually end at about 50% their initial offer.
I would say that this strategy worked not because of my sheer genius in math (no, I’m not really good at it). But, because I really relate to them. I smile a lot and I have conversations with them to get to know them better. Not with the intention of getting a good discount, but because I also find it my way of immersing in their culture. I wouldn’t push for a ridiculous amount. If they don’t give it to me, I won’t take it against them. I would just move to the next vendor and consider it as a way of knowing more people. :)
Keep the rest of the money as souvenirs. I most certainly do this! Aside from photos, I also keep the rest of the money I’ve had changed as souvenirs. I have some coins and paper bills left from my previous trips abroad. And, for Indonesia, I got to use in my 2014 travel to Indonesia what was left from my 2013 trip.
These are just some of the financial management tools I’ve learned from and have used in my travels. I hope that you find these useful, too!
What about you? What money management tools do you use when you travel? I admit that most of these tips are based on carrying cash or credit card with me – through which I inevitably take into consideration the exchange rates and fees. I haven’t really tried using bitcoins or other money-saving/spending tools aside from these. But, I’ve heard of this possibly useful tool, Xapo, which allows you to manage your money without worrying about exchange rates or fees all through their bitcoin wallet app. Have you tried using it? How was it? Or, do you have other tools that you use that are not on the list? Do you have other ideas on how to improve what I’m accustomed to doing/using? If you do, please let me know! I still consider myself as a newbie in terms of out-of-the-country travels and there are a lot more room for learning! Share and let us help each other out in making the most of our buck. :)
- The Php 5,000 Singapore Challenge: How we did it (seeyamonica.com)
- Explore Yogyakarta in a Budget (theredbackpacker.com)
- Life’s a Beach! – Weekend Getaway at Crystal Beach Resort (seeyamonica.com)
Liked what you read? Share the love! Follow See ya, Monica on social media to get updates on my recent travels, with tips and a lot of shares on what I got during my trips. Plus, some barely edited photos to give you the most authentic feel of the place. (I do not know how to use Photoshop, and what I can only do are cropping, adjusting brightness and colors the way I remember it):
Thank you! And, in whatever space you’re in now, I hope that you get something from reading my articles.