Thirsty Thursday: A Lesson in Travel Budgeting

Thirsty Thursday: A Lesson in Travel Budgeting

My husband and I are often asked how we can afford to travel. We’re usually asked if we’re independently wealthy (haha, nope) or if our families help fund our trips (no). The easy answer is that we’ve made traveling a priority, so we don’t stop until the finances fall into place to support our trips. But we’ve also learned to prioritize while we’re ON a trip to really maximize the fun. I used to think everyone was like this, but I’ve learned that’s not true. So I wanted to share this lesson the best way I know how – by sharing a simple story.

Allow me to paint the picture

There we were, total strangers, sitting around a small fire pit in an international hostel in Singapore. Hailing from all around the world, the only thing we had in common was that circumstance had brought us to this dusty, chaotic spot. We had all introduced ourselves and as is common in hostels, our entire group had become fast friends.

The group of 8 was made up of the following people:

My husband and I – we had just quit our jobs and bought one-way tickets to Asia. We’d been on the road for a few weeks, and as we had no jobs lined up back home, we were trying our best to make the trip last as long as it could.

We also had among us (Full disclosure: I’m totally making up these names because I don’t remember their actual names…)

Kurt, from Germany – a young man traveling solo for a few months in between University.

Jill was 18 and from California. This was her first trip overseas.

Chris and Michelle were from Australia – they’d been on the road for about 5 months and Singapore was the last stop on their way home.

Laura was the oldest in the group. She was Italian, widowed and retired. She came to Singapore for a couple week and was planning on visiting Hong Kong next. She didn’t have any plans beyond that, but knew for sure she wasn’t ready to go home quite yet.

So there we were – a mixed group, a rag-tag bunch of travelers.But the conversation was lively, the minutes were flying by, and we were beginning to realize that our stomachs were rumbling.

That’s when the front desk attendant, Charles, came to tell us about the bar across the street.

“It’s Thirsty Thursday. In 30 minutes, they’re going to start their nightly specials. Good prices on beer and appetizers. I’m going to head over there in a bit in case anyone wants to join me.”

Charles had been working at the hostel for a almost a year. He was also American, and was working to save money for his next adventure. He had started in Asia as it was so cheap to travel through, but was hoping to make it to Europe soon.

Now, I tell you a bit about everyone’s background because it’s actually relevant to what happens next. We, of course, decided to continue our little party at the bar across the street.

We had thirty minutes to spare

My husband and I, in an effort to conserve our stash of cash, headed to the hostel kitchen. We’d decided to have a little snack before heading out. We quickly boiled a couple eggs, and steamed some dumplings to munch on.

As we were nibbling on our appetizers, Chris and Michelle wandered in. We watched as they made themselves a full meal of hot soup, fried garlic rice, steamed green beans and stirfried eggplant. They sat down next to us on the rickety hostel kitchen table.

A little while later, we all assembled in the front lobby and headed across the street.

Chris and Michelle, having already filled up at the hostel, each ordered a few of Β the beers on special. My husband and I each ordered a drink and a small plate of spring rolls to share. Laura ordered a bowl of Laksa (a spicy Malaysian coconut soup with shrimp) and a Diet Coke. Charles ordered dumplings off the specials menu, stir-fried shrimp noodles off the regular menu, and 4 imported (non-special) beers. Jill ordered nothing, but came along for the conversation and camaraderie. Kurt, the German beer snob that he was, ordered only some egg rolls and noodle soup.

My husband and I were intentional about our spending that night

We wanted to enjoy some food and drink, but we also wanted to conserve our travel fund. By preparing some snacks ahead of time, we were able to order minimal food and we each nursed one drink each. Chris and Michelle, the couple from Australia, were finishing up a long term trip. To survive a round-the-world trip, this couple needed to master their budgeting skills.

They had decided beer sounded better than food, so they ate dinner cheaply at the hostel, and splurged on a couple cheap beers.

Kurt, deciding the beer wouldn’t be to his liking, opted instead to order his favorite foods.

Laura, who was undeniably rich, was trying to be inconspicuous with her humble order.

Jill had spent all her money on the plane tickets and hostel charges. She couldn’t afford much else, but she didn’t care. She was just happy to listen and talk with us.

Charles, however, was neither intentional nor pragmatic with his spending. His bill was the highest on the table. In fact, it was almost as much as all the other tabs combined. From the easy way he was talking with the waitstaff, I suspected he was something of a regular.

Here’s what I find fascinating

As we all sat around the table, telling our travel stories, and giving advice about life on the road – one thing was clear. Regardless of the amount of money we spent that evening, everyone shared in the magic of the night. We all enjoyed ourselves and laughed until we cried.Β If anything, Charles was the least enthusiastic that night – complaining about the long hours he worked at the hostel and wishing he could go to Italy, Australia or Hong Kong but he just didn’t have the money saved yet.


The people who had the means to spend a ton of cash that chose not to. Budget conscious travelers realize that being ON the trip is the splurge.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on fancy meals, tours, or souvenirs to get the most value out of your trip. If you think you can’t afford to travel, really spend some time thinking about where you can compromise.

What makes the trip for you? If it’s trying all the amazing food, can you compromise on a cheaper accommodation? Or if it’s those once-in-a-lifetime tours, can you make most of your own food cheaply?



27 thoughts on “Thirsty Thursday: A Lesson in Travel Budgeting”

  • Great post! I’m definitely the same type of traveler: make food at the hostel and enjoy small meals out. Rather spend that money on experiences and another plane ticket!

  • This is so true! I actually like to solo travel much more because I myself decide how much am I going to spend on food and such and no one’s looking at me like I’m a weirdo who don’t know how to enjoy life. I do know. And I wish I could spend more money on the food. But if I am to choode between travelling and eating, I will always make sure I can actually travel. As much as I love food, it always comes second and I don’t need that much!

  • Hi, I loved this post. We also like our holidays and save up for them we set out a clear budget and stick to it. We can travel with a group of friends and we all have our own budgets and what we wish to spend our money on. That said we have a great time together.

  • Thank you for sharing!!! When I traveled through Europe I took complete advantage of the hostels kitchen. Most of them have complimentary breakfast or at the very least give you access to the kitchen to prepare your own food. I can’t say I was able to dine out very much but I still had an amazing trip. Besides the plane and train tickets, there are so many things to explore and do that don’t code a thing once you are in whatever country you want to go to. I think a lot of people don’t realize that. And hostels can be such an amazing addition to your trip. The employees are friendly and there is a great community among the patrons. I’m sure there are exceptions but traveling cheaply overseas is totally possible!

    • Yes! I totally agree. I am always so happy to just BE on the trip that even the “free” activities are fun and exciting. I often remind myself that just being able to visit another country IS the splurge. No need to go crazy with all the extras.

  • So true. My boyfriend and I are currently trying to budget for a trip to Indonesia. We both agreed that we want the experience of travel. We decided that hostels were the way to go! Thanks for sharing.

  • You are living my dream! Every day I ask myself why I don’t travel more and money is almost always the reason why. Thanks for sharing your tips! I hope to travel overseas soon.

  • “Budget conscious travelers realize that being ON the trip is the splurge. ” This is so well said and SUCH an amazing reminder. We are the same when we travel but have a lot to learn from you guys it seems!

  • Where you are is where I dream my writing can take me. Traveling the world and sharing about it with people. I am pretty far away from that goal right now, but as I work towards it, I’ll live vicariously through your blog, as I love your writing style.

  • Love your story. Poor Charles. It is always good to plan before setting out. The problem is that many people do not plan well. I think the first thing to do is to know where you want to go and then plot the strategy: Where you are going to stay, feeding, how you will travel between communities and deal with the different cultures or people you meet. If you do your research, you should also be able to identify ways of saving money, cooking your own meal for instance. The important thing is to have fun even as you try to save some money. There are so many free fun activities wherever you go. Ask people you meet and they will point you in that direction. I love the flea and open markets

  • Absolutely! Whenever you’re travelling, you need to make budgetary decisions that will be unique to you. We all have different passions and priorities and if we acknowledge them and our financial limitations, awe can still have an awesome trip.

  • An interesting perspective with the different people around the table. you are right travel is about prioritising what’s important in your life. Do you want to redecorate every year and have a new car every 2 years or see something of the world and buy second-hand furniture! We have wonderful solid wood second-hand furniture and a very old second-hand car and we are richer for it πŸ™‚

  • Great post, I like how you introduced everyone, their order and their spending priorities. As a food blogger people expect me to spend loads of money on restaurants when I travel but my vacations usually prioritize sightseeing and I eat snacks more which can be cheaper for sure. China was awesome for that I once got a curry in a non touristy area – a huge portion – for like 2$

  • You laid this article out so well. I really get what you are saying and agree, have noticed the same. You can spend as much or as little as you want, but the trip is the biggest part of the enjoyment. The other enhancers are just that, adding value in the things you find enjoyment in.

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