Smart Budgeting: Maximise Your Travel Funds

Often, Hristina and I get asked: “How do you find the money and time to travel to all those places you guys go?”. In many respects, when looking at professional travel bloggers and vloggers it may look like you are worlds apart, yet it’s not true, you can do it too! Below we aim to answer:

But how on earth do you manage your money when hopping from country to country? How do you access it cheaply and safely? What if something goes wrong? How do you stop yourself running out of cash halfway around the world?

That’s why we decided to write this article and share our expert advice to the issues above on how to stretch your hard earned money and how you can get more value out of your trips.

1. Plan Your Trip

To start with, one of the major issues we often see is that people don’t plan ahead. Planning is simply key to enjoy your time in the destination but more importantly being aware of the costs ahead.

We often find that planning for the trip ahead, several months in advance not only gives us the opportunity to research the museums and attractions and thus the costs associated with the entry fees but also reviewing dining places. How often do you hear that someone went to a tourist trap and paid extortionate amounts of money for a plain pasta bowl? Does is it sound familiar?

In our article How to Plan a Trip we suggest a few things to help travellers get their journey started. Our advice is, sit down on a Sunday night, with your laptops and just start discussing how should this trip look like. Jot down a few places and pin down a few must see attractions.

Last year we started using an app called Wanderlog to help us plan our trips and budget accordingly. The photo above is our high level plan for the rail trip around Western Europe.

At this stage, it’s all about filling up this white canvas with some ideas, nothing more. You are just after general notions of travel times, dates and points of interest. Everything is permitted and possible.

2. Create a Budget

Now that you’ve planned roughly your trip, it’s important to come down to Earth and contrast it with your finances. At this stage, it’s important to get a rough idea of how much money you can budget for this trip.

It wouldn’t be wrong to note it down on a spreadsheet for later reference. Account for visas, transport, accommodation, dining out and attractions. We use Wanderlog to log our budget estimates and then update this with the actual costs. The image above is from our budget for a long weekend in Lisbon.

Typically, most people would look at their savings accounts and see how much they can carve out. Having said this, disposable income isn’t the only source of finance one could use for a trip.

That’s why we suggest it’s important to look at a few sources which can help you finance your trip.

Firstly, a 0% credit card, or also known as a purchase card. These are great, especially if your trip is a particularly expensive one and paying it upfront could mean a substantial hit to your cashflow. 0% credit cards typically come with an interest free promotional period typically over 18 months which allow you to differ those payments for said period.

Secondly, look at your travel loyalty schemes that you are a member of. Whether you travel for work or otherwise, it’s wise to accrue points and use them for moments like this. Whilst different loyalty schemes work differently they can prove to substantially save you a considerable amount of money.

During our upcoming Interrail trip around Western Europe, we received a cashback offer through American Express for certain hotels. Whilst not all hotels on that list were viable, some did fit our requirements and we managed to save 25% off with the Platinum Cashback Credit Card. Apply through this link and you will earn £25 bonus cashback.

3. Research your Currency Exchange Rates (FX)

As you suspect, when travelling to a foreign destination, chances are that you will need a different currency. This gets exponentially more difficult if you’re touring several countries as part of your trip.

What we’ve noticed is that the exchange rates tend to be far better in destination rather than at home. Why?

Money is a good like any other, which can be bought and sold. The price or better said exchange rate, is then determined by its scarcity. For simplicity’s sake: there will be less GBP in the U.S. than in the U.K.. This means that when you exchange GBP to USD in the U.S., you will get a better rate than in the U.K.

Ever since our trip to Prague where by mistake we forgot to exchange some money ahead of time, we then realised it’s best to have some pocket money exchanged but the bulk of it to exchange it in destination.

In the U.K. there are various services you can use to exchange money. It’s important to compare rates and find out the best deal for you. We personally use Thomas Exchange Global as we found they offer consistently better rates than the competition. They also have plenty of offices in central London.

One other thing to consider is, to use the budget from the previous steps and make sure you exchange the right amount as you don’t want come back with unspent cash and then have to exchange it back.

Ideally, this might be the most important step to consider because what you may not want is to carefully plan your trip and then to go and loose 20% of your money by exchanging your money at the airport.

4. Consider Travel Bank Cards

One of the main issues with bank cards is that up until the last decade they were fairly prohibitive to use. Hence people would just walk around with large amounts of money in their money belts when exploring their destination. A big no no when you think of the implications of theft or loss of that belt.

Nowadays, more and more travel bank cards are available. Everything from prepaid cards to apps offering digital wallets through the use of NFC technology.

It’s important to note also that it doesn’t matter which bank you use for your current account, you can use any other bank or service out there to open a specialist FX account. Some examples include Starling Bank in the U.K. only or Revolut.

We recommend exploring the market and seeing which option works best for you. Whilst exchange rates on some accounts tend to be better, you might find that they come with many constraints, such as: only being able to exchange money Monday to Friday or certain caps apply.

Others may offer no fee ATM withdrawals, however, be aware that the ATM provider and the local bank may charge fees in addition.

For our needs, we chose Starling Bank, as they are a licensed bank in the U.K., hence you are protected by the relevant laws and regulations. It offers a good exchange rate facilitated by Mastercard which is not far from Interbank FX rates. We’ve noticed the benefit of using this account during our trip to Istanbul.

With high inflation conditions, make sure you exchange very little currency ahead. Best is to exchange daily if possible only for the things you know you have to pay in cash. Otherwise, we suggest you pay using a credit/debit card preferably without any bank fees. Essentially, you don’t want to have any leftover Turkish Liras considering the fast depreciating aspect of it.

This is what we did, using our Starling Bank accounts as they offer 0% fees on FX. You will find Revolut equally useful.

Whilst exchange bureaus offered the best rates when compared to Interbank/Mastercard rates, we made some rough calculations and if we were to exchange everything upfront at a bureau in Turkish Lira we would have lost cumulatively 1-2% each day from the first day we would’ve exchanged.

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5. Book Travel at the Right Time

In reading some of the articles out there, it almost makes one wonder if they should draw a Star of David on their floor with table salt and pray to the three Gods of travel so they avoid booking expensive flights.

  • It is NOT cheaper to buy airfare on a Tuesday (or any other day).
  • There is NO evidence that searching in incognito mode gives you better prices.
  • There is NO exact date or specific time period in which to book your airfare.
  • You can’t predict airline prices and websites that do are basically taking an educated (but probably wrong) guess.

Therefore like we say in our How to Book Cheap Flights article, one must understand how air tickets are priced so they can navigate themselves better.

Airlines use advanced computer and pricing algorithms to determine prices and run sales based on the time of the year, passenger demand, weather, major events/festivals, time of day, competitor prices, fuel prices, and much more. In other words it’s a compare the market model.

For example if another airline adds a flight from London to Paris, all other airlines will automatically adjust their prices. Same principle applies to accommodation. If anything booking too far out could actually incur a surcharge.

This is because it’s thought that a traveller might want to pay a premium to secure the flight or the accommodation they want so they have peace of mind.

At this stage it’s also good to see what loyalty schemes you can leverage so you can make use of those perks. For example, we have used accumulated Avios points to contribute towards the final price of tickets when flying with British Airways to Bucharest.

We normally start all our searches with Skyscanner. They offer a good comprehensive set of airlines, both budget and major carriers, with great prices from across. Have you thought of a destination? Have a look for yourself and start saving from today using this Skyscanner widget.

Whilst on this subject it’s worth noting that some savings can be made if you are flexible with your travel times or stay dates. It’s pretty obvious that during Cherry Blossom season in Japan, travel and accommodation will be sky high, if you can why not book alternative dates?

The money saved can be allocated to eating out or simply paying for the museums and attractions. Here you also can look into ways to combine your travel. You could consider various passes, such as rail passes etc.

6. Find Accommodation by Leveraging Loyalty Points

We tend to book accommodation at least 3 months in advance unless we are travelling during peak times. If unsure about travel plans, you can also book accommodation with good cancellation policy and make up your mind closer to the time.

We would recommend booking your accommodation through an aggregator such аs Booking.com or Agoda to get the best rates. Here you can also maximise on the different rewards. Booking.com often offers 10% back with a promo code, so might be worth using this next time.

We also try to maximise on our points from Trip.com and using these, have been able to book free or heavily discounted accommodation in Istanbul, Lisbon, London, Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.

7. Scout for Attractions & Activities Deals

When looking at your budget, it’s also good to start getting a feeling for how much the museums and attractions may cost. After you’ve planned your trip, start looking in more detail how much are tickets and passes and book in advance the more popular ones.

Bigger cities almost always tend to offer a pass of sorts. These tend to include transport to sweeten up the deal. We suggest doing some research online and see what passes are available.

City passes were great during our trips to BerlinOsloBrussels and Lisbon. For other destinations, it didn’t make sense for us to get the city pass as the key attractions we had on our list weren’t necessarily included or significantly discounted. We did lots of research in advance and you should do so too!

To know whether a pass can benefit you, put down on a spreadsheet the costs of buying the tickets and then compare the total cost to the pass’s value. Remember, not all passes offer free entrances, some just offer discounted entrances.

In addition to the official websites, we also check GetYourGuide or Viator for tours, excursions, experiences and tickets to many tourist attractions. Often they offer skip the line tickets or discounted prices, so this is definitely a resource we would recommend.

Another example is our trip to Monaco where we found a way to visit the famous casino Monte Carlo for free and managed to save £30. All we had to do is sign up to their loyalty scheme which was free also.

8. Get Health Cover & Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is very important, no matter where you are going or how long you will be there. It provides important protection and gives peace of mind in case something unexpected happens.

One of the most important reasons to have travel insurance is for medical coverage. In some countries such as the United States, healthcare can be very expensive, and without insurance, you could end up with very high bills if you have an accident, get sick, or have an emergency.

If you are an E.U. national, you can benefit from the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which acts like a health insurance across the Union. You will benefit from the same treatment like any other citizen of that member state. You can find more information here.

Another important part of travel insurance is coverage for cancelling or ending a trip early. Sometimes things happen, like getting sick, natural disasters, or unexpected events, that can make it necessary to cancel plans or go home early.

With travel insurance, these types of situations are covered, so you don’t have to worry about losing money or being stuck with expenses when you can’t go on your trip. We always get a comprehensive travel insurance but thankfully haven’t had to use it so far.

Final Thoughts

Finally, it’s worth considering these above points thoroughly. With prices hitting new heights, it’s important to stretch you money as much as you can to make the most use of it whilst travelling.

Looking at our past travels, we’ve learnt that you don’t always need to dine out and sometimes a quick sandwich whilst hopping on the train will also do. Travelling is also about managing your resources and hence adjusting your expectations accordingly which requires a good sense of discipline.

Afterall, you can always cook yourself a good steak at home, but when will you be able to revisit the pyramids of Giza?

Ready to book? Below are some recommendations to get your trip started:


  • Accommodation – would recommend booking your accommodation through an aggregator such as Booking.com or Agoda to get the best rates. We also use TripAdvisor to read reviews.

  • Transport – consider Rentalcars.com for car renting or if you rely on public transport, you can use Omio for trains, coaches, ferries, airport transfers and even flights.

  • Activities – a great option is GetYourGuide or Viator for tours, excursions, experiences and tickets to many tourist attractions.

  • Travel money – we have Starling Bank accounts (UK residents only) with 0% fees on FX and a good Mastercard exchange rate. Revolut is another good option.

  • Internet abroad – with Airalo you can access a wide range of eSIMs (digital SIM cards) available for different countries and regions.

  • Luggage storage – if you need to store your bags whilst exploring the destination, you can use Radical Storage to find your closest luggage storage and enjoy your journey until the very end.

As an Amazon Associate and member of various other affiliate programmes, some of the links in this article are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, we will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.


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The Great Pyramid of Giza and camel ride

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