My Biggest Travel Mistake Ever

Posted by:     Tags:  ,     Posted date:  April 21, 2011  |  23 Comments
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I like to think of myself as excellent with money. I don’t have any debt and still manage to save a little each year. In reality, my relationship with money is more like a recovering bullemic’s relationship with cake ie. I can usually control myself as long as I’m not drunk. Also, I’m actually better with credit cards than with cash. With credit cards, I’m careful about what I buy because I hate the idea of owing money. But whenever I have cash, it burns a hole in my pocket. Having a wad of cash makes me feel like a rock star, ready to flash mo’ money.

Nevertheless, the simplest rule I live be is to live within my means. I don’t spend more than I earn. This is fine when you go on short holidays. But when you go on extended holidays it gets tricky. The easiest solution is to work and travel. I’ve had three Working Holiday visas (Canada, UK and Czech Republic) and this strategy worked well in Canada and UK. Unfortunately, it failed miserably when I was in the Czech Republic from mid 2006 – mid 2007.

Why? Because I did not keep track of my expenses at the time.

When I moved to Czech Republic, I had the common misconception that it was cheap because it’s Central Europe. Sure Prague’s cheaper than Paris or London but its more expensive than say, Berlin. And cost of living is high for what you earn. Beer is of course, still very cheap (and very good). The other thing about dealing with foreign currency is that it doesn’t feel “real”. And it’s much easier to spend money if you aren’t conditioned to it’s purchasing power.

In the 11 months that I was there, I only earned (in US Dollars) $4,900 and spent about $11,040. So I made a loss, for the first time in my working career, of $6,140. It wasn’t that bad considering. I worked part-time for the first half of the year and full-time for the second half. During that time, I also spent a lot of time volunteering for CouchSurfing, which was unpaid, of course. I was paying $300 a month rent for a room in a shared house, near Letna Park which I thought was reasonable. And I traveled to UK, Austria, Slovakia, Poland, Canada, Hungary, UAE, Thailand, Latvia, Greece, Germany, Malaysia. However, if I had kept better track of my expenses I would have realized that I needed to work more hours and eat out less, in order to at least break-even. I was still in the mindset that Prague is cheap and ate out almost every meal while I was there.

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a big deal. But I did learn my lesson after that. Now I use an excel spreadsheet to calculate my expenses. I have a template with seperate columns for eating out, booze, accomodation, transport, luxuries, necessary supplies, etc. This allows me to see how much I’m spending in each category every month and if I need to cut back. I also have separate sheets for different currencies to avoid confusion. Lastly, I convert everything into a currency that’s more meaningful to me. I earned 98,000kc in Prague which seemed like much more that the $4,900 it really was. It sounds complicated but I only need to spend 15 minutes a week on data-entry. I’m going to tweak the template a bit more and then release into the wild. Maybe someone else will find it useful too.

About Me

I'm a wanderer, couchsurfer, writer, illustrator, uncoordinated dancer, unwitting minimalist, party enthusiast, free hugger and now a crewman. Follow me @roymarvelous .................................................................................................................... Also, find out how to work on cruise ships. Or check out the new T-shirt & Card store.

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23 Comments for My Biggest Travel Mistake Ever


I keep a journal, on the right I recount the day and on the left I total up the expenses. Some days I thought I'd be well under 30 bucks only to find out I went over!


    Yeah that's a good system too, simple and effective.


Check out roy, I use it religiously for tracking expenses and it's amazing. It ties directly in to your bank account though so you need an american or canadian bank account and you need to give it your trust. But it automatically assigns electronic spending in to categories for you. It needs you to manually enter cash spending of course. Worth having a look at!


    Yeah I used to use Mint when I was living in TO – especially great if you're doing mostly debit/credit purchases. These days I need something offline, much easier for being on the ship.

Bluegreen Kirk

Its simply amazing what keep track will do for you. I guess we are the total opposites as I do 10x better with cash than I do with credit cards. With cash I take out only what I am willing and able to spend when its gone well that the end of that!


    Yeah it seems like most people are better with cash. I think I'm better with credit because I stress whenever I'm in debt!


Can you send me a copy of that excel template? I use right now too but you can't always be online. It's cool though that you can enter goals on it. Also check out this one been hearing about it.
My recent post The Philosophy behind Solo Travel


    I need to clean up the template so it's more intuitive. Give me a week 🙂


Can you give me a rough estimate how much is the booze column a month?


    uh $200-$300. And I think I'm one of the lower ones!


good on ya roy!
i'm also doing that excel sheet which is very powerful and effective.


    Thanks stepan!


ohh I would LOVE this template. Travelling has made me more budget conscious but I can still be a lot better at it. My mentality is if I work hard, then it's ok to play hard.. but sometimes it's all play and no work. Life is good but not so much the bank.
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    Exactly. It's no worries when you have enough cash flow but when I have all play and no work, it can get out of control.


Hell roy I do this with my normal money anyway! I'm OCD 😛


    Good for you Xavier, I think that's a great idea!


We are crazy about keeping track of our money, but then again we had to be to save enough for our RTW. We developed a budget site- to help people keep track of their money. Its easy to use and gives you nice charts without having to write complex formulas in excel!


    Interesting! I like to have control over my finances offline too, though.

Doing A Working Holiday In Central or Eastern Europe | y Travel Blog

[…] out can add up when you are on local wages. I ended up spending more than I earned, mainly because I ate out all the time. The best way to stick to a budget is to […]

Jade Johnston

As a life style traveller I think I now compulsively save money. My partner and I are currently living in Wellington New Zealand and even though I have a good paid job we still make monthly budgets, and then try to "beat" that budget the next month. Its started to become a contest with a spreadsheet and is spiralling us out of control into more and more worn out clothes….. but in the end we will be able to go on an epic one year trip. So its all worth it. 🙂


    Well done, good for you. Admittedly I go through phases of saving like a miser than blowing it like a rockstar 🙂


i think i'd definitely benefit from this spreadsheet of yours. i have an app on my phone that calculates all my expenses but i never use it. i'd much rather do it on a computer. i'd like to see your template.
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Ian [EagerExistence]

I wish I kept better track of my spending. I just find it so boring.