How To Estimate a Big Trip Budget: Costs Per Day

*Newly UPDATED *

If you’re here, you’re considering taking a Big Trip and wanting to know what kind of budget you’ll need to have. This article covers step one of my three step process of how I estimate a Big Trip budget and answer the question, “How much do these trips cost?” Please see the intro article to set the stage for this discussion and some prerequisites before jumping in.

And, without a guarantee like you see on TV, but with my assurance that the process can be fun (even with Excel!), you’ll have an idea of how much your Big Trip will cost. The, this is the amount that you can start saving towards or see how close you already are. Here’s the overall three steps in the process.

  1. Estimating Costs per Day
  2. Researching and Estimating Transportation Costs
  3. Considering Before and After Costs

Estimating Costs Per Day

Estimating costs per day is the blanket method for estimating the average amount of money you’d spend in a day, in a given country. This daily amount accounts for food, lodging, sightseeing, local activities, and local transportation. It does not include long-haul transportation. I like this method because it gives me an idea of how much I’ll need without going too much into the details of what meals cost and individual site entrance tickets. Of course, there are exceptions like admission to the Pyramids, but overall it evens out over time because on Big Trips, there is down time and you are not seeing the Pyramids everyday. Sometimes, you’re just lounging on a sun chair looking at the Red Sea, which is really a lovely turquoise blue. So let’s begin

1) Get out that spreadsheet and make a list of the countries you want to visit and the days you think you’ll spend in each country to spend in each country:

Spreadsheet Example:

2) Find out the costs per day in each of these countries in these two ways. I recommend doing both as a gut check and because information is easily outdated.

A) Go to Tripbase’s cost per day calculator. It’s quite accurate as an estimation for cities around the world. You can choose by types of budget level: backpacker, mid-range, luxury.

B) Go to the online Rough Guide site for that country and find the “Costs” section. For most countries on the site they have an estimate of costs per day per country. Lonely Planet’s site also has this information, but I haven’t found it to be as consistent as RG. The LP books always have this information.

C)  Take nightly rate or the type of accommodations you want to stay at and multiply it by three. You can find nightly rate for various hotels and their budget types listed in your Lonely Planet books or on

This formula is excellent advice that I found on the great travel blog, “A Little Adrift.” Also, I remember listening to Suze Orman, the financial guru, on budgeting for a house and she said that one’s mortgage should be one third of one’s take-home income after taxes. I’ve used this to estimate rent and have found that it works well when estimating a budget for travel – the hotels are my “home” on the road and should take up one third of the budget. Then, in planning, one does not have to get all hyper about how much food, sights, activities, and local transportation costs because it’ll fall into place in the remaining 67% of your daily budget. Really, it does.

3) Now that you have that information, plug it into your spreadsheet to get an estimated cost per day for your trip. Then, total it all up.

Geek Alert: In the spreadsheet, I recommend setting up the country Total column to be a formula of Number of Days * Cost Per Day and then sum up all the country Totals into one big total. That way, you can adjust both these variables to find the best trip that meets a comfortable total. Also, we’ll add the cost per day total to the other totals in this whole budgeting process. And, now that we’re fully geeked out, you can plug in varying numbers and destinations to daydream more and futz with it while at work and it looks like you’re actually doing work.

Other Considerations

Traveling with others: Add a multiplier of 1.25 to 1.5 to your estimated cost per day for each additional person to account for food and transport. There will be savings on the hotel so this multiplier accounts for the additional food and transportation costs of each person.

Excursions and adventures: If your Big Trip list includes excursions/goals like “Get Diving Certification in Tahiti” or “Volunteer at an Orphanage in Cambodia,” (then you’re a kind-hearted person…) know that these cost more money because of their organized nature. You’ll need to add the organized tours and packages for these activities to your budget as these per day costs are higher. Once you’re actually in country there are many several day trips like the one I took to the desert in Egypt that can easily be factored into estimated costs per day and don’t need to be thought about beforehand.

On my Middle East 2009 trip, I did not take a tour because I had the luxury of time. But, I have taken backpacker tours a part of my travels (India, China, and Thailand) to see a lot in a short amount of time, take a break from planning things myself, and to meet new people.

A Note About tours: Tours are relatively expensive. My favorite tour company is Intrepid Travel and their prices are affordable, service wonderful and overall very fun.  However, their prices are still two to three times what you can do by yourself. On my current trip, I am doing a tour in Morocco for the above reasons – I mean, sometimes it’s just nice to travel with people and have everything done for you. So when I looked at the old spreadsheet for my own budget of this Big Trip, I put the tour as another line item on the budget.

Ok, hopefully your eyes aren’t cross-eyed with Excel. I have a feeling you may like Excel if you’re going through this budgeting process at all, so let’s geek out a little more and bring in some Web research.

Next Step:

It’s time look at transportation costs!

Photo credits: Photo by Rhodes on Flickr


One Response to “How To Estimate a Big Trip Budget: Costs Per Day”

  1. Florian
    September 27, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    have you tried Toolito I used it twice and it really helps. Thank you for the article.

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