The dreaded travel “b-word”: Budgeting

holding-a-stack-of-money

There are planners, savers and money-conscious travelers and then there’s me.

I am a newspaper reporter; a member of a dying breed. With that in mind, I am by no means wealthy and able to afford a luxurious vacation abroad. However, because I’m also bullheaded and will do anything to get what I really want, I’m planning my first trip abroad to Brazil, the most expensive country in South America.

I’m going to need a travel budget.

I’ve never done this before as family vacations were always planned and paid for by my parents. Now that I’m an adult, unfortunately, I can’t rely on mom and dad to fund my vacations. So I’ve been doing a lot of research over the last few weeks, trying to get an idea of how much a two-week stay in Brazil is going to cost me. I want to detail my budget and savings plan on my blog so that I can get input and advice from seasoned travelers and hopefully help future first-time adventurers with their financial plans.

As of now, I’m looking to take my trip around mid-March; just at the end of Brazil’s high season and in the middle of a slow, shoulder season in Ouray. This timeframe allows my travel plans to not interfere with work. Additionally, I’m 90 percent sure that I will spend two weeks down there so I’ll have plenty of time to split my stay between Rio and the Amazon.

Before jumping into the budgeting process, I did some research on the Brazilian currency, the real (R$). Currently, the exchange rate between the US Dollar and the real is -1.44%, so $1 is equivalent to R$2.39. I’m not a math or economics expert, but what this fact says to me is that my Washington will have a little more value in Brazil. I think that’s good news.

With that information in mind, I went to work on a rough budget. Note: this is a VERY rough draft as I haven’t researched everything in complete detail. Once I have an actual itinerary settled, I should have a better idea of what I’ll be spending. My goal is to budget high and spend low.

The major expense for any travel abroad is airfare. This is where my wallet begins to weep when I scan various airlines for prices.

Unfortunately, I live in rural Colorado; at least six hours away from the Denver International Airport. Flying in regional airports is typically more expensive, but to justify the spending, it’ll save me time, money and headaches in the long run to spend a few extra bucks now.

I’ve been checking airfares weekly, using websites like Kayak and Expedia as well as airline websites directly. I’ve also signed up for alerts with Skyscanner, which sends me weekly updates on airfare options. So far, Skyscanner has shown the cheapest deals with prices as low as $1,080. To give myself some wiggle room, I’m budgeting about $1,200 for international airfare.

Because I also have to check out the Amazon while I’m there, I’m looking at domestic airfare as well. I haven’t done too much research but it seems like domestic roundrip transportation to the Amazon from Rio will hit me with another $400.

My next largest expense will be accommodations. Hotels are convenient in that they have a reliable measure of security and “luxury,” however hotels can be damn expensive as well. Most locations I checked out in Rio were asking over $100 per night and I don’t have that kind of cash to spend for a bed and shower.

As an alternative, I’ve been seriously considering vacation rentals and apartments owned by residents. Checking out websites like Airbnb, the prices were much more appealing. The only drawback is that most rentals are very small. Our traveling party will include two adults and a child, so small quarters make me nervous. However, if all we plan to do is sleep and cook some meals during our stay, it may be manageable. At an absolute maximum, I’m thinking $1,000 is what I would like to spend for temporary shelter.

If you know me, you know food is a category worthy of an extensive budget. During my vacation to Orlando earlier this year, my only expense was airfare and food. However, I don’t think Brazilian eats will be too costly for me.

I’m most excited to experience and taste what the locals love, so I’m looking forward to grabbing grub from street vendors and local markets. I’ve heard of the local “kilos,” the pay-per-weight, buffet-style restaurants, which sounds like a good deal but may become dangerous if I get carried away (which I can). I’m thinking $500 per person will suffice. If I spend more than $45 per day on food, we have a problem.

Most of the things I want to do in Brazil are fairly cheap, my budget for entertainment, local transportation and attractions is fairly low. Obviously, I want to see the Cristo Redentor and check out Sugarloaf, but I think tickets to those attractions are pretty reasonable. I won’t be using many, if any, guides during the trip other than while I’m in the Amazon. I’ll also have to purchase some small souvenirs for friends and family back home. Maybe $400 is plenty for this category.

Altogether, I’m thinking $3,500 is my maximum budget for the trip. I’m hoping that figure is much higher than what my actual expenses will be. The closer we get to the departure date, the more solid the figures will be and I’ll have a better idea of how much I’ll be spending.

My savings plan isn’t very solid at all. I have a fraction of my budget saved and six months time is really not a whole lot to work with. I’ll be putting away portions of my paychecks between now and then toward the trip as well as any additional bonuses I (hopefully) get. I’m also trying to do some freelance work in my spare time to help fund my travels.

What I really need to do is keep the trip and its costs at the forefront of my planning. Since I’m a visual person, I think it will really help if I paper-and-pen track all my spendings and savings. I should do this anyway as a general budgeting rule of thumb.

Can you help me out? For all my seasoned travelers out there, what else can I do to save up for traveling? For those who have been to Brazil specifically, is this budget reasonable or am I completely low-balling costs? Any suggestions for finding the best deals and prices on airfare and accommodations or local attractions?

Thanks for the help! Let’s see how this goes.

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