Travel has many problems yet budgeting isn’t one

We’re asked on a not so regular basis how we manage to control and check our travel budget. It’s a fair enough question and one that I’m always more than happy to answer.

I’ll preface this post by saying that, a) I’m a project manager by profession which meant that, b) from the outset of deciding to travel I knew I’d have that whole budget thing hanging over me constantly if I didn’t plan on how I could monitor and control it. 

By controlling and monitoring the budget in a simple way I could then put it to the back of my mind and focus on the important things like lobster meals, snorkelling with sea turtles, mountain hiking in Peru, finding lost cities, driving through deserts, etc, etc…

Here’s how we’ve put our travel budget to the back of our mind:

1) How Much Dollar Do We Need?

We decided on our approximate daily budget range and decided on how long we wanted to travel for. We then simply multiplied x by y to give us the golden number of dollars we’d need to save up before heading to Nicaragua on March 12th 2015. Yes, the harder part was saving and, for us, this happened over many a moon.

2) Find A Tool To Rule Them All

The project manager in me thought, “there must be a simple application or online tool that someone else smarter than me has built to make my job easier by removing all the arduous admin work involved in keeping track of expenses and our budget.” Or something to that effect.

Thankfully, the answer was a resounding “Yes Matt, there is.” And there was much rejoicing. By me. Quietly. On my own. 

Cynthia by this point had delegated this entire budget monitoring project to me to ensure she could focus properly on googling “how long is too long to spend at a beach in the sun?” Followed closely by “Is there ever a ‘too long’ to spend at a beach?” She’s yet to find the answer.

Anyhow, THE tool. We use the incredibly easy to use Trail Wallet. It’s an app created by travelers for travelers and I cannot recommend this enough. 

3) Learn To Use And Set Up Trail Wallet

This step is pretty straightforward because, well, the app is just so perfectly easy to use.

  • First, watch the helpful video on the Voyager Apps website to get to know all the features of Trail Wallet.
  • Then, go to your newly installed app and add a new trip and give it a name!
  • Then, if you have your magic budget number already you can enter in a start and end date and then enter in your total trip budget. Don’t worry, you can edit all these at any time so if your trip goes on further then you can extend that end date. If you win the lottery and your budget increases, you can increase it!
  • You can then enter in currencies. We started with Nicaraguan Cordobas and then added new currencies as we moved onto different countries. We also used Canadian Dollars as this is our home currency. (p.s. When you’re connected to WiFi, you can update the exchange rates.)
  • Exit out of there to your home screen and then click on your trip. The next screen is where you’ll have all your information handy to you.

Once we completed all this, we were trained up and ready to start tracking expenses and therefore ready to begin monitoring and controlling our year-long travel budget! Waahooo!

4) Start Tracking Those Expenses

Yes, for this gem of an app to work and for you to end those sleepless nights wondering how much money you have to spend per day today and how much you have left in the piggy bank… You do need to enter in EVERY expense.

Just simply go to your trip homepage, click the plus sign, enter in the amount, ensure its the correct currency (hint: don’t mix up those Colombian Pesos for Chilean Pesos!) and, if you like, select a category (see below) of expense and add a note. 

That’s it. It’s quicker than writing it down on putting it in your notes. Plus, the app will subtract the amount from your trip and daily budget and it will tell you what your “adjusted budget” (see below) is now. 

So, so easy yet nice and effective.

5) Keep On Repeating Step 4 So You Can Monitor at your Leisure!

That’s right, we enter every expense so that now we can still see our daily budget as it was at the start of the trip yet now we can also see our adjusted daily budget (if you tap on your budget that appears on your trip home screen) to see how it’s increased over time because of all those days that have come under budget, again, waahoooo!

In settings you can add, edit and remove categories. We like categories because we can use the apps built in charts function to see precisely where our money has been going. We use big catch all categories like “accomodation” and “food/groceries/water”. We’re up to 12 categories now and it’s no surprise that accomodation and food is where most of that money has gone.

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So, that’s how we do it. We found and downloaded an app and we use it on a daily basis. 

The project manager in me is content because I can monitor and control our budget very very easily. And Cynthia and I can always sleep without worrying about unanswered questions surrounding money when traveling. We’ve always got the answers in our Trail Wallet

— Matt

I Almost Made Us Miss Out On Laguna 69

See why it would’ve been a tragedy?!

Laguna 69 is the most popular day hike from Huaraz, Peru, and for good reason. It’s a gorgeous 5-6 hour non-technical hike through the Cordillera Blanca in Huascarán National Park. When you reach Laguna 69, it’s impossible not to overwhelmed by it’s beauty.

  
The thing is, the popularity of this hike put me off. I didn’t want to be hiking in a never-ending line of tourists. I’m not a salmon!

I wanted to feel special.

Plus, I figured that there’s no way Laguna 69 could actually be THAT colour. No. No, surely people edit the crap out of their photos. 

So we decided that nope, we’re not hiking Laguna 69 because the whole world has done it. 

And so we did a different day hike, which was awesome but too hard. We had to turn back. I’ll tell you about it another time, okay?

After that hike, we decided that a multi-day trek was out of the question. The altitude wasn’t really agreeing with us and we didn’t want to risk 4 days of agony. Matt and I try to live our lives by this: if it’s not fun, it’s cut. 

A little disappointed, it was time to go onwards and upwards. 

And that meant hiking Laguna 69 to see what all the fuss was about.

So we actually did do the hike. And my god, was it worth it. 

I’ve never see something so beautiful. 

  

    

  

 

  

  

  
 

Some things really are worth the hype!

– Cyn

Distance: 12 km

Altitude: 3900m to 4600m

Rating: moderate

Matt with Cats

It all started the week before we left on our year long Latin American adventure. 

Etobicoke, Canada

Matt loves tiny cats. And tiny cats love Matt. 

somewhere near Lost and Found in Panama

He even loves the angry, bite-y ones. And they love him back. 

 

Panama City, Panama
 
He even loves 3-legged jungle camp cats. And they’ll always find a way to get his pat.

1km away from the Lost City, Colombia
 
He especially loves cats that immediately fall asleep in his lap. 

San Agustin, Colombia
I’ll keep updating this as Matt hangs out with more cats.

It’s been a while since Matt has hung out with cats. But in Valparaíso, a cat just curled up on his lap. 

  

Even in the depths of Chile (at a random campsite outside of Río Tranquili, this cat had heard what a great snuggler Matt is. 

  
– Cyn

Tips For Entering Nicaragua With Proof of Onward Travel

Woowhoo! So you’ve decided you’re going to Nicaragua! You’ve got at least 6 months validity on your passport from your exit date. You have your leaving date in mind. You’re bag is packed…in your head. Your plans are coming together (if you even have plans).  And you just realized you need proof of exit. Oh shit. 

Here’s what we experienced getting into Nicaragua via air travel on March 12th 2015:

1) When we went to the checkin counter for Copa airlines in Miami, they asked us if we have a return ticket. We didn’t have one from Nicaragua because we’re not doing a round-trip. We did however book a flight home from Lima, Peru in January 2016. We can change our ticket for $115USD and we have every intention of doing that when we have a better idea of when and where we’ll be when we want to come home.

Tip 1: Get a return ticket that you can change. There might be a small fee to change so check the fine print. Factor that into your ticket cost.

2) When we told our airline about our return ticket from Peru, that wasn’t good enough. We had to show proof that we had that ticket, and thankfully Matt had the package with that proof from our travel agent. I also mentioned that we were travelling by land to Costa Rica, and that we’d be doing land travel all the way to Peru. 

Tip 2: Have all your documents with you and make them easily accessible. 

Tip 3: Let them know your plans of onward travel to your return destination. Don’t fumble when you’re talking because you’ll sound like a liar. You can also buy an onward bus ticket in advance just to be sure — we didn’t do that. 

3) When we got to immigration in Nicaragua, we had to buy a tourist card for $10USD. It’s cash only. We thought we would get 90 days here, as that’s what every single site (even the Canadian government travel website) said we’d be granted on arrival. Well…we only got 30 days! The immigration officer didn’t ask us if we had onward proof of onward travel, sufficients funds for our trip, or how long we planned to stay in Nicaragua. It was easy peasey getting into Nicaragua.

Tip 4: Have $10USD on you when you arrive or you’re going to run into issues getting your tourist card. 

Tip 5: Don’t fret about having proof of onward travel once you’re at immigration. Nobody asked us. They didn’t seem to care.

So there you go! We were freaking out about  our proof of onward travel before we left but it turned out it wasn’t a big deal. Basically, airlines won’t let you fly on a one way ticket so just buy an open jaw ticket that you can change. It might suck a bit having to eat the cost upfront, but at least you can travel with peace of mind knowing that your ticket home is paid for!

To sum up: your airline will probably require proof of exit before they let you in the plane but Nicaragua Immigration will not ask you for it.

– Cyn

Almost Paradise [Video] – Our Trip to Franklin’s Island in San Blas, Panama

Our boat slowed. We could hear the waves gently crashing on the white sandy shore. The smell of saltwater and paradise was in the air. We looked at each other excitedly, expectantly, anxiously. 

Here we were. We’d made it to San Blas!

I’ve wanted to visit the San Blas islands ever since I heard about them. More islands than days in a year. Only the Kuna people could live there — and they did, managing to essentially preserve their traditional way of life. The people and islands seemed mysterious and promising. A step back in time, and a step into my dreams. 

These islands seemed almost too good to be true and I didn’t think we’d actually go there.

But here we were. We’d finally made it to the far flung place that doesn’t even make it onto a world map.

As you could probably see, Franklin’s Island was small. It would take about 2 minutes to jog around. About 5 seconds to walk across. But you don’t need a lot of ground space when there’s an entire underwater world to explore.

The island is actually divided down the middle: half Franklin’s, half Senidup’s. All the travellers use both sides of the island, and it isn’t a problem. For the Kuna people, it’s a different story. The two families do not cross the line down the middle of the island. They haven’t spoken to each other in 7 years.

The island was almost beautiful. It was dotted with palm trees, and rimmed with turquoise water and coral. The thatched huts with sand floors were charming and authentic. The Kuna people sleep with the sand on their feet and live each day with the sand beneath. So too would we.

 
I say it was almost beautiful because there were hideous bits. Garbage left behind on the beach by a group of selfish girls. Cigarette butts buried shallowly in the sand. The constant unce-unce-uncing of music blasting from a group of obnoxious arseholes. 

And the toilets, oh god the toilets. It wasn’t the half finished nature of them, or the lack of toilet seat on the bowl, or even the fact that you had to use a pail of sea water to flush. The latter reminded me of Thailand and I thought it was endearing. It was the fact that people didn’t bother with the pail of sea water. Big turds from obnoxious arseholes were left in there, covered with gobs of toilet paper. Who did they think would have to flush it!? The toilets improved immensely when the arseholes left.

It was the blatant disrespect for the Kuna people and their home from other tourists that made me sadly hate paradise. And made me embarassed to be a traveller. 

When we were looking at reviews of islands to go to, there was a common complaint amongst visitors: the hosts were not friendly. 

Now I know why! Some people are just so disrespectful. I’d be unfriendly too!

Maybe you’re thinking that I should’ve just ignored them, looked past their antics. But I couldn’t. I can’t. Because how they acted was wrong, disgusting.

I believe that you need to travel with respect for the land, the people, and for other travellers. Do no harm. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints…that kind of thing. And when you’re on a tiny desert island and people don’t have the same beliefs as you, it’s frustrating to have their selfish ways thrust in your face. It’s a stark reminder of what the world is up against when young travellers are littering on a beautiful desert island.

 
– Cyn

To read about how we got to Franklin’s from Panama City, click here.