How to Track Travel Expenses

You've planned, you've saved, you've made a million reservations.  Now you're on your trip.  


Me and Nate at Machu Picchu

Me and Nate at Machu Picchu

As far as money goes, the fun is just getting started.

It's tempting to spend like crazy when you finally embark on a new trip. After all, you're on vacation, right?

Paying cash for our Inca Trail trek.

Paying cash for our Inca Trail trek.

Well, for those of us with tight travel budgets, we can't go crazy.

And we need a way to track expenses so we know where we are with our budget.

Nate and I set a budget of $135 per day for our yearlong trip around the world.  We set aside $50,000 for the entire journey, so we just broke that figure down over 365 days.

You may be spending a lot more or a lot less.

At first, we tracked expenses in a Google doc.  Normally, this is our preferred way to track goals since we both have access and the document is live, so it's always up the date.

When you're on the road and don't always have access to wifi, Google docs are a pain.

We almost always have our phones, so then I turned to a notes file that I could update throughout the day.  It was an easy way to enter expenses, but iphone's notes app doesn't tally anything, so I was sorting back through random notes I'd made with numbers attached.  What the hell was, "Karma 72?"  And was that $72 or 72 Peruvian soles?

Needless to say, this isn't the best way to track expenses.

After a lot of research, I settled on an app called Trail Wallet.

Built by fellow RTW travelers, the app allows you to set a trip budget, and then enter expenses as you go.  You can set whatever your daily amount is and create categories that work for you.  Some of ours include:

  • Food
  • Accommodations
  • Flights
  • Ground Transport
  • Tours
  • Medical
  • Entertainment (books, movies, etc.)
  • Household (shampoo, laundry soap, etc.)

You can create as many or as few categories as you want.

Before you start, I suggest setting a common currency for your trip.  Being Americans, I chose USD.  That meant that every time we spent pesos, soles or Bolivianos, I converted the total to USD in my head and entered the amount that way.

When you go to enter a new trip expense, you plug in the amount and select a category. 

You can also create specific tags to add additional notes about the purchase.  

The app tracks your daily average, days on the trip and total amount spent.

You can also export your data at any point if you want to filter by tag or category and see how much you're spending in each.

One of my favorite parts of the app is the little lady that scolds or congratulates you throughout the day.  If you're under budget, she'll say fun things like, "LET'S SPEND SOME MONEY!" or, "You're more careful than the bank!"  

On the flip side, if you're over, she's a real jerk.  She'll say things like, "Why do I even bother?" or "Over budget before noon? Wow."  Nate and I joke that sometimes we want to lie to her to avoid being shamed.

We spent $4.99 on the app in the iTunes store, and so far I highly recommend it!

What other tips and tricks do you have for budgeting and tracking your expenses while on vacation?