Budget in Action!

After reading You Need a Budget, I decided to put a budget in action! I was planning a trip to Korea and Japan summer of 2019; some friends and I studied abroad in the summer of 2009, and thought it would be cool to go back ten years later!

Of the four of us planning to go, one friend is a freelancer, and I’m an unemployed grad student. Money is going to be a problem for us. I thought, why not use what I just learned to work this out and see if we can even afford to go? I’m pretty scared the answer’s gonna be “no” 🙁 . But, I spent a month in Europe and came home with a bill of a little over $3,000. How bad can two weeks in Korea and Japan be?

Pretty bad. From preliminary research, I’m going to need about $3,600. WHAT? Granted, my month in Europe was partially supplemented by travel rewards points, but definitely less than $600 in points. Let’s break this down:


I am not the biggest fan of air travel, so if at all possible, I like direct flights. (I would one day like to try extended layovers with enough time to visit the city. But not today.) And it very much annoys me when my flight goes out of the way to get me home (Seoul to Los Angeles via Manila, anyone?). The problem is, direct flights are expensive.

LAX → Seoul, South Korea (~13h), July 22:   $524

Seoul, South Korea → Tokyo, Japan (~2h), July 29:   $137

Tokyo, Japan → LAX (~10h), August 4:   $1534 !!!!!!!

What is this? WHAT IS THIS??? Why is the return flight three times the flight there??? I admit, the fares are higher for one-way flights. But do I want to fly back into Korea after visiting Japan? I did that on my eastern Canada trip; I booked a round-trip flight into Toronto, and visited Montreal and Ottawa during the middle of the trip so I could fly out of Toronto. Korea and Japan are different countries separated by ocean; I would not be able to hop on a train from Japan to the airport in Korea.


I like to stay in Airbnbs (here’s $40 in travel credit if you want to sign up!). They are generally cheaper than hotels, and they allow me to choose whatever style of home I’m feeling for the trip. There are also lots of quirky homes with great personality that you wouldn’t find at a hotel. Not to mention, I like being a little nosy and seeing how other people decorate their homes 🙂 . (I don’t like to stay in places specifically purchased to rent out; they usually have no character and don’t feel like a home – if I wanted that, I would stay at a hotel.)

In the perfect world, I would stay in a hanok, a traditional Korean-style home. (These are the ones you see in Korean dramas – the young adults live in modern city apartments but they go home to visit their parents and grandparents, who live in the ancestral hanok.) But those are usually more expensive than I can afford at the moment. Also, there was no way for me to search “hanok” on Airbnb.

But I did find a traditional home in Tokyo! They have sliding doors, and the bedding put away in a closet and everything! And it’s a decent price too!

Room in Seoul, July 22-29:   $206

Room in Tokyo, July 29-August 4:   $195

I don’t require much space in the rooms; I’m out as close to sunrise as I can get, and back after sunset (I don’t stay out too late when I travel solo). All I need is a cozy place to sleep and to read and journal a bit. I’ve also learned I really like windows and natural lighting.


Taking public transportation is one of my favorite things when I travel. It makes me feel very cosmopolitan and eco-friendly. We haven’t figured out an itinerary yet (it’s 14 months away – even I don’t plan trips that far in advance). I’m not sure how many intra-country trips we’ll me making, so for my calculations, I’m going to assume we’re just hanging around the city.

In Tokyo, they have 24-, 48-, and 72-hour passes, for roughly $8, $12, and $15 respectively (I’m rounding up). In Seoul, you have to purchase a reloadable card for roughly $2.50, and each tap is roughly $1.15. I’m going to estimate 3.5 subway trips per day for Korea; some days we might be traveling more than others, or if we change our plans when we get somewhere and don’t want to do it anymore. So:

Tokyo public transportation:   $38

Seoul public transportation:   $30


While I enjoy a good meal, I don’t go crazy when eating out. I’m not going to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner at five-star restaurants for a week straight. In fact, foreign convenience stores amaze me. The quality of food is much higher than convenience stores in the States. But I don’t want to limit my little pleasures in life, so I’m going to go big and give myself a big food budget, in case I get over my frugal nature and splurge on a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Food:   $500


I’m a huge fan of museums and landmarks and other things requiring admission fees. Since I also don’t have a list of places I must see, I’m going to estimate it based on past experience, as well as throwing in a bit extra to account for Korea- and Japan-specific things (like hot springs) and maybe group tours.

Entertainment:   $300

Other Expenses

I don’t buy souvenirs. This was a thing long before I learned about minimalism. There is no emotional connection to the generic souvenirs, and I’m not an interior design maven so I don’t know how to effectively display things I buy. So I don’t anticipate needing to budget for that.

But I do want to include some emergency funds, just in case. I’m sure my travel credit card can be swiped in both countries, but I would like to have this emergency fund in USD ready to exchange if I need it.

Emergency funds:   $150


For a grand total of $3,614, I can go to Korea and Japan for a week each in the summer of 2019. I want to die just thinking about it. But, almost half of the cost comes from the return trip from Tokyo. Perhaps the flight will drop in price. Also, for the airfare and the accommodations, I used 2018 price quotes to estimate costs for 2019 – I didn’t check for 2019 but I assumed the flights aren’t scheduled yet.

$3,614 over 14 months = $258.14/mo

I will need to find a way to save roughly $260 per month for the next fourteen months. That doesn’t sound too bad. If you have a job and aren’t paying for grad school out of your own dwindling pocket. I know the saying goes something like, if you want something bad enough, you’ll make it happen. And the thing is, I’m not sure I want it bad enough. Not on top of all the other things I’m stressed about at the moment. Besides, I can always pick Korea or Japan for one of my global business classes and go with the university.

Nevertheless, this has been a really fun exercise. It’s given me hope for creating and keeping my own budget. And it gives me an idea of how to better plan future trips; I normally don’t do this for my travels – but I’m also normally employed when I take trips (i.e., partially funded by vacation hours).

Do you normally budget for trips? How much does it help you stick to your financial goals when traveling?

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