Ask Kate: How Do You Divide Travel Expenses As a Couple?

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This question was sent to me and other travel bloggers a few weeks ago.  I was about to post mine when another travel blogger, Audrey of That Backpacker, posted the same question on her blog.  Though I initially didn’t want to publish a question already answered by someone else, after much consideration, I’ve decided to publish my response after all.


I’m looking for advice on sharing travel expenses as a couple.

My boyfriend and I are leaving for a “rtw” trip this coming November. Starting with a road trip from Winnipeg to Vancouver by Greyhound, approximately 2 weeks in Japan, and then flying into Southeast Asia and winging it from there.

We have only recently started living together and we currently maintain separate finances. We (aka: ME) are a little stressed and concerned about how deal with our finances on the road.

I am very uptight about my money and how “my” money is spent. I want to cause the least amount of conflict when it comes to any sort of shared expenses as I know we will encounter our fair share of stressful situations, I don’t want money to be one of them.

We’ve discussed keeping our finances completely separate during our trip, or combining a portion of our savings to cover our shared expenses such as accommodations, transportation, shared meals, etc.

If we were to have a portion of our shared expenses kept in one bank account, another concern of mine is accidently mixing up that cash with our personal spending money.

What type of advice do you have for a travelling couple who have never shared expenses and both of our “travel funds” have been saved independently of one another?

If you are willing to share, how do you share your expenses with your significant other?

I’m in the same exact position as you — before Mario and I began traveling together, we didn’t share a bank account or meld our expenses in any way (even though we lived together).  But we’ve found a way to share expenses while traveling that has worked well for us so far.

Here’s what we do personally:

1. We Keep Track of Big Expenses.

Any expense that is shared and valued at over $50 or so gets noted on a Google Docs spreadsheet that we share.  So far, our only major expenses have been flights, and in a few days it will include a guesthouse stay as well.  Currently Mario has outspent me by $300, so that guesthouse stay will be paid by me.

2. We Split Small Expenses.

Anything else gets split between the two of us.  Today I spent 36 euros on a guesthouse deposit.  Mario spent 25 euros on lunch and 11 euros on our afternoon coffee and cake.  The rest of the expenses (all food) were low and we traded off, going 50/50 when we could.

A few days ago, Mario bought a full tank of gas for The Beast, his friend’s car that we’re borrowing in Malta.  I’m getting the next tank.

3. Personal Expenses Are Our Own.

Self-explanatory.  We each pay for our own insurance.  If I need face wash, I buy it.  If the sulfur spa turns Mario’s silver rings black, he buys his own silver polish.  (That was funny.)  There’s no need to share expenses on things like these.

Money Advice for Traveling Couples

When long-term couples split, money issues is very often cited as a contributing factor.  Additionally, extended long-term travel is something that tends to add stress to relationships, not reduce it.  For those reasons, you need to take extra care of your relationship while traveling as a couple.

In short?  If you don’t communicate honestly about finances both before and during your trip, it will be tantamount to laying the tracks for bigger problems later on.  Don’t let it get to that point.

The solution?  Talk about your travel finance philosophy well before you set out on your trip.

Here are some questions to start with:

Do you consider it worth it to spend $50 more to take a two-hour flight instead of a twelve-hour bus ride?  What about $100 more?

Are you willing to stay in dorms on occasion to save money in expensive destinations?  How often?

How do you splurge?  How do you cut back on other expenses to make up for your splurge?

When your money dwindles, what’s the “time to go home” amount in your bank account?  $1,500?  $200?

Now, how should you — or anyone in a committed but unmarried relationship — set up travel spending?

Your first option is to do what Mario and I do.  I think it’s simple and fair, and I recommend it.

A second option is to start a bank account that each of you feed in equal amounts and use entirely for shared expenses like lodging and transportation.  The easiest way to do that, without dealing with much hassle (especially if you have two different nationalities), is to open a Paypal account in one of your names and order a debit card for the account.

How do you keep track of that money and not mix it up with your own?  Have a special wallet for it — say, a wallet with Batman on it.  Communal money stays in the Batman wallet, and either you or your partner is the designated Batman wallet holder.

Finally, I know you don’t want to stress about money, but things aren’t going to go smoothly 100% of the time.  Things won’t always be perfectly even.  If your partner is consistently spending more money on food than you are, for example, yet you’re always splitting the bill 50/50, don’t privately fume without saying anything.  Communicate immediately and often.

That means that as soon as you’re feeling annoyed, say, “Honey, your lunch today cost a few dollars/euros/baht more than mine — could you please pay for the next round of drinks?”  And if your partner says the same thing to you, respond with equal honesty and respect.

Good luck.  You’ll have an amazing time!

Ask Kate: How do we divide travel expenses as a couple?