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?

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50 thoughts on “Ask Kate: How Do You Divide Travel Expenses As a Couple?”

  1. I love this question: “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?”

    I haven’t travelled a lot yet, but once I went to Rome with a friend. She booked the flights. We agreed on a budget, and after being phoned up over and over with “What about this flight” type questions, I told her I was fine with whatever flights she decided were best. There were plenty of flights available from either Zurich or Basel (we lived in Zurich) to Rome, I couldn’t see how she could go wrong.

    Imagine my surprise when we flew back from Rome to Zurich VIA VIENNA!!! I was not impressed… It’s further to Vienna from Rome, than it is to Zurich!

    If only I’d known to discuss that kind of thing beforehand 😉

    1. Exactly, Vicky! Those are the kinds of situations you need to discuss.

      Since Mario and I started traveling together, I’ve learned that he goes pale when I say, “Sure, book us on the 7:30 AM train!” I would much rather get the early train, and he would much rather pay a bit more and sleep a bit later. We’ll be meeting in the middle a lot.

  2. I’m lucky to be travelling with someone whose spending ways are very similar to mine. We like to be wise with our money (some might say frugal), but at the same time we’re willing to put comfort ahead of saving a few dollars. Just today we decided that spending an extra $150 for a one hour flight beat the 14 hour road trip in a minivan to Phuket…glad we both agreed on that one! 😉

  3. TBH, I’m a little bemused by the disconnect between this:

    I am very uptight about my money and how “my” money is spent.

    And the next sentence:

    I want to cause the least amount of conflict when it comes to any sort of shared expenses

    I totally agree with Kate that communication is important, but I think it’s also important for *you* to figure out what money means to you. This is going to be a pretty trying time for you as a couple – travelling together is a lot more stressful than living together, and there’s attempting to do joint finance for the first time on top of it. Are you going to melt down if you end up having to foot a $120 taxi bill to get out of a dangerous situation? And you should definitely figure out ahead of time where your boundary of budget vs niceness vs risk is – it may be in different places for you, and you don’t want to find that out when you’re trying to communicate “I don’t like this situation” via eye contact.

  4. The last holiday I took.. we split the big stuff down the middle and then had a “pot”. Initially we each put a few hundred dollars in there. Out of that came money for dinners, minor transport, activities and any other sorts of activities we shared. We’d just make sure to always replenish the pot together and it caused zero conflicts.

  5. Great ideas and tips. I often worry about money wayyyyy more than my boyfriend. He is so carefree with it which often makes it difficult to save for trips. I usually end up booking and buying the flights ahead of time…which gives him enough time to save for the hotels, etc. It usually ends up working out pretty evenly.

  6. That is great advise! I highly recommend a balance spreadsheet for expenses (we also use GoogleDocs). My boyfriend and I have been doing that for years. I am the one usually having to pay him back, but he understands that I will pay him when I can. I always tell him if he needs the money right away to let me know. We also do every other meal or something similar.

    The important thing is to communicate because money is something that can ruin relationships if not discussed properly!

  7. This is a very sensitive topic…and can cause A LOT of friction in a couple. Always speak your mind beforehand. In my previous relationship i was living with my ex and i realized that we had completely different ways to look at money (and to spend them).I am now on a rtw trip and i know i could have never survuved a month with him for this reason.
    I am now living in Thailand with my boyfriend and we are very i learnt my lesson and i now speak up when there is an issue. Talking is the key.
    We are not that organized tough. We dont have common money.We alternate in paying for the small.expenses and i pay personal stuff. I think Kate’s method is pretty simple and accurate. I would stick with that…

  8. I travelled with a BF before and I remember feeling annoyed that whenever I paid for stuff for both of us, I oftentimes didn’t ask him to reimburse me. However, he always kept track of his expenses and asked me to pay my share at the end of the trip. Yeah, better communication would have helped!

  9. we are using a very similar system, we don’t have a shared account but if he pays for one meal, I pay the next one or if I spent 50 euros on a room that day, he’ll pay for the next meal and drinks, etc. Keeping track of your daily expenses helps a lot, so everyday you know what you spent and if you need to re-adjust. It helps not only to keep the spending 50/50 between you both but also when it comes to your overall budget: if you have 5000$ for 5 months, you better be sure you don’t spend 100$ everyday.

    Another way we split the bill is by withdrawing the same amount of cash. Meaning one day, he withdraws 300$ (for example) and we share it, and then when we run out of cash, I get to withdraw the next 300$.

    And I couldn’t agree more with Kate: communication is the key!

  10. If a couple is already that concerned about money before that trip has even started, maybe they shouldn’t travel together at all. I stopped caring too much about money. It’s really liberating and not worth the trouble.

    Therefore I wouldn’t say that everything has to be split 50/50. Whoever has more money should pay more. When I traveled with my bf to the Philippines for 2 months, we put all our savings together on one account. Obviously I had saved a way more, so I was helping him out. I don’t care, I love him, I’m sure he would do the same if I would be short on money.

    I can’t expect him to pay 50/50 if he doesn’t have the money, so where should he get it from? Sure I could have traveled alone, instead of taking him with me and supporting him. And here is exactly where you see how deep your love is. If you really love someone, you become one, it doesn’t matter who pays a meal because at this point your money and his money is yours together.

    I rather share than being alone. And if I can make my bf happy, it makes me even happier. Love is not about counting money. It’s about caring.

    1. Have to say I completely agree with you on this one. My boyfriend and I have been together for a couple of years now and we never keep track of who spends more… Often one of us has more money and will buy more, but it’s an unspoken thing. We may have separate accounts but we look upon the money as joint. Money really isn’t worth stressing over, of course it can buy nice things but a good relationship can’t be bought!

    2. Sab, I’m going to respectfully disagree with you. In a perfect world, love would conquer all — but we don’t live in a perfect world. Trusting someone else completely with your personal finances is enabling them to financially hurt you.

      And what happens if the reverse situation happens — he has much more money than you — and it turns out that he doesn’t want to spend his hard-earned cash on keeping you afloat after all? You say that you’re sure he would do the same thing, but until you have that conversation, you’re just assuming. Don’t wait until you’re out of money to assume that he’ll keep you afloat.

      If he doesn’t have the money, then he should be working, not traveling. What if he doesn’t want to work anymore if he has you paying for him? What if he expects you to do the work, because you have “become one” and only one person needs to do the earning?

      This is why you need to have financial conversations. It’s common sense.

      1. “If he doesn’t have the money, then he should be working, not traveling. ”

        He never traveled before in his life. I convinced him to come with me. It was the first time he left his country.

        My boyfriend is working. He actually stopped to study, to earn money. The main problem is, that he lives in a country where you earn less than 500 dollars a month. How can he save if he earns nearly nothing? And he is working hard, sometimes 12-14 hours a day. But we have to pay food and our room, so you can imagine, there is not much left to save.

        And yes you’re right, I’m just assuming that he would help me out in the future if I’m broke. But why should I think about that now? That situation didn’t happen yet. Beside, I’m sure he would, I know him very well now after almost 2 years. All of his little money he earns he spends on us.
        But he earns a way too little to make big savings for traveling. Unfortunately.

        So many relationships fall apart because of money issues. I love him, so why should I not support him if I can?

  11. This is great advice. I’ve travelled as part of a couple in the past – interestingly, though, we became a couple on the road (travel fling turned into something more) so we already had set views on how we wanted to spend our money. Thankfully it always worked out quite well, and I’ve used some of these tactics to avoid the dreaded argument about finances.

    Years ago, though, I went to Greece with a guy I was dating. It was the first time I had ever travelled with a boyfriend, and I didn’t quite know how to split the finances. He kept SUCH detailed notes on our spending – seriously, down to the EURO CENT – that it was a huge turn off and ended up spoiling the holiday. I was only 22, but even then I knew a guy shouldn’t be hounding me over 43 cents. 43 cents exactly.

  12. Ah – and one more thing – when I travelled with my best friend for five months last year, we did many of these same things. I’d say this advice is not just good for couples, but for any duos travelling together!

  13. My partner and I set an amount each month that we will spend on that trip . We now live a location independant lifestyle. So for example, when in Thailand we set our budget as $1000 each and spent from there. We find that as we travel more we become more aware of our budget and are now living on just $1000 a month between the 2 of us in france — well housesitting helps too. Just like you, we keep our personal expenses separate although, Ray has on occasion went out and bought me tampons . lol omg i was so embarased until I stopped and saw the endearment in the gesture. But never again lol.
    Love this post Kate.

  14. I’m a struggling student so any traveling I do with my boyfriend is usually (financially) on his shoulders. I feel awful about it and I try to pay him back whenever I’m working, but he has expensive taste! The only thing that makes it better is that he’s adamant that it’s HIS holiday (his holidays are limited since he has a full time job) and he wants to spend it with me, and that he considers the extra cost to be worth it for him (I know, he’s nuts, what can I say).

    This person sounds anxious and she’s not even abroad yet. She doesn’t sound like she’d be comfortable spending even a small amount more than her partner, and although that’s understandable if she’s been saving like a mad thing and money is tight, it would still throw up a few red flags for me. Relationships are about compromise and on a rtw trip that’s even more important. If something happens and one of them winds up broke, is the other person going to cut and run? You never know who you’ll meet or what will happen on your travels. Best to keep an open mind. If you’re this stressing out about money now, I see a thunderstorm on the horizon…

    1. Quinn, I was once a struggling student dating an older guy who worked in finance, so I can relate to having a partner who has all of the money to spend and feeling guilty because you can’t provide the same in return.

      I don’t think that the writer is necessarily super anxious — things don’t always translate well through writing. But people should always be ready to adjust if the environment calls for it.

  15. I think there is some great advice here. I have been on three big trips with my boyfriend and experimented with most of these ways. The best one that worked well for us was keeping our accounts still separate but taking turns withdrawing $300 each and would just buy everything with that and then when it ran out the other would withdraw $300. We did all the same activities and ate together and did pretty much everything together so it was pretty even. If we did buy something personally we would note it down and sort out the costs afterwards. Heaps easier than keeping track of everything. Who has the time when you constantly doing and seeing stuff!

  16. Traveling with your other half can definitely make or break any relationship– especially when it comes to finances. These were some great tips and very similar to what my fiancé and I do while traveling!

    We both split any big purchases and then take turns covering the smaller ones. Of course, if there was something he was dying to do that I just wasn’t interested in (and vice versa) he’d offer to cover all costs. It was a great system– but I am really glad we sat down and discussed it BEFORE leaving on our trip.

  17. Communication, as with many aspects of any kind of relationship, really is essential! I think your advice is good, but I don’t think that if a couple is married, they necessarily have to share all expenses. Nor does an unmarried couple have to keep their finances separate. My partner and I are not currently married (we aren’t legally able to get married in our home country because we happen to be of the same gender, though that law is likely to change soon), but we do have merged finances. And yes, this is occasionally the cause of stress, but given our situation, I think it’s the best option for us.

    1. Yes, Sam — that’s something I wanted to say but didn’t spell out, as it looked excessive. “If you’re married, or if you have taken the steps to create a legal partnership, financial or otherwise…”

      The important thing is to protect yourself and your finances. And I never said that married couples should share all expenses. 🙂

  18. There’s a girl who I want to start traveling with in September. I’m gonna share this blog post with her because it’s insightful and practical. I’m impressed.

  19. I’ve always been financially conscious but it worked out for us. We’re still a ‘young couple’, we don’t share our finance and our money sources are different (hence why I’m more conscious about it). On my trip last year, I kept a diary of my expenses: of what we bought/rented and what I’ve paid. Meals seemed to cost the same so we took turns and everything else, we split 50:50 (one of us would pay and the other would pay back). It worked, but mind you, it was only 2 weeks of travelling. We’re doing 5 weeks starting next month and I’m pretty much have done what Kate has said and will continue to do the same 🙂

    P.S. I know someone just mentioned that they depended on their boyfriend and they feel comfortable dong that. I just can’t bring myself to do that and I can understand why some people want to keep their finances separate, at least before getting married.

  20. Hmmm, you won’t have to worry so much about this now you’re engaged!!! Often when I travel with a friend we take out the same amount of money and pool it for any joint activities and meals. It might not be 100% accurate but it saves a lot of complicated sums!

  21. dividing travel expenses can be a big issue. Luckily I never had problems with that. Once I travelled with 3 other friends to South Africa. We had one big plastic bag and each of us put the same amount of money in so we used this for paying the hostel, entrance fee of a park and all those things with the same amount for everyone. But yes, you need people with the same travel style backpacker, flashpacker or luxury otherwise you have to make lots of compromises.

  22. Love this topic, I’ve done a bunch of traveling with my boyfriend sometimes its down the middle but most of the time we plan our trips around our budget, we both put the same amount into the trip in the beginning and then take from that money along the way together- that way has worked out best for us, esp. because we can gain more miles and points along the way if one of us makes larger purchases along the way.

    1. Miles and points are a whole new factor. I’ve been trying to pay for flights that give me more points, and we may be using some of my points to get from Seoul to Bangkok (if that’s what we end up doing).

  23. I love that you have addressed this topic. I travelled through India and SE Asia with my boyfriend, we’d never lived together or shared finances at all, I got a credit card with low foreign exchange and withdrawal fees, and we used that as our shared account. We were on a fairly tight budget, and we both put in the same amount each month, extra if it needed topping up. It worked really well. There was no hassle of having to split the bill in every restaurant or guesthouse, everything came out of the kitty.

    We never had that kind of conversation before we left, luckily we had pretty much the same opinion of money, but those questions that you come up with Kate are really useful to know the answers to before you start. Money and relationships, romantic or otherwise, really don’t mix well, and it’s important to get your budgets together at the beginning of the trip.

  24. My girlfriend and I are leaving for our year-long RTW trip in March, and this is my biggest concern. We will be doing “Option 2” with a shared bank account for shared expenses…everything else we will keep separate. It will be interesting to see how all the unknowns play out!!

  25. The way James and I do it works quite well, I think. We’ve both got credit cards that let you make purchases abroad for free. We use his credit card to pay for everything, including cash withdrawals, then at the end of the month he sends me a bill. It keeps things fair, as we’re paying exactly 50/50. We don’t really tend to buy luxury items for ourselves; but if we do we keep a note of it 🙂

    1. Wow, that’s an interesting way, Jemma, especially if you’re trying to collect points on your card. Assuming you’re traveling in credit card-friendly destinations (not Laos or Germany).

  26. Great post! My boyfriend and I pretty much do the same thing. I have found that using cash often makes things a lot easier, though obviously it’s not always possible and is sometimes a more costly way to go!

    Also this advice is good for any travel companions, I think – I travelled with my younger brother in 2012 and tips like open communication and keeping track of expenses definitely helps!

  27. An interesting topic and discussion. My wife and I are 1.5 months into our trip around the world (documentation here: We saved for the trip together and we’re spending the money together. After all, we are traveling together! If either of us needs a personal item we pay for it. It evens out in the end. And we’ve been together long enough (10 years) and are in enough agreement about the trip expenses to know each other’s tastes and spending habits. We trust each other, in other words, to make choices that are beneficial to our individual selves as well as to us as a couple. We do track all our expenses as well, which has been extremely helpful in keeping us on the $100-per-day-on-average track.

  28. Hi, im 25 yrs old now. And im soon gonna go on trip with my bf. We share the ticket and hotel fee, not yet discuss the rest expenses. But all of my friends were saying why i paid half should let guy paid to show how he care u, because usually in our culture always boy sponsor gf when traveling. This bothers me a bit.

  29. Please address this problem: I have only my social security and a small savings for emergency medical needs. I’m dating a man who is very well off. He wants us to travel to Europe but there’s no way I can pay for much of anything. He says it will please him for me to go with him as he won’t go alone, it would be no fun. I feel very intimidated and reluctant but of course would love to go. Any advice???

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