Making a realistic sabbatical budget is critical for the success of your trip as well as your peace of mind. How much you will spend is very dependent on where you want to go and how long you’ll stay so a realistic budget can only be done after the locations have been decided upon with some accuracy. Location impacts anything from the price of the home you rent, cost of living and cost of flights. You might have to rule out a place because it turns out that it adds too much cost to your trip. In our case we had to let go of Chile. Not only would the flights have been a lot more expensive (and longer) but also accommodation was more than I had planned on.
Here are some things to keep in mind when making your sabbatical budget:
As a frequent traveler I book all my flights online and have ever since that option first became available. The sabbatical was the only exception: I worked with a travel agent and recommend you do the same. Booking trips for the whole family, to multiple countries over a multiple month period on an Internet site is a surefire way to go insane and make a costly mistake. So even if using a travel agent adds a few dollars, this is the one time it is worth it.
If you have miles and the chance to upgrade any of your flights I strongly recommend you do whenever possible for long hauls. Life is so much better in Business Class.
You’ll negotiate the rental cost for your accommodations before hand. Browsing through the sites I listed in the Resources page you can get a good impression of the typical cost for a place. Most landlords are willing to negotiate lower prices if you stay a month or even 2 weeks. Just try.
Make sure you get a complete list of additional cost like water, gas, electricity, Wifi, cleaning, etc. A place that looks more expensive but doesn’t charge the extras separately might be cheaper than one with a lower weekly/monthly rate which then charges all the extras on top.
If you stay a month you might want to have a cleaning lady come once a week or so. Ask the landlord for the cost of the one they are using and whether a weekly visit is included.
Again, this very much depends on you and the location. Life in Mexico and Costa Rica are cheap, in New York City, Tokyo or Zurich not so much. Cost of living indices can give you some idea. A handy-dandy little tool I found recently lets you compare prices between two cities.
One thing to keep in mind in exotic places is that you might end up spending more money on food than the price index comparison would suggest since you are not having “typical meals” but you’ll end up eating a lot in Western type restaurants, which tend to be more expensive. If you and your child are adventurous eaters that might not be true, but in our case it very much was. Our son didn’t much care for Indian spices and so it was a lot of expensive Western food. However, he loved (and still loves) Mexican food, esp. rice, beans and platanos – so that was cheap and he was very happy.
We saved a lot of money by doing breakfast at home (you get eggs and some type of bread, cheese and milk in most places) and then often only had snacks for lunch and then dinner. We did cook in our homes on a regular basis, which our son loved. I did the simple favorites like pasta with sauce Bolognese and the home cooking made him happy and helped save money.
We found food stalls a great and cheap options in Mexico and India. In Europe it often was a small dishes or baked products like pizza slices for lunch which also helped us save – and gain weight 🙁
We took trips on occasion and spent a night or two in a hotel. On such occasions we also rented cars and ate all our meals in restaurants while traveling. Going places also adds cost to your sabbatical budget in terms of tickets, admissions, rentals for boats or bikes etc. Again the cost depend very much on were you go: the Natural History Museum in Merida was cheap even including hiring a guide but if you want to see the Duomo in Florence, scale the tower, visit the crypt and the baptistery you end up spending a lot of money. The attractions you read about in every travel guide are more expensive. That house boat trip in Kerala: lovely but not cheap; visiting a temple festival: the price of the rickshaw and a few dollars for food.
I haven’t found a site that lists all the admission prices for the major attractions worldwide so if you need to know how much to budget you’ll need to do your own diligence on that.
To make the arduous process of making a sabbatical budget easier for you, I have compiled a worksheet that you can download here. This is meant to be a starting point rather than the ultimate and complete solution. Please treat it as such and add your own line items and take out what you don’t need.