Could anyone set me up to work with an airline? Like seriously. Pleaassee? Turns out my flight to Portugal accounted for more than half of my budget. And we all know the story is the same for just about any trip. Ugh! I need to learn travel hacking. Or something needs to change. I refuse to let the price tag on flights deter me from traveling, but it’s putting a serious dent in my (almost empty) wallet.
Taking a look at my budget is not one of my favorite things to do. Not even close. But since my guide to budgeting for Southeast Asia remains my most popular post to date, I know its information that needs to be shared.
I’ve found some inspiring posts on how to save up for travel, but the few bloggers that address what travel actually costs tend to be vague. Understandable since budgets are boring and can vary wildly depending on travel style, timing, etc. But I get plenty of texts/calls/messages/emails and the top question is always, “So I want to go to _____, how much money do I need?”
Want to go to Portugal? Okay, here’s what it cost to travel there for one week. Remember though, budgets can vary wildly, so this is just a basis for your budget.
The Local Currency
Portugal is part of the EU and uses the Euro, but you will be hard pressed to spend time with any local without hearing about how bad the Portuguese economy is. There are abandoned buildings in the middle of Lisbon because residents couldn’t afford rent increases enforced as a part of their financial bailout plan and had to move to the suburbs. Salaries are low and the country is trying to keep its cost of living low. It’s unfortunate but as a result, Portugal is one of the most affordable countries in western Europe to travel to.
Together traveler tip: The exchange rate for making a withdrawal from an ATM’s is usually better than the rate at a local exchange counter. Use a checking account with low foreign ATM fees.
Gimme Some Cash
I arrived in Lisbon with two Capital One check cards, two Capital One credit cards and $200 in cash. What I usually carry in my wallet, minus the cash. I located an ATM before exiting the airport (there’s one near baggage claim and a few across from the tourism information booth) and withdrew 100 Euros. The ATM fees and exchange rate only cost me about $5. Fortunately I had no lost or stolen card issues like I did in Thailand.
Summer wasn’t able to withdraw money from an ATM and had brought a bulk amount of cash to exchange. This gave us a little trouble because of banking hours. We were able to find a Western Union exchange counter in the Rossio train station, below the hostel where I was staying. Until we got to the counter during it’s open hours, I had to make charges on my credit card and Summer paid me in cash later.
Together traveler tip: Be prepared with multiple ways for exchanging or accessing money (check card, cash and credit card) so you don’t get stuck.
Here’s what I spent…
As you already know, I’m a bit peeved with the cost of my flight. Whatever, letting it go. It is also worth noting that I was a guest of Lisbon Destination Hostels which saved me roughly $200 off the totals listed below. I included their pricing information however (and will note when I do this), to provide you with a full picture of the actual costs for travel in Portugal.
This figure can decrease significantly if you book your flight in advance, use miles or points to book your ticket or cut back on your (my) shopping habits.
I decided to join Summer in Portugal at the last minute, which will really cost you in flights. I mulled over my options here but in the end I went for an open jaw (multi-city) flight with United. It cost me $1,270 and flew from Dulles to Lisbon (with a layover in Newark) and returned from Lisbon to O’Hare in Chicago (with a layover in Newark) because a) I had a wedding to attend upon my return, b) it was $200 cheaper to fly back to Chicago than DC and c) my travel time was short and my dates weren’t flexible. If I had more flexibility with my time I would have flown into Milan, Madrid or Barcelona (cheapest flights to Europe I found), and spent a day or two there before catching a budget flight to Lisbon.
Together traveler tip: Consider changing your arrival city and connecting with a budget operator.
Lisbon is well connected, has a cheap shuttle from the airport and offers a good train system that will get you to other destinations through the country. One local suggested we consider the buses from Lisbon to the Algarve because they are cheaper, faster and sometimes run more frequently. Taxis are fairly inexpensive if you split them with friends but the metro is dirt cheap and easy to navigate. I used the metro to get back to the airport because it was a festival and I wanted to avoid traffic. I should have used it the entire time.
Together traveler tip: Purchase a viva viagem card at any metro station and load a few Euros on it. With the card, any metro or tram ride costs only 1.40 Euros.
Lodging was pretty inexpensive in Portugal. I was surprised to find the rates were about the same as I remembered lodging to cost when I visited Greece in 2011. I really enjoyed the hostels I stayed with in Lisbon, but another affordable option, if you prefer privacy, is to book an airbnb. I looked at rentals in the Algarve but so many looked generic and empty. I was extremely happy staying at the surfer’s apartment with Quinta do Alto and the price was perfect for us.
Since I was a guest of Lisbon Destination Hostels I did not pay for my accommodations there, but have included the cost of lodging to give you a full picture of the cost to travel in Portugal.
I calculate my daily allowance by looking through my financial records (checking accounts, credit card statements, etc) and adding up all the miscellaneous expenses left over during my travel. In Portugal I visited an ATM at the airport to withdraw 100 Euros and an ATM in Lagos to withdraw 160 Euros. Any other Euro cash I had access to came from Summer paying me back for transactions we placed on my credit card. I also spent about $100 shopping in Lisbon only to struggle to zip my suitcase closed on my last day. Oops.
All of my Euros were used for meals in Lisbon, groceries at the intermarche in Lagos and vinho verde. Yes, lots of vinho verde. I also used Euros to pay for some of our transportation costs but that’s been included in transportation costs above. So adding up my cash expenditures, subtracting transportation and adding in cash from Summer and shopping, I spent $407.93 in fun money. Divide that by seven days and that gives you roughly $60 per day for a daily allowance.
Dinner at our favorite restaurant in Lisbon with countless glass of wine rang in around 20 Euros per person. You can save a lot of money on food by grocery shopping or eating at inexpensive cafes. In Lisbon you can find 1 Euro beers at some bars in Bairro Alto, but the cheapest drinks are near the university or bought on the streets where the locals hang out (we were there during a festival). Downtown Lagos is fairly touristy so bought our own bottles on vinho verde and enjoyed poolside at our rental as the sun set.
Renting a car was one of the best decisions we made, and I would spend every penny again (included in transportation costs), but tours are an inexpensive way to see and experience a lot of the destination in a short period of time. I really loved our biking tour in Belem, eating dinner with a local in Entrecampos and learning to surf in the Algarve. Take advantage of free walking tours when you can!
Taking surf lessons was a great way to explore some of the local beaches. Since I was a guest of The Surf Experience and Lisbon Destination Tours I did not pay for their affiliated tours, but have included the cost to give you a full picture of the cost to travel in Portugal.
So how should you budget your trip?
To budget for your own trip to Portugal, add up the daily cost ($60/day – adjusted to fit your travel style), the cost of the flight, the average cost per night for lodging and any transportation or excursion costs you anticipate. I would recommend booking tours and lodging in advance because Portugal is a popular destination in the summer and many things were booked up when we checked two weeks in advance. And an advantage to doing this is it will give you a clear picture of your expenses.
It’s always better to save a little extra for unexpected expenses. Need some help budgeting your trip? Check out my budgeting worksheet here.
I would love to help you plan for your next trip! Shoot me an email or let me know if you have any questions/suggestions regarding budgeting for Portugal in the comments below.
If you are looking for a packing guide, read this post.
And you can even take a look at my suggested itinerary.
Need help planning your own trip? Follow these 5 easy steps for building a travel itinerary.