I know, I know—budgeting for a vacation sounds so lame, but it’s also so worth it! It’s beneficial to know how much you’ll need to spend on your trip so you don’t go overboard. Plus, taking a little time to prepare will help you cut costs.
The one thing that I don’t want you to do is go into debt for a vacation. If your travel budget isn’t enough for your dream trip, you can table that for another year. Take a more modest vacation instead and you’ll still have a blast and make great memories. Travel is great no matter where you go!
Take a look at my travel budgeting plan and figure out how you can go on a trip without breaking the bank. Here are the steps I use to create a budget:
TO BEGIN TRIP PLANNING, START WITH A BUDGET TOTAL
There are two ways to do this:
- If you don’t have a specific destination you want to travel to in mind, figure out an amount you’re willing to spend, then find destinations that fit into that amount. An easy way to get a total is to look at how much money you can save a month. Multiply that by the number of months until you want to leave on your trip, and you’ll have your total. Once you have your total, go to Google Flights, Kayak, or Skyscanner and use the “Explore” option, put in your specifications (dates, number of stops, price limit, duration), then view all of the different cities that pop up. Ta da! You have options within your budget!
- If you have your heart set on going somewhere specific, find out how much money you’ll need to save to go to that specific area by researching the prices in that area. You can do that by following the steps below to get some rough numbers together. Also look at budgetyourtrip.com to get an estimate of the cost of living at your destination. Once you have that total, divide that by how many months until you want to leave, and you’ll see how much money you need to save each month until your trip.
FIGURE OUT HOW MUCH YOUR LARGEST EXPENSES WILL COST:
- Lodging (hotel, house or condo rental)
- Transportation (rental car, airport transfers)
For airline tickets:
To research flights, Google Flights, Kayak, and Skyscanner allow you to put in your exact trip specifications and show you options based on your choices. They also offer a flexible calendar to view the cheaper days to travel, and Kayak can also check surrounding airports to see it’s cheaper to fly in or out of a nearby airport. Also check Southwest and other budget airlines for comparison since they don’t show up on the flight search engines.
Tips to get cheap flights:
- Be flexible with dates. Sometimes, just bumping the trip one day (like instead of Friday-Monday, go Saturday-Tuesday), or going one week earlier or later, can save hundreds. The change in days usually helps with lodging costs as well.
- Consider nearby airports to fly out of and into. For example, it’s always cheaper (and significantly easier) to fly into Burbank instead of LAX in Los Angeles.
- Look at the flights with stops to compare the difference. If it’s only going to save you $50 to stop, it’s probably not worth it. But you might save hundreds!
First, check booking.com to see options for all types of accommodations. That’s always my first step so I can get a feel for the pricing in the area. If you want to strictly look at house or condo rentals, check sites like VRBO and AirBnB. Not only will you have more room, but you’ll be able to significantly cut your food budget if you’re willing to cook your own meals.
If you are planning on renting a car, rentalcars.com is always my first stop. It provides pricing for multiple car rental agencies. Take a look at TransitApp or Moovit if you would rather use public transportation. You will be able to see how long and how much it’ll take to get from one area to another. If you’re going to a walkable area, ditch the transportation fee completely and walk. If you’re staying at a hotel, call to ask if they have any shuttle services or bike rentals so you have options to get around near the hotel.
ADD IN THE SMALLER EXPENSES
- Food (eating out and buying groceries to cook yourself)
- Entertainment (tours, excursions, shows, amusement parks)
- Special gear (beach toys, blankets, chairs)
- Gifts/souvenirs (if any)
Check food prices by visiting websites of the restaurants at your destination to view their menu. Also look for any specials on certain days and what kind of kids deals they have. Use Yelp to scan restaurants in the area and search by price (the reviews always help too!)
Figure out the activities you are interested in doing (you can use Viator or Get Your Guide)—call them up to see if they have any specials or discounts. Also, ask about extra costs like if you need to rent certain equipment from them). Check CityPass too—they have all kinds of activity bundles for a fraction of the regular price.
DEDUCT YOUR REGULAR EXPENSES FROM YOUR SAVINGS TOTAL
Once you get the trip totals together, also get your regular expenses together.
If you are going on vacation for a week, total together your regular weekly spending like groceries, childcare costs, gas, entertainment budget, etc. You were going to spend that money regardless, so now you can tack it on to the vacation budget. You can either subtract that amount from the total you need to save, OR don’t add it to your budget and use the extra money to splurge on something on the trip.
BUDGETING ON VACATION
The budgeting doesn’t stop once you book the trip. While at your destination, try not to let yourself get carried away.
Track your daily spending in these ways:
- Try the envelope system: have envelopes of cash for each day or type of expense. Once the cash in the envelope is gone, then you either have to borrow from another envelope or you are done spending money that day/activity.
- Plan to use a credit card for all of your purchases and track your spending at the end of the day to ensure you’re not going overboard.
These are just a few steps to have some peace of mind when planning travel. Leave me know your budgeting tips in the comments!