5 Tips for Travel Budgeting
Whether it’s the excitement of seeing new places, trying local cuisine, or experiencing a different culture, Americans enjoy traveling. Who doesn’t remember a family road trip and being crammed in the back of a packed car? Budget for your travel plans so that when you’re ready to take your trip, you’re financially set to do so!
It’s easy to get carried away on trips. To help control your spending, establish a budget you’re comfortable with for transportation, meals and excursions. This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice! It’s simply a way to make sure your family is positioned to have a fun vacation on a budget that works for your bottom line.
Whether you already know your budget and need to see how far you can stretch it or you’re just getting started, these five tips can help you with your travel budgeting.
Learn About Your Destination
As much fun as it can seem to travel to a destination with very little planning and trying to learn as you go, costs can quickly grow out of control. Do your homework on the destination. Learn about restaurants, attractions, and hotels in the area that are affordable for you and your family, and take a mental note of the places that are off limits.
Make a “To-Do” List
Do you know your travel style? Are you more likely to choose desserts and fancy dinners or a pet-friendly hotel? What tradeoffs are you willing to make, and which items are must-do? Make a list of things that are important for your family to have a great trip, and then prioritize it to help you focus on money-saving ideas for the most important “must-dos.”
For example, if sight-seeing is your goal, you can pack a picnic lunch for your adventures. Staying at a hotel where breakfast is included is both convenient and means paying for one less meal per day. You can also eat at uncommon times to avoid crowds and cut costs. Many restaurants may have early bird pricing for dinner. Brunch can also feel like a splurge, but actually save money by allowing you to pay for one meal instead of two! If trying local cuisine is important to you, consider a food tour to make sure you can try new dishes and still experience the city sights and culture as you go from restaurant to restaurant.
Your must-do list will begin to take the form of a custom itinerary, giving you a concrete plan for each day and a better idea of how to manage it within a clever budget.
Travel in the Off Season
Do some research to find out what the off season is for your preferred destination. For example, did you know places like south Florida tend to be less expensive in summer than in winter, or that prices rise in the summer months in western states, but fall lower in late spring and early fall?
Traveling in the off season is one of the best ways to cut costs. Flight prices are often at their lowest, hotels can be cheaper and more flexible, and you’ll miss the crowds! Whether you are heading to a national park or a sunny beach getaway, traveling in your destination’s off season is a great way to cut costs when travel budgeting.
Whether you’re looking at hotels (or hotel alternatives, like AirBnB), flights, or even guided tours, there are likely a number of options to choose from in each category. Compare prices and value for each to understand the best choice for you. Online reviews can be very important in your search to cut costs, but read them carefully. Look to see if others felt that certain costs were justified – or even better, if they felt that they got more than their money’s worth.
For air travel, take into account that a non-stop may be more expensive than if you connected through another airport, and look for surrounding airports to see if a 30 minute shuttle ride could save you hundreds of dollars.
There are also many websites that allow you to compare rates from a number of major travel sites at once, allowing you to make sure you are finding the best prices.
Stick to It!
Travel budgeting only works if you stick with it once you get to your destination. Sometimes it’s souvenirs or an innocent, unexpected dinner. But going off budget just a few times can take a trip from memorable to regrettable really quickly.
There are a couple of ways to avoid this mistake.
First, when you set your estimated budget for items that are not fixed costs, especially food, it’s better to overestimate than to underestimate. Leave yourself some wiggle room. Those extra few dollars can add up over the course of your trip.
Second, set a “fun money” category in your budget. Give yourself even more wiggle room by setting aside money each day with no specific plan for it. You can use this money for spur of the moment opportunities or just splurge! This doesn’t mean you have to spend it each day. Your “fun money” can also take the form of emergency money.
Next, try to pre-pay as much as possible. The less money you have on you, the less tempted you will be to spend it unnecessarily. For anything you can’t pay in advance, you could take a pre-paid debit card or take cash only to make sure that you are sticking to your budget numbers.
Finally, have someone hold you accountable for the budget you set. It could be a friend, a spouse, or a travel companion; but having someone else traveling with you that understands your travel budgeting can help you stick to your plan.