Setting and maintaining a travel budget can be very difficult. It can take any vacation that is meant to be relaxing or exciting and make it nothing more than a stressful mess. I love travelling but I’m frugal so the thought of spending too much on a trip makes me queasy. If you’re like me, the best way to avoid becoming nauseous is to set a travel budget and stick to it.
I like to plan trips in advance. One of the things I do in the planning process is track all the known costs in a spreadsheet (you don’t have to be an expert in excel either). Many travel expenses could be known prior to leaving on your trip such as airfare, lodging, and entertainment. You may not know everything you want to do or see but note the costs of anything you do know about in advance. Some people like to hit the open road and stop only when they feel like it. My family did that occasionally when I was younger but now I prefer to know where I’ll be staying long before I ever pack my bags. If you agree, you’ll probably know how much your hotel (or B&B, campground, etc.) will cost so plug in those numbers.
Budgeting isn’t just picking the cheapest options, of course. I note pricing for different airlines and hotels in my chart until we select the right ones. By inputting all the pertinent details I can compare prices and other factors from different websites easily. The cheapest flight might be the most inconvenient. It’s all about finding the right balance. I just happened to find a quick sale on Icelandair flights for our honeymoon. We saved $300 per ticket and were able to fly overnight with a short layover in Reykjavik. Waking up at 4am Iceland time to switch planes wasn’t the most enticing idea but the discounted ticket and the thought of landing, if only briefly, in Iceland was worth the slight inconvenience. You may not have made the same decision. Weigh the options for yourself and plan your budget around these big ticket items.
Once the largest costs of your trip are known, track the known costs of different attractions you may want to visit. Before our honeymoon to London and Paris, I created a list of everything we might want to see in those cities and researched entrance/ticket fees. Take a look at an abbreviated version of the sights in London below.
This is just a portion of the huge list (London has a truly endless supply of things to do (I’d move there next week if we could ever afford it)) but look at how many attractions were free! Walking around looking at free stuff isn’t for all travelers but it certainly is a budget-friendly task. Whatever types of things you do, knowing the costs of as many of them as possible can help you make your trip equally memorable and cost-efficient. It doesn’t matter if you want to see that super popular (and expensive) Broadway play or skydive over the Caribbean as long as you know about the costs in advance and plan accordingly. If one of your to-do list items falls through (bummer), simply chalk those up as savings or splurge on that delicious but way too expensive dessert.
Now that you’re aware of as many costs as possible, it’s time to do a little guess-work for the rest. How much will it cost to eat on vacation? Will you dine out for every meal or buy groceries and pack a lunch (which I recommend if possible)? Do some research and figure out the average meal price at restaurants near where you are staying. Then take that average price and multiple by the number of meals you plan to eat in restaurants. If there’s a special restaurant you want to visit, find that menu and when you’re done salivating over their famous special, calculate how many hours you’ll have to work in order it. You won’t feel guilty or be caught off-guard if you prepare for these costs in advance. Parking, gasoline, souvenir purchases, and tips are other costs that can be estimated before you depart (assuming tipping is a culturally acceptable practice where you’re going). Add all your estimates and known costs together and you’ll have your rough budget. It’s a good idea to plan a contingency fund for emergencies like illness overseas or replacing necessary lost/stolen items. It is impossible to see everything coming so set aside a bit of money for the unplanned.
In conclusion, knowledge is power; planning is knowledge; budgeting is planning; thus budgeting is power.