You don’t want to come back from vacation to an empty bank account. You have to have a vacation budget! It’s pretty easy to set a hypothetical goal budget before your vacation starts. “I’m only going to spend X amount every day of my vacation!” It sounds perfectly reasonable. You go in with a plan. But then life happens. You only roughly estimate how much you spend every day. It seems to go pretty well! Then you get home, check your bank account, and BAM! You blew the budget, by, like, a lot. It happens! But with a little planning ahead and help from a budget planning tool, you can preempt the damage for next time! Here are 5 tips for making and keeping a vacation budget.
#1. Research Your Destination
In order to set a reasonable budget, you have to know what “reasonable” looks like in your planned destination. For example, you could probably live comfortably on $30 a day in certain parts of Southeast Asia, but there is no way that you could even just eat on $30 in places like Zurich, Switzerland. So you really need to know the prices of things before you go in order to set a reasonable budget.
#2. Make an Informed & Reasonable Budget
It’s easy to say that you’re only going to eat from the grocery store and not buy anything while on a trip in order to save money, but is that really reasonable? If you set your budget so low that there’s no chance of success, then you are just going to make yourself feel guilty when you inevitably blow your budget. Traveling can already be stressful, with the transportation and missing work and everything (more on that here), and you don’t need to add to that by setting an unreasonable budget and then blowing it.
#3. Use a Travel Spending App
While you’re on your trip, don’t just guess-timate how much you’re spending every day. Use an app so you have some detailed information! The one I use is Tripcoin. Unfortunately, it’s only currently available for iOS devices, but it IS free! Tripcoin lets you keep track of your expenses in any currency, and it will automatically convert it to your home currency (or currency of choice) based off of the current exchange rate. You do need to make sure you update the exchange rate every few days, because I think it’s a day or two behind.
#4. Plan Your Meals
This one is incredibly important. Food and lodging are generally the most expensive things about travel. Poor decision making while you’re hungry can affect all of the planning for your spending. If you don’t plan your meals, 1 of 2 things could easily happen:
- You end up eating at a really expensive restaurant and blowing your daily budget (or more!) all on the one meal
- You end up eating McDonald’s for every meal because you forget to eat until you’re starving or because you’ve already spent your daily budget on other things
Planning the meals, for me, is actually the most exciting part of planning a trip! (Is this sad?) I love going through Trip Advisor to find the best local eats, Asian food, or other food I might be craving, all at the price I’m willing to pay. Is there one pretty nice restaurant I really want to visit? Then plan ahead what the budget for the place will be. Check out the menu online! Some places include prices, some don’t. But you should be able to get an idea of the pricing based off of the reviews. Don’t forget to include alcohol, appetizers, and desserts in your calculations. Be sure to compensate with a much cheaper place (or even a grocery store visit) the day before or after (before is better). You have to plan this in advance, though. If you don’t, you run the risk of every meal being just-a-little over budget with “plans” to compensate “later” on some other undefined meal.
Not only is planning your meals ahead of time better for your wallet, it’s also better for your waistline! This way you know that you will have a heavy meal on Friday, so better lighten up on Thursday to compensate. It’s all about balance.
#5. Determine Your Lodging Needs
To keep costs down, make a short list of everything you need in a place to stay. Check it twice and cross a few things out. Don’t book a place that has more! Do you just need a bed? Maybe look into staying in a hostel. Want a kitchen so you can cook your own food? Get an Air Bnb. Like a separate room for the kiddos? Air Bnb might be your best option, instead of getting two hotel rooms, or being all crammed into one.
The point is, don’t get a five-star “splurge” hotel if a three-star would have everything you need and still be comfortable and safe. How much time are you planning to stay in the hotel room anyway?