Whether you’re preparing for your first trip or your fiftieth adventure, it’s best to think ahead of your travel budget. I hope this guide helps you to better budget and plan for your trips.
(1) Establish how much you can afford
Once you’ve decided to travel, the first thing you must do is determine how much money you have available to spend on your trip. This is a necessary step to help you set aside this money and evaluate your options regarding transportation, accommodations, and activities. Knowing you only have, say $1000, to spend informs your decisions about where you can afford to go, stay, and do at your desired destination.
I don’t recommend getting yourself into debt just to go on a trip. If you have a dollar amount in mind, work on a savings plan to attain to it. I keep a separate savings account just for trips to help keep track of available travel funds. The following tips in this article will assist you in figuring out how far that budget will take you.
(2) Research your destination
Use online resources to get advice from people who have gone to your destination… like the site you’re on the right now. 😉 Talk to your friends and coworkers, or join a travel group on Facebook, and ask questions about best time of year to visit, favorite sights to see, hidden gems, or how much a meal costs. Dig into each of the neighborhoods to decide where you would prefer to stay while at your destination.
Head on over to Amazon.com and check out travel guidebooks for your destination that can be read on a Kindle device or app. This allows you to buy one or more guidebooks and take them along without the extra weight in your bag. You can highlight sections of the book and add notes for quick reference later. If you don’t already have an e-reader, I recommend the Kindle Paperwhite. It’s lightweight, the screen is illuminated, and it’s super easy to read in broad daylight – which is perfect for reading at the beach.
(3) Evaluate your transportation costs
Keep in mind that airfare will usually take up the largest portion of your budget. If you’re flying to your destination, start to look for airfare prices early to get a feel for the cost and recognize when discounts are in effect. Remember to use flexible dates in your search to find the best deals. My preferred sites are Google Flights or Kayak.com which offer flight tracking and price alert features. While I use these sites for budget planning purposes, I always book my flights directly with the airlines to avoid any ticketing issues.
Don’t forget to explore your options for local transportation as well. Some things to think about: How will you get from the airport to your accommodations? How will you get around town? Does your destination offer public transportation options? If visiting more than one city, how will you get from one place to another?
(4) Explore your options for accommodations
These days there are more places for visitors to stay than just hotels. Depending on your destination, you may have the option of staying at hostels, hotels, bed & breakfast, or even vacation apartments/houses. Where you should stay depends on many factors. Take into consideration the amenities that you absolutely must have.
If you need to stay connected, ensure your lodging has WiFi included. If you’re traveling during warmer months, you may want to confirm you will have A/C available. If you’re looking to reduce how much you spend on food, check if the hotel includes breakfast with the rate. Or you may want to consider a vacation apartment which will give you access to a kitchen to prepare meals.
Websites like Booking.com (click here for a $25 credit) or Hotels.com (click here for $50 off your first reservation) is a great way to view many options available in the area. But don’t forget to check out the hotel’s website if you find one you really like. They may include amenities or offer perks for booking directly with them.
(5) Identify your sightseeing costs
Make a short list of the activities you would like to do. Start by tracking all of the museums, walking tours, hikes, and other activities you are interested in… along with their cost. You can pair down which ones you actually sign-up for or participate in based on their schedule or price if you find that you need cut costs.
I’ve used Viator.com for years to find great activities to do while on my trip. I find that their suppliers are really good and provide reliable service. If you sign up for their emails, you can get 10% off your first purchase.
(6) Consider buying travel insurance
Decide whether you need to buy a travel insurance policy for your trip. Ask your credit card issuer if they provide trip delay or lost baggage coverage if these are your top concerns. Remember that you’ll need to purchase your airfare with that credit card to be covered, so find out any included benefits/perks before you buy anything.
You may also want travel insurance that includes medical care in the event that you are injured or get sick while abroad. Check if your current healthcare policy covers you outside of your home country. I recommend you consider purchasing travel insurance if you are paying for hotels, tours, or rentals far in advance, and are concerned about booking non-refundable rates.
(7) Designate an allowance for meals
Give yourself a daily allowance for what you want to spend on food. Multiply the daily amount by how many days you’ll be traveling. Be realistic. You will need to account for this amount in your overall budget. Here’s where talking to people who have been to your destination before will come in handy. Get recommendations for good places to eat that won’t break the bank. A general tip is to step away from the main tourist sites to find eateries that offer better quality food and cheaper prices.
Things to consider: Are you looking to go out for a special occasion? Do you enjoy a cocktail or two with dinner? Are you willing to go to the local grocery store or market and make a few meals yourself? Will your hotel room rate include breakfast? Do you have specific dietary needs? The answers to these questions will help you determine whether you need to adjust your budget.
(8) Set a budget for gifts and souvenirs
Think about how much money you want to set aside for any personal souvenirs. Is there anything, in particular, you’re hoping to find during your travels? When I went to Buenos Aires, I knew I wanted to buy some quality Argentine leather products. I came back with a custom-made jacket, crossbody purse, and booties.
Don’t forget to make a list of everyone you would like to bring back gifts for and set a budget per person. Are you looking to get smaller souvenirs like magnets or shot glasses? Is there a specific type of item you would want to bring back for someone special?
(9) Earmark money for incidentals
Sometimes things happen while traveling. Make sure you leave some money set aside to allow you to make last-minute purchases as needed. This could be for things like running to the pharmacy for an unforeseen illness or even booking an alternate train/bus if you miss your original transport connection.
Consider packing a first aid kit to be prepared and save some money while you’re at it. Check out my first-aid kit post where I show some of the things I carry in my kit.
(10) Track your travel spending
Coming up with a realistic budget is the most important part of planning a trip. Use my handy travel budget tracker to keep track of your travel expenses.I use this spreadsheet for every one of my trips to keep me on budget and I’ve continually updated it over the years.
This will help you see where your money is going and realize whether you can afford the trip you want to take. It will also give you an idea of where you can cut costs to make it less expensive.
How do you keep yourself on a budget? Let me know with a comment below.