A great vacation starts with a dream and a budget. Sounds conflicting, doesn’t it? But a true vacation should involve a special place or something you have always wanted to do. If you do it with the help of a budget, you won’t have sticker shock clouding your pleasure. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Start your planning early
Half the fun of going on a trip is planning it. Like most expenditures, how much you should spend on travel is highly personal. If you’re out of debt, spend up to 10% of your budget on travel, however, if you are still in debt, spend up to 5%. Don’t pick your destination based on whatever great deals you happen to see. Instead, choose where you want to go, how you will get there, and what you plan to do once you get there. These costs vary. For example, it may cost a significant amount to travel to your destination, but hotels may be inexpensive. The trick is to plan a vacation that does not have high costs in all three areas. Keep in mind, however, that if your vacation dates are flexible, you may be able to score some good last minute deals.
Focus on a vacation theme
Do you want to go camping, canoeing or fishing? How about sports? No matter what you choose, you can alternate more expensive activities with ones that are low-cost or free. Such activities are often listed in local events websites or community recreation guides. For example, you could go to a minor league game instead of a major league game. You could also make a list of possible activities and let family members each choose an event or activity.
Once you know the cost of your transportation and hotels, determine a budget for daily spending, such as food and shopping. Then build in a 10 - 15 percent cushion for unexpected expenses. If you tend to overspend, take each day’s allotment of money, put it in a separate envelope and store it in the hotel safe. Use one envelope per day. Avoid using your credit cards for casual spending. If you are traveling to a foreign country, research where to obtain the best exchange rate. Then exchange the amount of money you can spend based on your budget. If you decide to use the envelope system, note the cost in US dollars on the envelope to keep track of your spending. It is also a good idea to check in advance with your bank and credit card companies to learn about any foreign transaction fees and alert them that you will be traveling.
Hunger and thirst
The best way to save on meal costs, especially if you are traveling with kids, is to stay somewhere that offers free breakfast, a kitchen, or a fridge. Picnics for lunch or dinner are always festive and fun. Kids often do not enjoy waiting in restaurants, so a casual meal at the beach or the park may be more relaxing for everybody. Pack reusable water bottles and pick up other beverages at a local grocery store.
Souvenirs can be a real trap for impulse buyers. You can make a game of souvenir shopping. Save your change in a jar before you go and designate that money for souvenirs. If you like to bring home gifts, go with a list of people to buy for. Or choose one or two special keepsakes you want to bring home for yourself. Kids may be interested in starting a collection, such as pins, magnets or postcards. Before you buy that irresistible pottery jar, remember that you may have to pay extra baggage fees to bring it home on the plane. Sometimes just walking away, even for a few minutes, reduces the impulse to buy.
Do you love to travel? Too often we take the trip first, and then try to figure out how to pay for it later. Instead, start by creating a budget. You will have a wonderful, memorable, affordable trip, with no regrets.