It’s hard sticking to a budget day to day and even more so while relaxing on vacation. Don’t leave your budget behind when jetting off.
After working your ass off all year, you deserve a relaxing vacation without worrying about money. However, the “Fuck it, we’re on vacation” spending can get out of control. It’s very easy to fall off the wagon, but there are many ways to save money while on vacation.
You shouldn’t be skimping on a great experience, but you also don’t want to spend like it’s your last day on earth. When you get back to reality and find an astronomically high credit card bill, all that stress you just left on the beach will come crashing back. It’s important to stay within your budget while on vacation so financial worries don’t interfere with your fun.
Budget and Research
You first need to figure out what your travel budget is. And I mean actually, sit down and look at what you can afford. You may need to cut back in other areas or save a little longer. The two biggest things that will affect your total trip cost is where you’re going and when you’re going to go to be as flexible as you can in these two areas.
Break down travel expenses into categories: accommodations, meals, airfare, and activities. Figure out how much you can spend on each. For example, when traveling to Denmark, we stayed and an Airbnb for $70 a night and our airfare was $400 per person, round trip which was a great deal. However, everything else there is pretty pricey so we had to plan accordingly. Research average daily spending in the area you plan on traveling too.
I am obsessed with SkyScanner to find the cheapest airfare. They have calendars and charts showing what airfare prices will be for every day of the year, which makes it easy to find the cheapest days to fly. Be flexible with your dates so you can check the entire month and get the lowest fare.
You can also book a connecting flight to save some money. Yes, they do suck but it could save hundreds of dollars. If the layover isn’t too long, then it’s worth it.
Airbnb is awesome! If you haven’t tried it yet, you definitely should. The prices are great, especially if you’re traveling with friends or family. Staying in a house or condo can be way cheaper than getting multiple hotel rooms. Most places have full kitchens so you can cook some of your meals which will save you a ton of money.
Research the location of your accommodations. It may be cheaper to stay on the outskirts of the area you’re visiting. Just make sure there is sufficient public transportation to attractions, restaurants and bars. If there isn’t, you might end up spending more on cabs.
Once you figure out the best deal for airfare and accommodations, create a daily allowance for activities. Start by making a list of things you want to see and do how much they cost.
If you’re planning to see popular tourist attractions, look into city passes or museum passes that give you access to multiple spots for one price. Many times they are way cheaper than paying entrance fees at each attraction. Sometimes you can even skip the line!
If you’re not a museum kind of person, spend a day enjoying the great outdoors. Go to a beach or park, find a trail to hike or bike, or just enjoy strolling around different neighborhoods. It’s a great way to take in you surroundings for free!
Live Like a Local
There is no better way to discover a place and its people than through the local cuisine. Food can account for a significant chunk of your vacation budget. Locally made food and drink are often less expensive. Consider trying the local beer, coffee, and food. You might be surprised at how good and cheap it is.
Go to grocery stores and buy ingredients to make some of your meals, beverages, and snacks. If you can save on breakfast and lunch it will give you a little extra spending money to go out to a nice dinner. Street food is another inexpensive option and is an excellent way to try the authentic local cuisine.
Tourist traps suck. They cost too much, the crowds are crazy and the attractions are often disappointing. Save money on excursions by doing some really cool stuff with locals. These off the beaten path experiences will definitely impress your friends.
SideTour is a community of locals and passionate hosts creating handpicked activities in your destination city.
Eat With is for truly one of a kind dining experiences. Enjoy meals with fellow food lovers at the home of a local chef.
Vayable provides an easy way to book unique experiences offered by local insiders. You could buy a mass published “insider’s guide” to your destination, but this will give you a much more authentic adventure.
Stray Boots is a walking tour/scavenger hunt that is great way to experience the city you’re visiting. You’ll receive challenges asking you to find things, solve riddles, take crazy photos, answer trivia questions and eat!
Considering the exchange rate is super important when traveling overseas. This can make a big difference in your budget. You will get the best rate to your destination using a bank’s ATM. Foreign exchange centers usually have pretty bad exchange rates so I don’t recommend them.
Make sure you call your credit cards and bank before you go to find out what their foreign transaction fees are. You can rack up a lot of charges in fees. If the fees are high, look into getting a card with no foreign transaction fees before you go. Don’t forget to let them know when and where you’re headed to avoid a credit freeze for suspicious activity.
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Don’t Pack So Much!
Airlines charge for everything these days and will try their hardest to get an extra $50 bucks out of you. Even if you have one suitcase that fits carry on restrictions, sometimes they will still make you check it. Try to pack as light as possible and use the smallest bag you can. Andrew and I started using duffel bags and backpacks so we don’t have to check anything.
Remember to leave a little room in your bags for items you may want to bring back. You don’t want to get slapped with additional baggage fees when you return. And on that note……
Stop Buying Souvenirs
Just like when you’re home, don’t buy shit you don’t need when on vacation. Stay out of the gift shop. As unique as some of the items might seem, most of them aren’t. I once bought these really pretty glass lamps overseas and then saw them at a NYC street fair for half the price.
Although the knick knacks,T- Shirts and shot glasses are cheap, the quality sucks and people rarely keep them or use them. Unless someone asks you for something specific that is unique to the place you’re visiting, stay out of the gift shops.
If You Can’t Afford It, Don’t Go
No matter how carefully you plan out your trip, the cost of traveling is pretty expensive. There’s nothing that will ruin your mood faster than coming home to a stack of bills you can’t afford, so do an honest assessment of your budget and what the actual costs of the trip are likely to be before booking.
Andrew and I have gotten some of the best travel deals just by taking some time to really research and by being flexible on location and dates.
If money is tight and you don’t think you can swing it, consider taking a short road trip or going camping. Or play tourist in your own city. If you don’t have to buy plane tickets and a week’s worth of meals out, you can afford to book a few nights in a fancy local hotel and dinner at a nice restaurant. All of the relaxation with none of the travel stress!
Everyone deserves a break from work and day to day life so taking a vacation is important but don’t let a well-earned break bust your budget. Bon voyage!
Featured Image Photo Credit: “Grand Canyon backpack” by Kevin Dooley on Flickr