It’s easy to get carried away when traveling, buying souvenirs, eating at restaurants and upgrading your flights and accommodations. But the last thing you want is to face a big bill when you get home.
Here are some tips for budgeting accordingly, no matter what type of vacation you’re planning.
- Be realistic about what you can afford. Set expectations for your travel budget that are feasible and attainable. While splurging on travel can be tempting, it will only create financial stress after your bags are unpacked.
- Start a dedicated travel fund. It’s easier to save when you have a specific destination and plan in mind. Think about where you want to go, research how much it costs and develop a consistent saving plan well in advance.
- Create a trip budget. Use this free web-based Travel Calculator to calculate the cost of gas, lodging, food and more.
- Shop around. Take advantage of the many sites that make it easy to compare fares from a variety of airlines, hotels and car rental companies.
- Protect yourself. When ordering tickets, make sure the sites you are using are legitimate. Once on your trip, safeguard your identity by keeping your passport, driver’s license and credit cards in a safe place away from view. Also be sure to make photocopies beforehand in case of theft. If you do become a victim of identity theft, read these tips for restoring your identity.
- Expect the unexpected. Keep unknowns, such as baggage fees and transaction fees, in mind when planning your trip, and set aside an extra 10 to 15 percent of your travel budget for surprise costs.
- Take advantage of technology. Use apps on your smartphone to digitally book hotels, check in for flights and organize itineraries.
- Consider alternative accommodations. Home-sharing services are increasingly popular — and in some cases, they’re cheaper than hotels. Also, hostels offer lower-priced lodging. But make sure you take the right safety precautions by researching the area beforehand and keeping an eye on your belongings.
- Use cheaper transportation. Compare the cost of airfare with gas prices — if you can drive to your destination, it might cost less. Also, consider public transportation as a more economical option.
- Split expenses. Consider sharing the costs of a vacation house with friends and family to help cut costs.
Top Travel Resources
Have you ever considered taking a few days off for a “staycation”? It’s the budget-savvy alternative to the traditional getaway. Many travelers are embracing the concept of saving thousands on airfare and lodging by spending time off near home and enjoying inexpensive activities in their area. Here are a few ways to get the most out of your local getaway:
- Create a solid staycation plan so you don’t get stuck doing errands and chores.
- Turn off your cell and close that laptop. Limiting your tech time makes your time off feel like more like a real vacation.
- Pick low-cost activities over high-cost. Remember, more expensive doesn’t always mean more fun.
- Check out all the nearby spots you’ve wanted to visit, and consider day trips. They’ll allow you to see the sights and get a change of scenery without paying for a hotel.
- Consider ordering takeout or delivery or even booking an at-home chef. Without travel or lodging, a few luxuries aren’t such a splurge.
Are cruises your vacation of choice? Many people enjoy the availability of delicious food, breathtaking views, nonstop entertainment and luxurious accommodations. Not to mention activities for both children and adults, plus free child care. Here are some tips for finding the best cruise for the least cash:
- Find a deal. The cruise industry is in need of passengers right now, which means a huge number of deals are out there. First, check with our partner Getaway Today. If they don't have the perfect cruise for you, browse online to find the best available cruise prices. Look for seasonal sales and discounts to ensure you’re not overspending.
- Choose an existing line. When new cruise lines debut, they tend to charge higher rates because of a higher demand for tickets. Save yourself some money by going with the tried and true.
- Research the destinations. Cruise lines generally don’t provide much information about port cities. To get the most out of your time in ports and to avoid expensive meals, decide on budget-friendly eats and activities by doing your pre-trip research.
- Book early. Some lines offer special pricing for people who plan ahead, as they want to book their boat. If you can help guarantee that might happen in advance, you could benefit with a cheaper price.
- Don’t double-tip. Most cruise lines include tips in their fees, so make sure you’re not double-tipping while on board.
- Book spa treatments on port days. Many cruises offer spa discounts on port days, when most travelers are exploring off the boat. Ask in advance if these discounts are available.
- Invite your friends. There are some cruise lines that offer discounts for big groups. Invite a group of friends or family members so you can save when you buy tickets.
Are you passionate about foreign travel? Follow these tips for seeing the world on a budget:
- Know the currency exchange rate of the country you’re planning to visit. Will food and lodging be more or less expensive than they would be in the U.S.? If the costs are prohibitive, consider visiting countries where the U.S. dollar is strong.
- Be flexible with travel dates to save on flights. Booking a vacation in “off months” can also mean significant savings.
- Shop package deals. Sometimes purchasing airfare, lodging and a rental car at once can mean hundreds of dollars in savings.
- Pack smart so you don’t have to stock up on expensive items like film, special clothes and toiletries on arrival.
- Exchange currency at banks, not at hotels or airports, to get the best exchange rates.
- Plan the logistics of your trip. Aim for the fewest possible flights and train rides to minimize travel time.
- Consider cooking. Renting an apartment can save money in the long run if you make some of your meals instead of eating at restaurants all the time.
- Be careful with cabs and other incidentals. Find out the going rate for activities, food and taxi fares, and don’t be afraid to bargain. Visitors will likely spend more than locals, but it pays to have an idea of what’s fair or you could end up being charged significantly more.
- Research the local public transportation to get around town and to and from the airport. Many cities offer weekly passes for significant fare savings on buses and underground trains.
- Consider playing it by ear. If you don’t choose a package deal, it’s generally much less expensive to book some of your lodging after arrival, so you can cut out the fees to travel agents, websites and tour operators.
- Keep credit-card charges under $400 USD per person to avoid a 10 percent tax.
- Turn off data roaming on your phone and monitor your texting. Roaming charges can easily double or triple your cell phone bill, as can messages and calls. If you can do without using your phone, shut it off so you don’t get caught with additional charges.
- If you’re a student, take advantage of study abroad. Depending on the program, you might find a great deal that includes lodging, weekend excursions and education.
- Get a passport or ensure yours is up-to-date at travel.state.gov.
In the U.S.
You can find exotic, relaxing, remote or urban adventures all while traveling stateside. The perks are no passports or visas (or the additional fees and time expended to get them), no worries about foreign currency, and a potentially cheaper flight. Here are a few tips for budget-friendly travel within the U.S.:
- Opt for lodging with a kitchen to save on the cost of food.
- Ask about discounts at hotels, restaurants and museums that are available to members of any organizations you belong to, such as AAA or AARP. You may also qualify for credit card discounts to help you save.
- Go camping. Soak up the stars, relax outdoors, seek out adventures, or have quality time with family around a campfire — for thousands less than a faraway vacation.
- From deals on flights and lodging to special offers on massages, vacation packages are a great way to save. Search online for offers in the area you’d like to visit.
- Take a road trip. If you’re not traveling too far, it might be more cost-effective to drive. Plus, you can add destinations along the way to expand your sightseeing.
- Want to go camping? Plan trips to U.S. parks and campsites by visiting https://www.nps.gov/index.htm.
- Research entrance requirements and warnings for the areas you’re planning to visit at travel.state.gov.