Have you ever spent more than you should have on a trip, and afterwards dealt with the lingering guilt?
I mentioned in a previous monthly round-up how I overspent on a weeklong (5 nights, 6 days) road trip from San Francisco to San Diego. To be fair it was a last minute trip and I didn’t take the time to carefully plan out a budget as I usually do. But when I added the amount post-trip I was shocked to see that we had spent nearly $1000 on a trip that should have only been half the amount. The culprit? The multiple hotels and that fancy Airbnb in Oxnard (but that garden patio was oh so worth it).
Looking back, the money we spent on this trip was not outrageous, but to be honest we could have spent much less. Ah well, you learn from your lessons right? After this trip I became a stickler for budgeting my trips and this is what has worked for me so far…
Give Yourself Some Room in Your Budget
Pesky unexpected costs pop-up all the time while traveling. An extra car rental fee here, an overweight baggage fee there. When you’re traveling you are outside your element and it’s hard to anticipate costs that appear from the moment you enter the airport to the minute you make it to your hotel.
Also, a friendly travel PSA: be aware of extra charges that are optional. Case in point: a rental car company in Austin, tried to tack on a $50 toll fee pass because the agent said we would definitely pass through toll booths, when we didn’t pass a single one. Luckily we called the company soon after and got refunded.
Keep Track Of Your Expenses As You Go
One of the things that has been the most helpful for me in terms of budgeting for travel has been keeping track of every little thing that I buy during my trip. From a pack of gum to a dinner at a neighborhood restaurant, I meticulously record it. I use to keep an envelope of my receipts, and added them up at the end of the day, but this was such a headache. In the past, I would usually kept track of my expenses on my notes app on my phone or Evernote if I was feeling fancy.
Then I discovered Trail Wallet Travel Budget app, and I was instantly a convert. This app allows you to easily add purchases as you go in 218 local currencies and set a daily budget. Seriously life-changing.
Be Wary Of Little Things That Add Up
Those tempting airport snacks that are next to the rows of magazines (which you can easily save on by going digital with a monthly subscription to an app like Texture), overpriced water, and forgotten meds can easily add up, especially when you are stuck in the airport and have no choice but to buy the overpriced option. Bring your own meals, snacks, empty water bottle, personal pharmacy, and reading material to save a significant amount that could easily cover something like a meal on your trip.
Things like transfers to and from the airport are important to take into consideration as well (Uber I’m lookin at you). Also, keep in mind, ground transportation once you get to your destination. Bus passes, and train passes can easily add up.
Book Early, But Not Too Early
It’s hard to know when the right time is to book for things that change drastically like flights, but deals often depend on the time of year that you are making the booking. On average, for domestic trips I book summer trips around 50 days before the trip, while fall and winter trips I book around 60-70 days in advance. International trips I book at least a few months in advance.
Keeping an eye on flight prices with airfare alerts like Google Flights, Kayak, and Hopper has helped me secure the best prices and calms my flight-buying anxiety significantly. For hotels, sites like Hotel Combined has helped me search multiple popular sites to get the best hotel prices.
Prioritize What’s Important
Do you seek out art museums everywhere you go? Or are you a history buff that relishes in visiting historical sites? For me it’s no surprise that food is high on my list when it comes to my travel itinerary. Budgeting for eating out more means keeping tabs on other things and staying in a cheaper hotel for example. Traveling is all about balance, and when making your budget it’s important to figure out what matters to you the most and to make room financially for it.
Sometimes I can get so caught up in staying on budget that I have to remember to treat myself, because after all that’s what travel is all about, right?
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How do you budget for your trips?