This week we’re talking about things you can do now to better prepare for traveling this summer (or any time, really). Today we’re talking about the planning aspects of travel budgeting. (We’ll save the detailed nitty gritty for another day.)
General Bits About Traveling and Money
It’s helpful to remember that like any expenditure, travel is full of choices and trade-offs. It also generally exists within a continuum with luxury/expensive on one end and down-n-dirty/less-expensive on the other.
Of course you can find great deals. No one needs to pay more than they have to for any given item. But a great deal on a camping plot and a great deal on a five-star hotel will still have a wide divide between them. On top of that, your food expenses for camping will correlate with your neighborhood grocery store, while your food expenses at the hotel will be dramatically higher. Consider where you want and/or need to be on the spectrum. In a general sense, you have to choose between more ease and comfort on your trip or more money left at the end. It’s incredibly rare to have both.
Where Do You Find the Money to Travel?
There are people out there who will tell you that everyone can find money to travel if they really want to. I should wager with them and then introduce them to some of my friends. While I do think that many people who think they can’t afford to travel actually could, I also got married when I was still in college and know what it’s like to be existing out of the bare minimum in every category of your budget.
So where can the non-six-figured among us find the money to travel without going into debt? Well, pretty much the same way we find money for anything. Look for ways to cut spending (or increase income), and start regularly setting money aside. One way to do this would be to use a bank like ING Direct that allows you to have unlimited sub-accounts. You can then regularly transfer money to that sub-account so that it’s ready for you when you’re ready to travel.
But seriously, don’t get in the habit of funding your travel through credit. Opt instead to vacation on the cheap now while you put money away for bigger travels later. You’ll enjoy your time in Italy much more if every panna cotta isn’t plunging you further in the red.
How To Plan a Travel Budget
In the planning stages, the ability to find exact costs is a bit limited. You might have found a great hotel option, but will it be available when it comes time to put it in stone? You never know. So my suggestion is to gather what information you can, add up your numbers, and give yourself some breathing room. Here are some steps you can follow to do just that.
1) Get a pen and paper. You can do this on the computer if you must, but room to scribble elsewhere while you look at the computer screen will probably be helpful.
2) Think back to your aims for this trip. List out all the items that are non-negotiable for this trip to feel successful to you.
3) Add to your page the following categories: lodging, transportation, food, and activities. Leave some space between each item for your notes.
4) Get an idea of what you can expect to spend in each category. Use the avenues you would normally use to find estimates for lodging, flights, car rental, etc, and write down the prospective expenditure. Also consider each category’s related expenses, like gas for the rental car, visas for international travel, gratuities for service, and extra money for inflated food prices at tourist activities.
A few extra tips for guesstimating:
- Use an average of the prices you find for suitable options. Using the bottom-dollar number will set you spinning if you’re not able to get that same price later on.
- Keep in mind that many locations have prices that fluctuate throughout the year. If you’ll be traveling in the high season, be sure your quotes are for the high season.
- In all categories, be honest with yourself. If you know that when it comes down to it you won’t actually forgo wine with dinner when you’re in France, then don’t budget like you’re going to. If you know you won’t leave Disney World without buying your souvenirs for the kids, then factor that in.
5) Add it all up. Then tack on an additional 15% for fluctuating prices and unexpected expenses.
This method isn’t foolproof, of course. (If you find a foolproof method somewhere, msg me, k?) But it should give you an idea of how much you might end up spending, which is usually what you’re looking for in the planning stages. If you find that this destination will leave you pawning grandma’s glitz to pay for it, don’t hesitate to go back to the drawing board.
Planning ahead can ensure you find great holidays that won’t break the bank. Let me know how it goes!
What about you… How do you find the money to travel? How do you usually go about sketching a travel budget? Is there anything I’ve overlooked?
This week we’re talking about travel planning. Here are links to the whole series: