It’s safe to say that the vast majority of Americans love a getaway. After all, vacations give us the chance to take a break from our work-related responsibilities and the everyday routine to relax, discover new places and/or enjoy new adventures.
But not everything about a vacation is cause for calm and rejuvenation. And for most of us, perhaps even more than travel headaches, the sunburns and the jet lag, the biggest downside to vacations may well be the expenses they bring — and the anxieties that can cause.
By preparing ahead, finding ways to save and being mindful of our spending, though, we can make the financial costs of our vacation much easier to bear. To get the most out of your next getaway without experiencing high levels of sticker shock and financial stress, consider the following tips on how to budget for a vacation.
The importance of planning and making a budget for your vacation spending
As mentioned above, vacations are meant to be calming and rejuvenating. And when the expenses of a getaway lead to worry, this can be counterproductive to that cause. But by doing some research and creating a vacation budget ahead of time, we can better know what kinds of expenses to expect — and start saving up for them in advance. And of course, with the money needed to cover the vacation expenses set aside and readily available, it can be much easier to relax and enjoy your getaway … without financial stresses getting in the way of your vacation enjoyment.
Ways to budget for vacation — and set up savings — ahead of time
Well before your vacation plans are set in stone, booking the best deals can lead to big savings. Take the time to do some extensive research on your airfare, hotels, rental car, etc. — and if the flexibility is available, even your vacation destination. This is because pricing for all of these vacation necessities tends to grow higher as the date approaches, all while the availability tends to grow lower.
Online research is a great way to better familiarize yourself with pricing and find the best travel-related deals ahead of time. A broad array of websites and email newsletters are devoted to highlighting such travel bargains and helping travelers find the best rates, with some of the most popular options including:
- Travelzoo — This website and accompanying e-newsletter offers visitors and subscribers an up-to-date, curated selection of some of the best travel deals around the globe. (Its Top 20 deals section changes weekly and puts a spotlight on deals that the site’s travel experts and editors deem to be the week’s “blockbuster” travel bargains.)
- Groupon Getaways — This travel deal-focused website offers bargains on travel accommodations and experiences, with offerings divided into regions of the country and the globe, as well as segmented by traveler interests such as beach vacations, all-inclusive trips, last-minute deals and more.
- CheapCaribbean.com — Geared toward travelers planning tropical getaways, this website shines the spotlight on vacation packages to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. It puts a particular focus on trips for which airfare, accommodations and on-site meals are all included in a one-price package.
- Vrbo.com and Airbnb.com — These sites offer vacation properties and homes that are provided for rental to travelers by the private owners. Each of these can be a great option for larger travel groups looking to secure an entire home rather than multiple hotel rooms, as well as for travelers who’d prefer the privacy and local authenticity that can come with staying in a private residence.
- Kayak.com — This website enables travelers to perform “metasearches” for their travel needs, helping them to quickly compare costs for flights, hotel stays, rental cars, vacation packages, and train and bus transportation all over the globe from multiple vendors all at once.
Take the time to identify the top attractions, restaurants, etc. you’d like to visit during your getaway, too, along with the general pricing for each. You can use this information to plan a more exciting trip and ensure that you’re not missing out on any must-see area sights and must-do area activities. You can also use this data to come up with a ballpark figure for the total cost of your vacation.
(And of course, by doing your research and knowing more about your upcoming vacation expenses ahead of time, you can set a savings goal and start putting money aside for your trip. You may even want to consider creating a savings account specifically for your vacation, which can make it easier to save up the funds you’ll need for your getaway — and generate added funds via accrued interest in the meantime.)
Ways to cut back on vacation expenses
In addition to finding deals on travel needs during the planning and budgeting process, there are a number of ways for budget-conscious travelers to cut their vacation costs — both before the vacation starts and while it’s underway. Consider incorporating some of these money-saving tips to make your budget go further on your next getaway:
- Consider offseason travel — Prices for everything from airfare and lodging to activities, car rentals and meals tend to be higher during a destination’s peak season. (And of course, the crowds are bigger, too.) But by choosing to travel during your destination’s offseason if you’re able, you can reap the benefits of lower prices and smaller crowds.
- Stay outside the city center — Hotel rooms are typically much more expensive in a city’s center or in close proximity to its top attractions. To stretch your lodging dollar, consider staying in a nearby suburb or otherwise away from the center of the action, then traveling to and from your chosen attractions and activities via car or public transport.
- Pack your own meals — Food and drink prices at airports and tourist attractions are notoriously high. But by packing your own meals, snacks and drinks (all of which most airports allow in your checked luggage and carry-on bag in limited quantities, per TSA guidelines), you can avoid hunger and thirst while saving big. Further, many popular tourist attractions and destinations provide picnic tables and other outdoor dining facilities free of charge — so if you and travel party are content with eating there, you can avoid the often-large expenses of at-destination dining.
- … and/or grab groceries — Similarly, dining out for every vacation meal can quickly drain a travel budget. But by choosing hotel rooms with a refrigerator and a microwave — or even better a kitchenette — you can pick up groceries at local grocery stores and farmers markets for a fraction of the cost. (Of course, you’ll likely want to splurge on dining out on occasion during your getaway — but getting groceries for some meals can cut your vacation expenses considerably.)
- Dine away from tourist destinations — Anywhere sizable crowds of tourists gather, there are likely to be plenty of options for dining nearby — but they’ll typically carry a price tag that’s well above the norm. If you instead choose to get out of the hustle and bustle for your meals, you’re likely to save big … and (especially with some research) you might just be able to track down some the area’s more authentic culinary gems off the beaten path.
- Find free and inexpensive adventures — In most leading vacation destinations, free-of-charge and budget-friendly activities are often easy to track down with a little research. Popular choices on the list of fun and inexpensive (or even free) activities and attractions found in many popular places include parks, historic sites, walking tours, free museums and community events.
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