Avoid a Money Hangover: Stick to Your Travel Budget


It’s easy to use the excuse “I’m on vacation!” as a reason to spend when you know you shouldn’t (on an expensive meal, indulgent spa treatment, or souvenir that will end up collecting dust on a shelf), but the most important thing is to have a travel budget.

I’m a big fan of embarking on a trip without a set itinerary. Since my career is focused on planning, I welcome the uncertainty of spontaneous travel. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t explicitly calculate and stick to my travel budget. As much as I enjoy the freedom to explore, I never want to come home with a money hangover.

Follow these 6 steps to maximize your money and your fun while on vacation:

1. Start with an Idea

Choosing a destination, whether you’re heading out on your own or coordinating with family or friends, will dictate a starting point for your travel budget. A trip to Paris obviously costs more than a weekend retreat that’s only a few hours’ drive from your home. If seeing the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre is really important to you, careful planning can make it possible, regardless of your financial situation.

2. Be Flexible with Time, Location, or Money

Since airfares and travel costs fluctuate, planning a trip can become a juggling act between time, location, and money. If you’re low on cash but flexible with time or location, you can maximize your vacation by visiting during the off-season or choosing a less trendy destination. Alternatively, if you’ve committed to a ski trip with friends over a specific holiday weekend, you’ll have to budget accordingly.

3. Know Your Preferences

Research your destination in advance—guidebooks and travel websites can help you determine average costs for basics like lodging and food, as well as extras like museum admission or adventure activities. Don’t just skim the numbers while your eyes glaze over. Take the time to add up how much you think you’ll spend. If the amount is more than you can afford, you’ll need to save more or make some cuts.

4. Count Related Expenses

Don’t just budget for what you spend on your trip, but for all related expenses, too. Don’t forget the cost of buying specific gear or new luggage, or for boarding a pet on a plane. Think through any related expenses before settling on a budget amount.

5. Expect the Unexpected

Most people underestimate how much they will spend on vacation. A couple of years ago, I was excited to score an extremely cheap last-minute ticket to Colombia. Little did I know, entrance into Parque Tayrona, my ultimate destination, requires a Yellow Fever vaccination card. In New York City, that vaccination would have cost me about the same as the airfare. Although I avoided that expense by going to a free clinic in Barranquilla, I strongly recommend building a cushion into your budget for these types of surprises. A good rule of thumb is to inflate your travel budget by at least 10% to cover unforeseen expenses.

6. Don’t Forget About Rewards Points

Whether you like to accrue points to use for a big trip or spend them as you get them, rewards point can be an integral part of your travel budget. I rarely let airline miles accumulate—I fly within the U.S. often enough that there’s always a trip I can pay for with miles. Whatever you do, just don’t forget to use them.

What are you waiting for? Get out there and explore somewhere new—right after you create your travel budget.

  • http://www.facebook.com/evarawposa Éva Rawposa

    This reminds me! I need to find an efficient way of keeping up with all those rewards points.

    Fun way to maximize on travel money spent… have you heard of couchsurfing.com?! Between friends and that website, I bet it would be feasible to Never.Stop.Traveling.

    Food for thought, eh?

    Thanks for the article and reminder.


    • http://blog.laurenandelissa.com Lauren Lyons Cole

      I know of this website for keeping track of rewards points: https://www.points.com/. Never used it though, so can't exactly recommend it.

      I'd love to hear about your attempt to travel indefinitely… Let me know if you try it!

      • http://www.facebook.com/evarawposa Éva Rawposa

        I set up part of my profile on couchsurfing.com after a friend turned me onto it… at a friend's place in Boston this week (on his sofa!)… Friday to Monday (work gig, hotel paid by a restaurant where I'm training the staff)… Martha's Vineyard Monday, Tuesday nights staying on a boat (!)… after that… who knows.

        I'm totally going to be traveling for a full year. I will have to keep a lookout for your articles because I can't do this unless I really do keep my finances in check!!


        OH! And thanks for the website tip. I'm going to check it out!

        • http://blog.laurenandelissa.com Lauren Lyons Cole

          Sounds glamorous! Keep us posted. Perhaps you can weigh in if I write an article about couchsurfing. I know my editor, Allison, has done that. I actually haven't.

  • Megan good

    I agree with the 6 points made in this article but I came across something interesting about stocks at http://canadastockpicker.com

  • http://twitter.com/alexandrazimm Ali Z

    another suggestion for saving money on a trip (especially a big European trip like Paris) is to plan activities by neighborhood. When my friend and I went to Berlin and Prague, we figured out what was where before heading into a particular district and would devote our day to spending time at those landmarks in walking distance, so that we didn't waste a ton of money on trains, buses, and taxis.

    • http://blog.laurenandelissa.com Lauren Lyons Cole

      This is a great suggestion Ali! Thank you for sharing.

  • Sunshine

    Great advice! This is making me want to plan a great trip and stay within my budget.

    • carolinewaxler

      Me, too! I just need to do that!