5 Budgeting Tips for Responsible Vacation PlanningSubmitted by Schultz Financial on February 24th, 2017
“Vacation” is perhaps the most wonderful word in the English language.
Unfortunately, for most of us, our choices in this regard are constrained by both time and money.
But just because we can’t afford to take a six-week grand tour of Europe doesn’t mean we can’t (with a bit of diligence and discipline) plan something more modest that still checks every one of the boxes on our vacation checklist.
NOTE: Our purpose here isn’t to recommend particular travel websites or strategies for finding the best deals or destinations; rather, we seek to simply offer a few ideas on how vacation planners can budget and then maximize their travel planning dollars.
That said, here are five financial-based strategies that can help us to plan a vacation that is deeply satisfying, but one for which we won’t be paying off for 5 years.
Your travel budget should be set at a level where it has a net $0 effect on your credit card balance.
Setting a budget that won’t leave a mark is perhaps the most important advice we can offer. But how can you tell?
Your budget should be set at a level where your travel and accommodations can be fully paid for by the time you travel. Additionally, you should have saved enough money to pay for all meals and libations for which you can account as well.
Know what you typically eat and drink, and use that as your baseline.
Don’t forget to budget for shopping, excursions, and other amenities. While flight, hotel, food, & drink are the core expenses, vacationing is so much more than these essentials.
In our travels, we do occasionally come across the unique item or unplanned outing that we know we will never find or do anyplace else (e.g. art, a fashion/accessory, cultural attraction), so in those cases, use some discretion. Don’t miss what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but try to limit these purchases to one splurge per trip.
Otherwise, you can almost always find tchotchkes and side trips that are locally-produced, reflect the culture, and are cheap. Remember it’s not the economic value of the item that’s important, but what it represents to you: the experience.
So, set your budget by figuring out how much money you currently have on-hand and how much you’ll be able to save by the trip date.
When planning, be a cheapskate.
At the outset, decide you’re, as a matter of principle, not going to pay a penny more for something than you have to. That’s why having a hard-and-fast budget is extremely important.
Now, being a cheapskate doesn’t mean settling for low quality; what we mean is that there’s always a deal to be found, and the deals are what should guide your decisions.
Want to spend a week on a beach somewhere? Do research of the various hotels, resorts, and local attractions, and how much it typically costs to travel there and let that be your guide – don’t become fixated on a particular place. Be flexible and you will have a broader set of options.
Remember: when you are on vacation, the last things you want to worry about are budgets and other mundane reminders of your normal, day-to-day life. Get the deals beforehand, make great decisions before you leave, then relax and enjoy yourself without worrying about money.
Make vacation planning your hobby.
We all have had those moments when we come across a dirt cheap airfare or 50% off accommodations someplace great. While that’s certainly an appreciated serendipity, it’s a hit-or-miss opportunity, and one that can’t necessarily be counted on.
That’s why, for most of us with jobs and kids, last-minute, opportunistic jaunts aren’t feasible. That’s why it is important to start planning for your next vacation as soon as you can… maybe even right after you return from your last one.
The broader the window you give yourself for planning, the greater number of deals will come your way.
Is all-inclusive really your best deal?
All-inclusive vacations have a lot of appeal – pay one fee at the outset and you can simply relax. Sounds great, but do the math first. If we are being realistic about our eating and drinking habits, chances are the fee might not necessarily be worth it.
For example, most cruises include all-you-can-eat in the base fare, then offer add-on packages, such as one for alcoholic drinks. Let’s say the drinks package is $55 per day. Do some research to see what individual drinks cost; particularly the kind of which you typically drink (or will drink on vacation) and do the math.
Sure, just because you can drink 15 rum runners a day, should you?
And this gets to the larger issue with all-inclusive resorts: it encourages over consumption. While such considerations are highly individual, and thus beyond the scope of our expertise to judge, it is something that bears attention, especially if means the difference of hundreds of dollars that could either be saved or allocated elsewhere.
Use a travel agent.
Travel agents are so 20th century, we know. But depending on the type of vacation you’re planning (particularly if you are interested in a resort vacation in a popular destination), travel agents have insight, relationships, and incentive to negotiate on your behalf for the best possible deal.
Importantly, they also know the reputation of certain resorts, and can steer you away from choices that are popular, but whose reputations might be unwarranted. This is important as review sites like TripAdvisor are well-known to be loaded with fake reviews posted by the resorts and hotels themselves (just Google “trip advisor fake reviews” to see what we mean).
It’s certainly worth having an agent double check your plans to see if they can save you some money. If you’re planning on heading to an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica, see if the agent can get you a better deal than the one you found for yourself.
At the end of the day…
You need to find the balance between what you want to do and what you can afford to do. Thanks to the internet, planning for a budget-conscious vacation is not a difficult task, though it does require persistence.