Planning a vacation should always be exciting and lift your spirits. Seeing how much you spent on your vacation, however, can bring your spirits right back down to earth. Here are some clever ways to plan a great trip without losing the good vibes when you get home and realize how much it cost.
There’s nothing like a vacation to help you expand your horizons, spend time with family or friends and make priceless memories.
Planning a vacation should be exciting, and going on one should always lift your spirits.
Seeing how much you spent on your vacation, however, can bring your spirits right back down to earth – fast. By the time the “likes” taper off on your Facebook vacation posts, the credit card bills may be coming in, and they can be quite a shock.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some clever ways you can have a good time on vacation, without losing those good vacation vibes when you get home and realize how much it cost.
See related: 10 tips for traveling with credit cards
5 ways to beat the post-travel budget blues
1. Save ahead for your vacation
You can avoid the post-travel budget blues by saving up for your vacation ahead of time. One clever way to save ahead is with an automatic transfer into a vacation account every month. You can set up a transfer online from one bank account to another.
Some employers let you have a portion of your paycheck deposited to a different account. If you never see the money, you may not even miss it.
Another way to save money for a specific purpose is by using one of a myriad savings apps. For example, Bank of America’s Keep the Change program lets you round up every purchase to the nearest dollar, and transfers the “change” to your savings account. An app called Digit analyzes your income and spending and transfers money into savings for you.
If you don’t have the money saved up, don’t go on an expensive vacation yet. Try a staycation, visit relatives, or go camping. Plan the Maui vacation for when you really can afford it. Nothing is so fun and exciting that it’s worth coming home to a crushing load of credit card debt.
See related: Planning the trip of a lifetime? Here’s your 18-month card rewards game plan
2. Make a travel budget
How will you know if you’ve gone over your travel budget if you never actually made one? It’s easy to add up the airfare and hotels in your head, but that’s just the beginning.
You can create your own spreadsheet for a travel budget, or you can start with Microsoft Office Excel’s vacation budget planner.
Igor Mitic, financial advisor for Fortunly.com, says it’s important to determine a daily budget while on vacation, but unfortunately, many people skip that step.
“This can and in most cases will end up in overspending,” he says. “To save themselves from going into debt, people should determine a daily budget while they’re on travel and be careful not to go above it.”
Make sure your budget has some room for contingencies — those extra expenses that are unavoidable. Consider adding 10-15 percent to your total budget for unforeseen expenses.
3. Slash expenses – without missing out on fun
Nobody wants to pinch pennies so hard on a trip that they start to feel they might as well have stayed home. You’ve come all this way; you should see the sights and enjoy yourself. The trick is to have just as much fun, without overspending. For example:
- Use credit card rewards points. Don’t forget to use those points you’ve built up using travel rewards credit cards. Some rewards programs let you book travel directly through their own travel portal, or transfer points to a travel partner before you book.
- Go to the grocery store. Shopping and trends expert Sara Skirboll at RetailMeNot in Austin, Texas, says, “You don’t have to eat out for every meal or spend money on takeout. Local supermarkets have plenty of prepared foods and other ready-to-eat options that you can bring back to your room or eat on a park bench for an impromptu picnic.” You actually have more to choose from at the grocery store, and it’s probably healthier. Besides, eating out three times a day stops being exciting by about the second day.
- Find free Wi-Fi. To avoid paying for extra cellular data, search for free Wi-Fi. “Libraries and many fast food establishments offer free Wi-Fi, as do hotels, particularly if you’re part of their loyalty program” says Skirboll. “Another great solution? Pack a portable Wi-Fi router so you can share a single paid connection with your entire family.”
- Eat at nice restaurants – for lunch. Part of the travel experience is trying great local restaurants. But evening prices, especially for a family, can be steep. You can often go to the same restaurant at lunchtime, for far less.
- Skip the GPS for your rental car. Skirboll says, “Unless you’re going somewhere without cellular coverage, that GPS is no better than the one on your mobile phone. Skip it and save!”
- Find nearby deals. Skirboll recommends the free RetailMeNot app for iPhone or Android, so you can check for nearby deals, including ones at restaurants, while on the road.
- Avoid buying sundry items on the run. Hotel gift shops and vending machines charge for the convenience of buying on-the-go. Bring all the sunscreen, aspirin, small snacks, lip balm and so on you think you might need.
- Comparison shop on excursions and outings. Sometimes prices for the same or a similar excursion can vary, depending on where you buy them. For example, if you go on a cruise, you can sometimes get the same shore excursions for less if you buy direct instead of through the cruise ship.
- Bring home pictures and memories, not souvenirs. Your suitcase will be lighter and your credit card statement shorter if you remember that rule. And you won’t have to wonder what to do with that $30 T-shirt.
4. Track spending as you go
Have you ever thought you wouldn’t have spent so much money, if you’d known how fast it was adding up? That problem is actually easy to fix. Just set up a system so you know how much you’re spending as you go.
In the old days, the budget system may have been a collection of envelopes filled with cash. That’s much too scary, and we have better options these days. For example:
- Track daily expenses. Grant Sinclair of Woodstock, Georgia, and his wife, owners of the Our Wander-Filled Life travel blog, use an app called Trail Wallet to track their expenses and stay within budget. “Basically, we set an overall budget for the trip and the trip length. The app sets the daily budget and we enter all of our transactions,” he says. They can see how they’re doing on their trip budget, both for daily spending and average spending per day. Sinclair says, “The app, with an internet connection, will even convert foreign currency to dollars while on the road, making overseas vacations easier to track.”
- Create a separate travel account. Kira Brereton, luxury travel financial strategist at Travel Becomes Me in Brooklyn, New York, recommends using a separate travel account, if your bank allows it. “Deposit your full travel budget in your travel account,” she says. “Set up alerts for when you have hit certain triggers in your travel budget to monitor and control spending. For example, you get a notification when your expenditures exceed 50 percent of your budget and then again when expenditures exceed 80 percent.” With these warnings, you’ll know to rein in the spending before you reach budget blues levels.
- Use prepaid travel cards. Brereton notes that you can fully fund a prepaid travel credit card with your entire budget for the trip, and only use that credit card for expenses during the trip. “This gives you a built-in budget limit, because you can only spend the prefunded amount,” she says. You can reload the card if necessary. “But just going through the process of reloading acts as a safeguard, because you are aware during the trip that you have already exceeded your budget,” Brereton says.
Mitic says prepaid travel cards are a great option because they’re safer than carrying money. “In case of the lost or stolen card, all we need to do is to call the card issuer and block it.” Mitic adds, “Parents love prepaid cards because it’s much safer for kids traveling alone and it gives them a good practice about saving and budgeting.
See related: How to stay at budget hotels using rewards
5. Start planning your next vacation
The best time to start planning and budgeting for your next vacation is shortly after you get back from this one. You remember what you enjoyed, and what wasn’t really worth it. You can tally up what you spent so you can plan better next time. And planning for your next vacation may help ward off the blues, too.