Travel and living

6 Tips to Create a Fool-Proof Budget for Your Next Vacation

After almost two years of social distancing, staying home, and masking up, it’s time for a vacation. It may be tempting to go all-out for your first trip after a long travel hiatus. However, your best bet is to create a thoughtful vacation budget.

A well-planned budget can help you enjoy your trip and reduce money worries. Check out these six tips to help you get started with your vacation budget. Soon, you’ll be able to relax and have the time of your life on your long-awaited trip.

1. Identify How Much You’re Willing to Spend

Review your typical monthly expenses and consider how much money you’re able to set aside for your vacation. Starting with a target expenditure can give you much-needed boundaries around what type of trip you plan. Review your recent debit card transactions to see what your typical spending patterns are.

Assuming you have a monthly budget in place, you may already be allocating funds toward your savings account. Review how much of a balance you retain in your account after your monthly obligations are fulfilled. This review can help you identify how much you may be able to dedicate toward your trip. Keep in mind, you won’t be both vacationing and stocking your fridge simultaneously, so you can count those funds toward your budget.

If you find that you don’t have much to spend on a trip, go in with a group to share some of the costs. Renting a cabin with friends allows you to split the cost of lodging. If you choose to drive together, you can share that expense as well.

Renting a place with a kitchen allows you to save on food expenses if you cook some meals yourself. Don’t let a small budget deter you from planning for some much-needed rest and relaxation.

2. Scout Potential Locations — and Pick Your Top Three

It’s easy to get your heart set on the perfect vacation spot. But failing to plan for alternates can result in heartbreak. Research at least three places that you would love to visit. Consider different settings, attractions, and things that differentiate them from one another. This way, you and your travel partners can consider which would be the best fit.

Depending on the time of year you’re traveling in, some options may be higher or lower priced than others. For example, a beach location may be at its most expensive during school breaks. A mountain lodge may be expensive during the fall leaf season. Meanwhile, a lake house may be most affordable in the early spring. Vary your options so you can pick the sweet spot between location, amenities, and price.

3. Identify High- and Low-End Lodging

Using your three location options, identify high and low-end lodging options. Boutique hotels, Airbnb, VRBO rentals, and resorts will all vary in their pricing and amenities. Familiarize yourself with their features and benefits. Pay attention to the features offered that are most important to you.

You may be yearning for a luxury spa day while you’re on your trip. If that’s the case, a higher-end resort may be ideal. If you’re wanting to experience a mid-century modern home nestled in the woods, explore rental sites like VRBO. Review your options and track them in an Excel spreadsheet to keep your research organized.

Seek out bargains on deal aggregator sites like Travelocity or Travelzoo. Many of these offers include credits for resort spending or cheap pricing for off-season travel. Log the perks associated with your potential choices so you can make a well-informed decision.

4. Research Dining Options

Even if you don’t consider yourself a foodie, you’re going to have to eat while you’re out of town. Scope out review sites like Yelp or reservation sites like OpenTable to see the dining choices in your target area.

Diners often leave unabashedly honest reviews on everything from diner fare to five-star cuisine. Get a varied look at the food scene before you book. Most restaurants post their menus with pricing so you can get a good idea of what your meal will cost. Be realistic as you plot out your dining budget. Often, people on vacation indulge in cocktails, appetizers, and dessert when dining out.

Assume that you’ll indulge in all of the niceties associated with a great restaurant experience. Budget for indulgences at every meal and account for at least 20% of your total to go toward tips for your server. If you’re traveling with a large group, remember that groups of six or more are often charged an automatic gratuity.

When you budget for multi-course meals, you reduce the chance of blowing your budget. And if you keep your meal selections more restrained, you’ll have extra money for something else.

5. Check Out Shopping Options — and Plan for Them

Many vacationers have a penchant for shopping while visiting a new town. Some locations may be famous for their designer outlets, duty-free shopping, or local artisan markets. No matter what attracts you to your go-to vacation spot, think about what shopping you may be interested in doing.

As you consider adding shopping to your itinerary, plan for getting your items home. If you’ve flown to your vacation spot, do you have extra space in your luggage for purchases? If that’s not an option for you, budget for shipping your purchases home.

Traveling with children often results in impulse buys or expensive souvenirs. Excited kids have a way of bringing out the generosity in their parents, so budget accordingly. Set aside funds for letting loose and saying yes to frivolous trinkets to commemorate your trip. When you’ve budgeted for fun purchases, you can smile as you swipe.

6. Expect the Unexpected

Getting ready for a vacation is exciting. Sometimes, the anticipation of vacation and promise of relaxation can cloud your foresight into the financial what-ifs. Combat these budgetary blinders by walking through the steps of your vacation.

For example, consider the items you use every day that could be easily overlooked. Forgetting your child’s stroller or leaving the car seat in the Uber could necessitate rebuying these essentials during your trip. Lost luggage could mean the sudden acquisition of a whole new mini-wardrobe.

List out the must-have items that would be expensive to have to repurchase. Pad your budget with extra cash for the unexpected disasters that often come with time spent out of town.

Likewise, you should prepare for the worst of the worst, such as a missed flight, an illness, or an accident. The ongoing pandemic has made travel even more unpredictable than usual, with often budget-busting consequences. Should staff shortages result in the cancellation of your flight, say, you’ll want travel insurance to recoup the loss of your nonrefundable Airbnb. Factor in the cost of this risk-mitigating purchase and review all policy terms carefully.

Book Your Next Trip

Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to book your long-awaited vacation. Confirm that the rest of your life is ready for you to step away from the day-to-day. The more you can plan for now, like your budget and daily obligations, the more relaxing your trip will be. Bon, voyage!

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