Ah, the first step of planning a trip (once you’ve picked the destination, of course). Budgeting for a trip might seem overwhelming and cruel, but going through these simple steps at the start of your trip will set you up for zero financial stress while you’re actually traveling, I promise!
I recommend you use a spreadsheet to keep track of all your expenses as you go through these steps, but feel free to document them however you wish.
First, figure out the transportation cost to wherever you’re traveling to. Below are a few ways to minimize that cost, because it sucks to know you've paid so much before you've even arrived at your destination:
- If you’re flying, set up a travel alert as soon as you know where and when you want to go, and monitor flight prices for as long as you can before you bite the bullet. We use Skyscanner for our flight alerts. We also recommend subscribing to Chris Myden's YVR Deals. He does a great job of alerting his followers to incredible flight deals leaving Vancouver.
- If you’re taking a train, first determine the correct website for booking the tickets, then see if the prices ever fluctuate. (If it’s a flat rate, there’s nothing you can do but pay up).
- If you’re driving your own car, make sure you get it serviced before you go, and check that you have appropriate tires. If you’re using a rental car, shop around! There are plenty of sites that will give you a quote from multiple car rental companies so you can see at a glance what your options are. We've used Auto Europe a few times and saved lots of money with them.
Second, consider transportation within the location you’re traveling to. Will you be relying on public transportation? Renting a car? Taking trains? Flying? Figure out a ballpark estimate of how much it will cost you.
Third, account for accommodation. Ask yourself how much you’re willing to spend on accommodation per night. With that average number in mind, start your search and try to keep within the budget, but always take a look at accommodation a little bit cheaper and a little bit more expensive than your average too, to catch places where you might be able to get more bang for your buck and ones that are a lot nicer for just a bit more money. And please let yourself splurge for at least 1 or 2 nights -- budgeting doesn’t have to always be limiting!
TIP: I keep track of confirmation numbers, contact info and addresses both in my planning spreadsheet and in a physical notebook. I share the planning spreadsheet with my family before I leave on my trip so they always know where I'll be on a given night. The notebook I keep with me at all times, because you never know when you'll lose internet access unexpectedly and need that information. It's come in handy many times throughout our travels!
Lastly, account for food, attractions, entertainment and gifts. Rather than set a strict budget for each of those things individually, I like to give myself a rough estimate of how much I should spend in a day, then use that money for whatever the day requires. I usually approximate a $100 CAD spending allowance each day, and adjust it accordingly depending on where I'm traveling. That’s a high estimate and I usually stay well within it, but I don’t like to limit myself so much on vacation that I’m having zero fun. I usually do a quick search on the main attractions I want to see, but usually those costs fall within the $100 limit as well. It’s also a lot easier to stay on budget when you’re traveling as a couple or in a small group. Getting groceries together when you’re staying in one place for a while can go a long way towards cutting down food costs for breakfasts, lunches or dinners!
That’s it, you’re done! You now have a good idea of how much your trip will cost you. So start saving! I always put aside 10-20% more than I’ve budgeted for my trip, just in case anything comes up unexpectedly.
TIP: This one is a bit of a pain and I won’t be offended if you don’t do it…but as we're traveling, I like to write down all of our expenses for a given day in my notebook. This helps me when doing a total trip expense tally in two ways:
- I don't have to sift through VISA statements wondering what the heck each random foreign language store name was. This saves time when trying to figure out which category each expense was for.
- I can see at a glance who spent money on what, so that Slade and I can split the trip cost evenly at the end.
Let us know in the comments if you have any other budgeting tips you swear by!