Whether it’s quality time with family or me-time on a beach, a vacation is good for the soul – but it shouldn’t break the bank! Use these eight tips to make sure yours doesn’t.
1. Do your research
Holiday budget planning should ideally start a year or more ahead of your trip, giving you time to determine all the costs, look for ways of reducing expenses, and save enough to turn your plans into a reality.
Step one: use a consolidator app like Skyscanner to assess the cost of flights, accommodations and car rentals – and to determine which time of year is the most cost-effective for reaching your destination. This handy app gathers airfares and trip combinations from multiple sources, and can show you comparisons between flights at different times of the year.
While you’re at it, you can determine the cost and availability of accommodation: check for discounted prices on hotel sites (like booking.com) and compare what’s possible through Airbnb.
There are websites (such as numbeo.com) that can tell you the average price of everyday goods and services in countries and cities around the world. Check out their various ‘cost of living’ indexes to get a sense of how affordable a specific place is and if it makes financial sense to visit.
2. Build an accurate budget
Use these initial cost evaluations to work out an itinerary, and then use that to create an itemised, day-by-day budget. Remember to include everything, from airport transfers to restaurant tips, gift purchases, sightseeing and entertainment.
Also, make sure that you add any activities that make the destination unique – the last thing you want to do while on holiday is impose restrictions on what you’re able to do simply because they’re unaccounted for in your budget. You may never have the opportunity to visit the same destination again, so make the most of the time you have there.
3. Don’t miss the in-between expenses
Be aware of the unforeseen costs such as on-the-ground transport – cabs, Ubers, buses and trains. You may need to rent a car (for which you must factor in insurance and fuel), or you could decide to rent a bike or buy a bus or train pass.
Do the research to figure out what will suit you – and your pockets – best. If you’re travelling locally by car, calculate fuel and toll costs, and factor in car maintenance as well as possible emergency costs (such as replacing a tyre or calling a tow truck if you break down).
If you’re travelling by road, AA membership can be a saving grace – as can knowing that your vehicle’s maintenance plan includes free roadside assistance. Make sure that you travel with all of the necessary paperwork and relevant contact numbers.
Also read: Explaining money to your children
4. Make it real: put it down on paper
You don’t want to spend your holiday worrying whether or not you’re overspending. Experts say that putting the costs in writing will bring a sense of reality to almost any project involving money.
Even if your accounting is based on ballpark (but well-researched) estimates, having an actual written budget is better than having a vague, pie-in-the-sky notion of what your holiday ‘might’ cost.
Experts recommend using an itemised spreadsheet that lists all the planned paid-for elements of your holiday, along with the associated costs. Use this to establish a realistic budget – then make amendments that are in line with what you can afford.
5. Pay upfront
Since a holiday is not an asset and doesn’t accrue value, avoid paying for any aspect of it on credit. You don’t want to end your holiday with a bill that lingers long after the fun – and the day you return from your holiday, you may well wish to start planning the next adventure! The bottom line? It’s best to pay for your holiday using money you actually have… no exceptions.
6. Focus on planning and saving as a full-time business
It’s a good idea to have a dedicated holiday fund, or even a separate bank account to which you can contribute monthly and use only when it’s time to pay for your vacation.
While your savings steadily increase, make it an ongoing project to seek out all the ways that you can reduce the cost of your holiday: reward schemes, discount programmes, special offers and anything else that might score you some savings. If you’re eyeing a specific hotel, for example, check if it has the option of offering discounted room rates for joining a free loyalty programme.
Keep your eyes and ears open for deals that might crop up at your holiday destination. It might be worthwhile signing up for newsletters from tourism organisations and travel providers, as there might be competitions, giveaways, two-for-one promotions or other saving opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise hear about.
And don’t be afraid to ask for discounts! If you’re aware that you are visiting a place outside of its peak season, you might be able to get a portion of your room rate sliced off.
7. Team up and split the costs
Solo travel is usually more expensive than travelling with friends or loved ones. Unless you’re staying in a dorm, accommodation is always more affordable if you’re sharing a room – as is driving with others and splitting the fuel.
Just remember to choose your adventure buddies wisely; travelling (even with your bestie) can put your relationship to the test – especially if you have different expectations and interests. A good idea is to discuss possible ‘issues’ beforehand.
For example: will you be splitting restaurant bills in half or paying specifically for what you each order? And make sure you give one another breathing space: if one of you isn’t into museums, the other shouldn’t feel compelled to pay for an entry ticket. Make sure you have enough autonomy while sharing expenses and logistics fairly.
8. Cover your back with these smart insurance hacks
The pandemic showed us the importance of protecting your vacation against the unforeseen costs – especially expensive plane tickets and pre-paid accommodation.
SME credit card companies have travel insurance built into flight payments made using their cards, so it’s worth finding out if your card has that benefit – or switch to ones that do. Health emergencies may also be covered by your normal medical insurance so check in advance and consider changing your benefits to include overseas emergencies.
Tips and tricks for budgeting better
- Be careful when booking accommodation.
- Cheapish hotels may seem to be bargains… until you finally get there and discover that it’s a huge trek to any places of interest, or it’s in a dodgy part of town.
- Don’t be afraid to try public transport. You’ll be amazed by not only the money you save, but also the reduced stress that comes from not having to figure out directions or deal with traffic and parking in an unfamiliar place. Renting a bicycle or scooter is another way to reduce the cost of getting around.
- Don’t turn your nose up at freebies.
- Free walking tours? Free museum days? Free tastings at a market stall? Take advantage! Many cities offer free activities for travellers as a way of promoting local hospitality.
- It can be as simple as typing ‘Free things to do in…’ into your Google search bar, or popping into the local tourism office and asking the right questions. No one will judge you – and if you don’t take up that free offer, someone else will!
- Remember: some things are always pricier on holiday.
- Alcohol and restaurant food are common culprits, especially in most touristy locations. Look for spots that are frequented by locals, as they tend to be better priced and more authentic. Visit markets and street food vendors.
Words by: Keith Bain