With 2018 well underway, a lot of people are making traveling a bigger priority for the new year. The problem most people run into that lessens the amount or quality of trips they take is, of course, money. It takes money to travel and with bills and the cost of living not going down anytime soon it can make your dream trip seem like, well, a dream.
Fear not, though, there is a smarter way to travel! In this three-part Adventure Advice Series, we'll explore everything you need to know to get you ready for your next adventure from budgeting, to packing, and more!
Part one of three: Budgeting
1. Define Your Trip Priorities
You can't expect to make a trip just happen. It requires a bit of pre-planning before even getting to the saving money part. The first thing you should always do is sit down and write out the priorities and details of the trip you wish to take. A few key points to get you started are:
Where you're going: Decide on a location that you're interested in and if it's one or multiple places.
When you're going: Figuring out whether you'll need to budget for a trip next weekend or a few months from now makes a big difference.
Who/How many are going: Planning according to the number of people is important because if the trip is multiple adults then costs can be split between each person, but if there are kids coming along, you'll need to factor in costs for things they need.
How long you will be gone for: Not every trip has to be a week-long vacation. Sometimes those little weekend getaways can be half the cost but just as much fun!
Once you have the basic details figured out, it's time to decide on things like whether you plan to try local restaurants or go for an all-inclusive deal at a resort. The little details are important because saving money in one area means you can splurge a little on another.
The key to budgeting any trip is to do your research first. If you go into the plan with all the knowledge ahead of time, you can avoid surprises later on and plan accordingly. The biggest costs for most vacations are accommodations and transportation. If you take time to compare hotels and airlines in the area, then there's a better chance of getting a good deal. A few hidden secrets to this are:
Don't trust the internet as your only resource: Before booking anything it's best to ask your close friends and relatives about their accommodation preferences and if they know of any rewards programs or discounts. This could also lead to using your distant cousin's timeshare because you took the time to ask! If your connections don't turn up anything, then it's time to turn to the source itself.
Not everything a hotel has to offer will be posted online so give your preferred place to stay a call and let them know you're interested in booking a trip. Sometimes asking them to honor lower rates found on discount travel sites or mentioning that you're celebrating an anniversary or something can get you a better deal in the long-run!
Some hotel chains are known for catering to business travelers, so they are at a peak time during the week but somewhat empty on the weekends, depending on the location. Traveling in the off-season and using this knowledge to your advantage can help get a great deal on a place to stay.
Additionally, consider alternative accommodation methods such as hostels, Airbnb, renting an RV and staying in an RV park, etc.
3. Estimate The Cost
After you've gotten the main details of the trip worked out and searched around for the best deals, it's time to grab the calculator and add it all up. In your estimate, you should include money for accommodation, transportation, food, souvenirs, and extras. The best way to factor for food is to take a look at how you and your trip mates typically eat.
If you're the person who eats three meals a day with snacks in between or the person who skips breakfast and eats a protein bar for lunch, then that will make a difference in the budget. The general rule is to allow $10-$20 per person per meal and to multiply that by the number of days of your trip.
For example, if you'll be eating in low-cost places like fast food for the majority of the trip and you typically skip breakfast you can estimate $10 lunch + $10 dinner x three days = $60 per person for food for the duration of the trip. You can also budget for higher priced meals if you have a particular restaurant in mind you'd like to visit.
Souvenir budgeting can be difficult for a lot of people because they aren't sure what the cost of these can be or what will peak interest until they're in the moment. There is still a way to factor this in though! The internet has allowed people who have already been to your desired destination to share traveling and budgeting information with the rest of us.
For instance, if you plan on vacationing at Disney World, there are blogs and articles on the web that let you know about affordable souvenirs and even stuff you can score for free just by knowing who to ask or where to go.
This kind of inside information isn't available for every destination, but it's an idea to get you started. Don't be afraid to stalk the Instagram hashtags to see more inside views from other travelers. A simple comment asking them about their experience can open a flood of opportunities and information.
Don't forget to be realistic and practical when it comes to souvenirs as well. Instead of getting a large and pricey item get several smaller items you can collect for every trip you go on such as postcards, stamps, menus, photographs, jewelry, etc.
4. Show Me The Money!
Do I get cool points for the Jerry Maguire reference here? No? Oh well. This is the most crucial part of the budgeting process because it's all just a plan until you have the money to put it into action. The best way to make sure you can set aside money for the trip is to factor up how much money you need to save every month or week to reach your goal amount in the time you need to.
Be realistic in this configuration. If rent comes out of one check each month, then you may only be able to put money back out of the non-rent paycheck depending on your situation. If your desired vacation is a few months away, but the price requires you to need to save half of your paycheck each week to meet the goal you might want to reconsider some details.
Sometimes pushing your trip date out further will give you more time to save up especially if there are some out of the norm bills coming in or family events happening during this time. Additionally, cutting down on expenses can help you make your trip happen without stressing over the price versus time-frame.
After getting the money and timing down to a science, set up your direct deposit to automatically deposit a set amount of money into a savings account based on your configurations. You can also hire a travel agent to plan and budget the trip and simply make payments to them through a setup payment plan. Using a travel agent can also help you get even bigger discounts and insider information, especially if you're relatively new to traveling.
Several people have the desire to find money outside of their regular paycheck to help fund their next adventure. This idea is possible but can require more work, time, and inconsistencies. I'd recommend using both methods for the best results. Some unconventional money methods include:
Travel Grants: If your plan is to travel for educational or professional reasons then there are travel grants available for you to apply to. Additionally, there are volunteer based trips or grants where you can exchange your time and service for places to stay or transportation cost coverage.
Craigslist: It would be beneficial for your vacation budget and to save space in your home to liquidate some belongings on craigslist and place the money into the savings account for your vacation. Get rid of that desk you never sit at or the baseball cards you never touch anymore and use it to make yourself rich with adventure instead.
The Penny Hoarder: This website is constantly updating readers on opportunities and tips for making and saving money. Everything from part time jobs from home to rewards programs from companies.
Cutting Back: To further help grow your vacation fund consider cutting back on things you typically spend money on. Cancel the gym membership you don't use, dine-out less, move to a less expensive apartment or house, etc. Anything you can do to lessen your expenses will leave more money for a savings that you can use for vacations and emergencies.
Don't forget to read the next two parts of the Adventure Advice Series!