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How to Create a Realistic Travel Budget

Posted Jan 09 2013 8:32pm

As you all know, I LOVE to trip plan. I love planning trips almost as much as I love going on trips. I've mentioned before that Eric and I would like to go on a somewhat big trip this summer. I spent a lot of this past week trying to figure out what was realistic time and budget wise, so I thought I'd share how I make a travel budget. I'm not claiming to be an expert, so I'd love to hear your travel budget tips in the comments. 

How to Create a Realistic Travel Budget

Step 1: Begin with the transportation costs, especially if you need to take a plane. Often times, this is the most expensive part of your trip and it also requires the least research because you often can't really save THAT much on a flight cost. I usually use Kayak or Orbitz to get a general sense of how much I'm going to have to pay on which airline. If you are going somewhere within the USA, try Bing , they have that cool feature that tells you when is a good time to buy your ticket (if tickets are trending up or down). Ultimately, unless there is a major cost difference, I usually try to buy directly with the airline. I always figure that if there is any kind of issue with my flight, I'll have an easier time rescheduling if I am booked directly with the airline. Luckily I've never had to test out this theory, so it's just a theory. Oh, and also, if you are staying in one place (which I rarely ever do) it's worth looking at plane + hotel packages on Orbitz and Expedia. 

Step 2: Next, I like to figure out where I will stay. For me, this requires significantly more research than the plane. First, I like to visit my old friend Tripadvisor.  On my first visit, I just like to read through some of the top hotel reviews for some ideas about what the best location to stay within a given city or town is, and what the general hotel costs are. Obviously it's going to depend a lot on what you want, but I always think it's a great sign if one of the top 3 rated hotels is actually affordable and not a million dollars a night. Next, I have to figure out approximately how long I want to visit this location, which may involve skipping to step 3 and returning to step 2 later. If I plan to stay in one location for several nights, let's say 4 nights to 1 week or longer, I start to seriously consider renting an apartment or a house (if I will have more people). I have had some great success with Homeaway for house rental. Once I know what kind of accommodation I want, I revisit Tripadvisor. When reading reviews, pay attention to your deal breakers only. People always have SOMETHING bad to say about a place, but it may not be something you really care about. I care most about a place being clean, and having comfortable beds. If you have any specific questions, I highly recommend the Tripadvisor forums. I follow a similar method when booking the hotel as I do to the plane, I prefer to book with the hotel directly unless the cost difference is significant. 

Tips for saving money on your accommodation: Stay with friends or family. Choose to stay at an apartment or rental house instead of a hotel. Look into AAA discounts if you are a member. Consider paying ahead for your hotel room, often you can get a better deal if you are willing to pay ahead. 

Step 3: Decide what big things you want to do on your trip. I never plan my whole trip ahead of time, but I like to at least look into the bigger things I will want to do, especially the ones that cost a lot. For example, in Sedona most of what we do is free because it's all hiking, but we do like to do the Pink Jeep tours which are not cheap, so I always factor that into the budget. 

Step 4: Decide if you need to rent a car. Most likely by the time you get to this point it will be obvious whether or not you need a car rental, but if not, go back and look at what you want to do and do a quick google search for "do I need a car in  [insert city name here]?" If you need to rent a car, price out whether it makes the most sense to rent the car at the airport or in town. Usually it's cheaper to rent in town but sometimes the cost difference is not enough to be worth it, especially if you need transportation from the airport into town. 

Step 5: Add in an estimated food cost. This is the part I am worst at, but I am trying to get better. Do some research on restaurants you are likely to eat at (again, it doesn't have to be exact just get a general sense for restaurant prices in the area). If you are going to have a kitchen, obviously food cost will be lower. If there is a Starbucks or small breakfast cafe nearby this can cut down on breakfast costs, and I love Subway for cheap lunches on vacation. I usually try to overestimate on food, because I figure that is better than guessing less and not having enough money in the budget.

Step 6: I like to add a little wiggle room for extra touristy stuff we might do. This depends on the length of the trip, where you are going, and if you are a person who likes to do a lot of shopping. I overestimate here anyway just so I don't end up not having enough money ready for the trip. It's always nice to come back under budget right!? 


Bam. Now you know how much your trip will cost and you know you can not afford to go on a trip. Kidding. Unless you want to go to Australia like I did, in which case this will definitely prove you cannot go haha. Oh well! The best part of this is that if you do it before you start booking, you can go back and cut here and there- find a cheaper hotel, decide not to rent a car (if it's not necessary) etc so you can save money. I swear, half of the fun of a trip is planning it! :) 


Do you have any tips for saving money on travel and/or creating a travel budget? Where is your next trip going to be? 




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