We all know the drill. We plan a vacation, have a budget in mind, talk Very Seriously about how we’ll stay on said budget…and then blow it on cocktails, “once in a lifetime” experiences, and impulse buys at the souvenir shop. A year later, we’re still paying it off every month as we send in our credit card bills.
Tell me I’m not alone.
But that’s all changed for us. We recently sold our house and paid off all our debt, and we follow a budgeting plan that works very, very well…so long as we stick to it. So when I took a week-long vacation with friends to Sedona this year, I knew that I had to be super duper EXTRA budget conscious. Because there is no way we are going back into debt, y’all.
Setting a budget and sticking to it are two totally different beasts, though. Here’s how I budgeted for my vacation – and how I stuck to it!
How I Stuck to my Budget on Vacation
First…you need a budget to begin with.
Set your travel budget. My recommendation is to set you budget and then plan your activities around a realistic amount of money, rather than pick our a bunch of expensive activities and then try to find the money to do everything. Honestly, do what works for you (and different trips might call for different tactics), but keep in mind…the whole point is to travel and enjoy new experiences, but not go into debt over them.
My budget for Sedona was $1,000. That did not include airfare or lodging, which we had paid for earlier. It did include all food, activities, gas, shopping, tips, etc. for the entire week.
Meal Plan. If you’re staying in a house or condo and plan on bringing your own food, meal planning is KEY. You will save SO much time and SO much money if you meal plan in advance. Here is exactly how I meal planned, shopped, and cooked for our trip.
Even if you’re staying at a hotel and will be eating out most meals, you can still sketch out a simple meal plan. Write down the restaurants you want to eat at, snacks you need to buy or bring, etc. You’ll need a realistic amount of money set aside for food (and drinks).
Travel in the off season. We went to the desert in the summer. Lodging and airfare were cheaper than if we’d gone just a few weeks before. Find your destination’s off season and travel during that time. You’ll save a ton.
Choose your activities. We picked a few activities that we knew we absolutely wanted to do. Then we had a list of other things we wanted to do, but would be ok if we didn’t. One thing we wanted to do was a Pink Jeep Tour. This was $130 per person. We also wanted to get massages, which was a similar cost. Before we left, we thought we’d have plenty of money to do both. But as the week wore on, and I tracked my budget diligently (see more on that below), I realized I couldn’t afford both.
We went with the Jeep tours!
We also had to plan our activities carefully when we took a cruise last year. If you’re cruising, here are some really specific tips for cruising on a budget (with a printable cruise budget planner, too).
Look for Groupons or deals before you leave. Groupon can be a great place to find deals on the experiences you want to try. Check those out before you leave for your trip…you might be able to save some big money.
Write. It. Down. Guys, this was the number one reason I didn’t blow my budget. I tracked everything in my budget book. An app or spreadsheet would also work, but the key is to write things down right after you spend money on them (or at the end of the day…but make sure to do it every day!).
Be upfront with your traveling partners about your budget before you leave. My friends and I all had the same budget (which we had discussed beforehand). Make sure everyone knows you are traveling on a budget. If your friends want to do activities that you can’t afford, everyone will know that upfront and you won’t feel pressure to participate.
Use cash. I mostly used cash on this trip. I took some with me, and withdrew the rest from an ATM when we arrived. But I’ve had friends tell me they travel with cash envelopes, putting cash in an envelope for every day of the week they travel. They then pull from that envelope, and if they run out of money one day…tough! I really love cash for this reason…I spend so much more mindfully when cash is involved.
Cash is also convenient to have if you need to tip or split bills with friends. And it will keep that souvenir shop impulse buying in check.
I was so proud of myself…I actually came home with a few bucks and that never happens. It took some planning and some willpower, but I was still able to have an incredible trip without breaking the bank.
What are you favorite money-saving travel tips? Let me know in the comments below! And if you’re new to budgeting, I’d love to have you join my free 60 Day Budgeting Challenge.
Here are some other helpful travel posts I think you might like: