I love to travel. Since college, I’ve had the travel bug and love seeing new places. Although our vacations have gotten a little less exotic since we’ve had a little one I still love to get out of dodge. If you’ve been around here for a while, you also know that I love saving money. Lucky for me, combining two of my favorite things planning and deals, allows us to travel for WAY less than you’d expect. If you want to learn how to save more on travel just by planning a bit, keep on reading for some great tips and tricks to create a vacation budget and plan.
Full disclosure – I’m going to talk a little bit about planning and a little bit about travel hacking in this post. I’m by no means an expert on travel hacking, but I’ve gotten pretty excited about it and will share some links and resources with you if you want to dive down the rabbit hole with me.
This post probably contains affiliate links. That means if you buy something using one of my links I may receive a small commission – at no additional cost to you! How cool is that? It’s kind of boring, but feel free to read my full disclosure if you want more info
Deciding Where To GO
This is probably my favorite part because it’s where we list out all the trips we’re going to take the following year. It gives you something to get excited for and allows you to get a jump start on your money saving strategies. We’re lucky in that we do get to take a bigger family vacation every year. The past few years we’ve chosen places from our bucket list and made that a priority from day one. We then fill in with a weekend beach trip, weddings, trips to see friends and family, etc.
The key here is to list out ALL your trips. No leaving off a weekend trip to see friends in another state or assuming you’ll only go to one wedding when you were invited to four. The purpose of the comprehensive list is to ensure you don’t overspend your travel budget next year. Once you’ve got your full list, whether it’s one trip or ten, you’re ready for the next step.
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Setting and Allocating Your Vacation Budget
This part of the process is decidedly less fun but is absolutely necessary. Don’t worry, we’ll get back to the fun stuff again in a minute.
Finalize your total annual vacation budget
You need to determine how much you’re able to spend on travel next year and allocate the vacation budget by trip. If you are taking the same number of trips as in past years, or have a specific amount you dedicate to travel each year this part isn’t that complicated. It becomes a bit trickier when you’re taking a bigger trip than in years past, or are increasing your number of trips. Either way – you need to determine how much more you can cut from the rest of your budget to fund the travel and vacation budget, and proceed from there.
Allocate funds to each trip
At this point, you’re going to allocate funds to each trip so you ensure you can actually afford to do everything on your list. For instance, if you have $5,000 to spend for the full year on travel it will be difficult to get to Italy, a week at the beach, and four weddings you need to fly to.
- Estimate how much you’ll spend on lodging and airfare (in general) and apply that to each trip. I.e. a weekend trip that requires a flight for two people would need at least $1000 allocated. This assumes two flights at $300 each, and $200 for each of two nights in a hotel. Yes, this is expensive, so more on savings in a bit. For now, you’re just in the allocation phase.
- Allocate extra for any “bonuses” you’ll do while traveling. If you are going on a cruise or somewhere you’ll take tours, make sure to include funds for those extras on the trip
- If you’ll spend significantly more on food than you normally do while at home go ahead and add that in as well. In many cases, you don’t need to add in a huge amount unless you’re forced to eat out multiple meals a day.
- Get detailed: In this step, you can either get into the super details, like how much parking will cost per day for all the trips you’re going to take or to keep it simple you can just add a few hundred dollars buffer for all the little items that will come up. It’s up to you how you prefer to plan
Scour for Savings
Ok, back to the fun stuff. In this step, you’re going to figure out how you can save all the money you just allocated towards travel. In many cases, this is a natural result of planning ahead. If you’re jumping into travel rewards, you may even end up saving hundreds or thousands off your travel expenses.
Look for discount rates
Unless you’re going to a wedding or have your entire family planning on the same week for vacation, one of the best ways to save and supplement your vacation budget is to look up discounted times of year in the places you want to go. I’m not advocating planning your Bahamas trip during hurricane season but there is typically an off or low season for most places.
For example, my husband and I treat ourselves to a weekend getaway at The Inn at Perry Cabin. In the summer we could never afford to go there. Rates per night are $600+ and the breakfast on site could run $50+ which is not how we choose to spend our money. However, there is a great package in January and February that includes breakfast, a resort credit, and a $100 credit to their five-star on-site restaurant for dinner. Yes, the weekend will still run over $700 by the time you pay resort fees, and the weather in St. Michaels isn’t awesome that time of year. However, we’re getting a five-star meal and luxury resort experience for less than half the price. AND if I’m paying that much for a hotel I’d rather stay inside and enjoy it!
Try travel hacking to supplement your vacation budget
We’re just getting started in this game, but I’ll provide a quick overview for anyone who is interested. Basically, you work to earn credit card points that you can then cash in for miles or travel credit and save significantly each year on travel. There are a lot of nuances, but the idea is that you simply put your normal spending on credit cards, earning the bonuses, and then cashing them in each year. Getting your trips cheaper makes your vacation budget go further!
The goal isn’t to overspend, open 40 credit cards and not hit the bonuses, or get so crazy you go into debt. There are so many travel bonuses out there if you just do a little research and planning you can get a ton of travel for nearly free. If you’re interested in learning more about travel hacking, Brad created an awesome course called Travel Miles 101. It will give you an overview of all the amazing travel hacking benefits and a step by step guide on how to do it.
We’re running the Chase gauntlet (you’ll understand this if you take the class) and are then going to figure out how to get to Disney for a discount. I’m super new to this but as we get more information I’ll certainly pass it along. Our first priority next year is going to be a Southwest companion pass. If you have a Southwest hub near you and travel domestically, it’s a must-do. For reference, if you have a companion pass you’ll be able to bring someone with you anytime you fly, for FREE. Insanity.
Find out about the sales
If you aren’t into travel hacking you can still find good deals and plan your trip to save some cash. We went to Italy this year and met a couple who had been FOUR times. We wanted to know their secret and they said that Virgin runs an airfare sale every year around Valentine’s day. There are blackout dates, but they typically pay $400 per ticket to Italy from JFK. $400 per ticket?! Are you kidding me? When we looked at tickets many STARTED at $1200. Tickets for ⅓ of the cost? Sign me up tomorrow.
This is just one example but it ties directly to the theme of planning early. If you know where you want to go you can find out the best dates and deals even if you aren’t going in the offseason. (Now don’t you want to head to Italy?)
Wrapping up the vacation budget plan
Ok, I know I’ve thrown a lot at you, but the key to saving money on travel is all about the planning. Setting your entire vacation budget up front helps keep you from overspending during the year, and scouring for sales will just put money back in your pocket. There are so many strategies to save on travel so don’t force yourself to pay full price without planning. If you have any questions feel free to shoot me an email.
Also, if you’re traveling with kiddos (which I’m guessing you are) feel free to check out these other articles that will help get you on your way:
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