Vacationing is fun as long as you have the means to enjoy it, says a travel industry executive I've known for years. Things can get quickly messy if you are not even at the end of your stay but are starting to count your dollars and cents – overseas, in an environment you don't know and cannot control. To avoid the often uneasy call to a relative back home asking for money, plan your trip in advance and try to set a firm budget. Other techniques you can try to curb travel costs include using your travel rewards card – get one if you don't have one now – planning a budget tour, and routing a trip to fit within your means.
How Do I Manage on a Tight Budget?
A travel budget is an absolute must if you plan a vacation, especially if you are not alone and will be trekking with your loved ones to, say, that exotic land, thousands of miles away from home. Open an Excel worksheet – or take a piece of paper, if you are rather "old school" like me – and input the different expense items you would incur while on vacation. Better yet, use IndependantTraveler.com's Travel Budget Calculator.
Travel budgeting can help you figure out how much you can expect to spend and whether you have that much cash. You would be surprised how quickly things can add up and break your bank while overseas. And while you are going through your personal budget plan, remember that your little one, Suzy, who was born two years ago and used to ride free of charge, no longer qualifies for that free ride and now must pay a full or discounted fare, depending on the airline, because the two-year mark has passed.
To get a better idea of how travel costs can quickly add up, I suggest you input all costs (one at a time) in the Travel Budget Calculator, that you expect to incur on a specific trip. Then, click the "Find my trip cost!" button. I also suggest you double check some of the costs with locals, especially if you are travelling to a country where cash is king and the U.S. dollar is not easily converted – and, therefore, a place where you need to carry cash lest you incur substantial losses through unverifiable and unfair exchange rates.
Where Can I Find the Best Trip Ideas That Are Affordable?
- Talk to your friends and relatives. Ask around in the office, enquiring with colleagues who already may have sojourned in the country where you want to go – or who are from that very country. Starting with your personal network is easy and costs nothing, but you are certain to get relevant and actionable advice – think about your aunt May warning about life on foreign soil, especially those pickpockets at the airport's taxi hall who want to "help" you get a cab even though their true intent is less altruistic.
- Besides people you know, travel agencies can recommend the best yet affordable trip ideas, depending on the location and season. Talk to your travel agent and explain your location and timing preference, budget and traveler information – whether it is a family trip or a solo journey.
Ask questions, lots of questions, when discussing travel options with the agent. That way, you cover all operational grounds before even hearing the price that he or she would offer you. Things to inquire about include travel insurance requirements, Internet access, currency exchange and bank fees, dining, excursions, and car rental.
- The third place to look for best trip ideas is the U.S. Department of State, especially its Travel Advisory, a catalog of current travel warnings that is continually updated. I can hear you say that this resource doesn't give you the best travel ideas, but it certainly warns you against the worst trip ideas you could have – and in my view, what keeps you out of harm's way is as good as, if not better than, what steers you in a positive direction. Don't get me wrong, though: The State Department's goal in publishing the travel advisory is not to discourage you from going wherever you are headed to, but to give you a complete picture of the situation on the ground so you can make an intelligent trip decision.
- Lastly, visit the websites of companies as diverse as airlines, car rental organizations, hotels, and online travel agencies like Expedia and Travelocity. All of them have some sort of trip planning tool you can use to figure out the best trip idea out there that is affordable.
Can I Travel With Points, Use Them While on Vacation, and Save Money?
You can use your travel rewards card to curb your overall vacation expense. Talk to your card company, ask a customer service representative the options that are available to someone in your situation. If you don't have a rewards card, read a few reviews and apply for a card that suits your needs and offers points you can redeem to travel, upgrade a lower-class fare to business or first class, and enjoy VIP treatment at airports and hotels.
For example, cards like Capital One Venture Rewards Visa and Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa allow you to accumulate points whenever you travel and spend money on specific items. You can then redeem the points in travel time, exclusive access to 5-star hotels and spas, first-class treatment on the plane, and cash back.
How Can I Route a Trip to Fit My Vacation Budget?
To save money while on vacation, plan your trip well in advance and route it to fit your vacation budget. That way, you would not be tempted to over-indulge once you are on the ground. Several portals, many of them with Smart Phone apps enabled, allow you to route your trip as optimally as possible, depending on your criteria, geographical preference and selected transportation means. For example, My Route Online allows you to export all your addresses into a database, which then maps the trip and sends you the Route Plan via email as well as to your mobile device or GPS.
To live within your means while on vacation, you have to plan your expenses in advance, do your homework, and set a pre-trip budget plan that will indicate maximum amounts you want to spend on specific items. Once you get to the final vacation destination, try to stay within your budgetary limits, use your credit or debit card as frequently as possible to earn points, and route your trip to include few uncertainties.