Debt Free Travel: 3 Tips For Your Budget-Friendly Vacation

Unless you already have a sizeable savings account earmarked for travel, you may be wondering how to take that next trip without digging yourself further into debt. Today I’m giving you three tips that we’ve personally used for a budget-friendly vacation with the hope that it’ll encourage and assist you in doing the same. Sound like something you need? Well then, let’s get started.

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Debt Free Travel: 3 Tips For Your Budget-Friendly Vacation

Well hey there and welcome back to the Financial Fix Up Podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Brumley, and today we are talking about some simple ways to take a budget-friendly vacation, specifically so you don’t feel pressured to go into debt or more debt in order to make it happen.

Now, I have to say right here that I do not recommend traveling without being able to pay for it outright, but I do know that things happen. So, even if you have already booked your hotel and flights on a credit card, I don’t want you to continue in the mindset that you have to place the rest of your vacation on credit cards as well. Okay? So, with that in mind, I am going at this as if you already have a vacation planned – it’s happening, but you don’t want the day-to-day vacation expenses to ruin any financial progress going forward.

And if you haven’t booked that vacation yet and you aren’t sure how you’ll pay for it, then this might be a good time to think about whether it’s the right choice for the moment. In fact, I’ll link to a couple of resources in the show notes to help you fast track that vacation planning in a financially responsible way. So grab those if you need them.

But whatever camp you find yourself in, today we’re going to talk about some simple ways that you can keep those daily vacation expenses from ruining your debt-free journey.

Step #1: Designate a Spending Amount

Starting by designating a spending amount.

When you think about a vacation, the first things that come to mind are typically cost of the plane ticket and whatever lodging you might be needing, but the truth is that those are only a portion of the total cost.

In reality, the cost of:

  • food
  • gas
  • activities

…and souvenirs, among other things, can really ramp up the cost of your trip. And kind of in a sneaky way that you might not think about ahead of time.

And don’t get me wrong – your vacation should be fun, but if you don’t want to regret it for months and years to come, then the key here is to designate a total spending amount and then stick to it.

Determine How Much You Need

And this doesn’t have to be complicated, but obviously this is going to depend on your financial situation and how much you have to spend to start with. You can’t or at least – shouldn’t – spend money you don’t have.

From that point forward, it’ll depend on how many days you plan to be on vacation, the type of lodging – like hotel or a house with ability to cook – and whether or not you’ll be participating in a lot of activities that cost money – like amusement parks or those sorts of things, and it also should incorporate any daily transportation – such as gas for the car or some sort of public transportation.

All of these things need to be taken into consideration and the more planning you can do, the better off you’ll be when it comes to keeping that vacation on a budget.

Break it Down Daily

Once you have a good idea of how much that spending budget will be I, personally, find it easier to break it down even further. And we’ve done this in several different ways, but my favorite its to break it down by day and then by person.

When Justin and I went to Vegas almost ten years ago, we were on a tight budget. Thankfully we had paid cash for our tickets and our hotel – and we got a steal of a deal – but I knew that the daily food and gambling and drinks, and all of the things were going to be a lot of money if we weren’t careful. To accommodate for that, I gave us each a daily budget. Knowing that we were going to eat out, we each had a certain amount to spend per meal – more at dinner because we knew dinners out would cost more, but we each knew how much we could spend. The great thing about this was that if I chose a less expensive meal choice, then I could use that money for something else. It was “my” vacation money. Additionally, we each had a daily “recreation” budget. So, that included money that we could use for shows, gambling, shopping, and whatever else came along. If we didn’t spend that money in a given day, we could carry it over to the next, but by breaking it down by day, we didn’t get to the final day of our trip with no money for food and fun.

We’ve done the same on vacations with our kids, too, and it’s made a world of difference – especially when it comes to the one kid who’s money burns a hole in her pocket no matter what.

So, that’s my first tip for you: designate a certain amount of spending money ahead of time based on the expenses you expect to have and then, consider breaking it down daily and by individual.

If you need some help with this, I recommend grabbing a copy of my Vacation Planning Worksheet. It’ll help you walk through these steps so that you can fast track that vacation and come back refreshed without the debt. I’ll leave the link to it in the show notes.

Step #2: Plan Ahead for Food

Alrighty, tip #2 is to plan ahead when it comes to food.

Without a doubt, food is often the most expensive part of vacationing, so the best tip I can give you is to pack or prepare as much as you can ahead of time to negate this cost.

If nothing else, pack a meal or two for the day of travel to help you eliminate the cost of airport food or the need to stop along the road for fast food. Sandwiches, chips, pretzels, granola bars, beef sticks, and nuts can all be good options for quick and easy travel food. Personally, I like to grab those little squeeze packets of peanut butter or almond butter because I can tuck them into my purse, they don’t take up much room, and they offer a good amount of protein. You might also want to include a couple of electrolyte mixes or something else that can spruce up regular water and keep you from having to spend money on bottled drinks along the way. Pack an empty water bottle and fill it up once you’re through security to stay hydrated and save money, too.

If you are driving, you might consider filling a cooler with meals for a day or two, as well. So, that’s definitely something to consider.

Another thing that I do is to pack my breakfast bars so that I don’t have to spend money eating breakfast out. I can grab a bar, enjoy it with a cup of coffee in the hotel room, and pocket that $20 to $25 that I might have otherwise spent on breakfast. So, that little saving alone can make a big difference.

So, tip #2: plan ahead for food whenever possible.

Step #3: Use Cash or a Single Card

The final tip I’m going to offer today is to use cash. Obviously, it’s so much easier to stay on track with your spending if you can’t spend more than you have in your hand. And one of the easiest ways to track a daily or even a personal spending limit is to have individual envelopes labeled and ready to go. We’ve used this exact method each and every time we’ve taken a vacation over the last ten years or so, and it’s been effective each and every time.

Now, there is one challenge involved with this and that’s that there are places that actually don’t take cash anymore. If that’s the case or if you are worried about having cash on your person, then choose a single card that you will use for each and every transaction. This is important if you have multiple accounts or even multiple credit cards. Take a card that you can put all of those expenses on and make sure you track each expense throughout the day to keep you on track.

One way we’ve managed this is by using cash, but if we had to put money on the card for any reason, then we would move the same amount of cash to a separate envelope and return it to our account after the vacation. So, you can decide what works best for you and your family, but I can tell you that without a doubt, using cash has been a game changer for us.

Embrace Debt Free Travel with a Budget-Friendly Vacation

So, there you have it – three tips that hopefully you can implement to keep your upcoming vacation from becoming a financial nightmare. Or at least to help you save a little along the way.

I want to remind you that this financial journey you are on won’t be perfect. It might feel discouraging at times to realize that maybe you don’t have enough to take that vacation this year or maybe you already put your hotel and flights on the credit card or maybe you’re going to have to put something on a credit card because you can’t get out of a commitment you already made but the budget won’t accommodate it. Trust me, I know. And yet, the more we can train ourselves to make these financially responsible decisions, the more it’ll become second nature to live a debt-free, budget-friendly life.

I promise, it does get easier. It just takes practice. So, if you’re feeling frustrated at this moment, just keep on practicing. Okay?

And if you need help getting that vacation budget up and running, make sure to check out the link in the show notes to grab my Vacation Planning Worksheet. It’ll make a world of difference for you, I’m sure of it.

Whatever you decide, just know that I’m cheering you on! You’ve got this! Have an amazing day and I’ll chat with you again next time!