7 easy tips to master your travel budget

Ever return with a travel budget blow out? You’re not alone. Here are some simple steps to stay under budget, without impacting your holiday style.

travel on a budget

Think about your last holiday – do you know exactly how much you spent and whether you blew out your travel budget? Been there, done that, and definitely got too many t-shirts! 

Here are our tips for mastering your travel budget, ensuring you have all-time holidays and can still buy groceries when you get home. 

With the travel world at our fingertips it’s so easy to book flights, a few nights accommodation and then leave everything else up in the air.

It’s easy to be so focused on needing a holiday that the only pressing item before you leave your front door appears to be packing the suitcase.

What many of us leave off the holiday prep list is working up a travel budget. Find below some hot tips to get organised, avoid those extra costs and focus on the good times:

  1. Budget for the basics AND the extras

Before we head off on any trip we map out a rough travel budget which usually includes flights, accommodation, meals and activities. We divide this into a daily cost to have a good idea in our head whether we’re over or under our projected spend.

We make sure we don’t just have these basics included when we look at overall costs.

You MUST save room for spontaneity, and things are bound to go off track at some point.

It’s not all supposed to go to plan, just make sure you’ve catered for the extra dollars required and you’ll be fine. 

If you prepare for this and make room in your travel budget for these little ‘adventures’ you will be able to relax knowing that you can afford the detour.

  1. Wellinadvance.com

Book your accommodation, rental cars and even activities in advance so the last minute rush doesn’t empty your bank account. Book flights 3-6 months out OR…

#absolutelastminute (but nothing in between). Standby flights can save you a packet. For those of you who don’t have friends with airline benefits (sadly us included), don’t book a three-week holiday at the last minute for an exact location and schedule. Skyscanner is great site if you’re flexible with your dates and even stop over destination.

  1. Getting from A to B

We just got back from Kauai where I’m pretty sure cabs and Uber don’t exist. It’s one of the most amazing places we’ve been, and not just for the surf. We had to rent a car, which was fine as it’s a phenomenal place to drive around.

When renting, your biggest cost won’t be the car itself, and it’s easy to shop around for this online. Where they catch you is with the insurance. Most companies have insurance over their cars but there’s a massive excess, usually about $4000. Risk it if you’ve got the fallback and can afford taking the chance, but if not, you need to drop this somehow. This cost alone can double your rental car fee.

The trick – get excess cover from home before you leave. Either make sure it’s in your current policy (see below) or try somewhere like Hiccup who we’ve used to save about 80%.

(NOTE – In Kauai, they didn’t have any insurance on their cars. So if we totalled our Dodge Caravan, we might be made bankrupt. In this case we sucked it up and paid the extra just in case).

travel budgetIf you need to use transfers instead, don’t just blindly use Uber – I’ve been there! It’s not always the cheapest or most convenient.

We waited an hour for an Uber recently in Seattle airport as they are so damn popular. We also used them about 40 times on the recent trip so just consider your options first. Try shuttles, trains, buses etc. Think about this up front before you wind up in an airport somewhere with no wifi. If you’re travelling with an infant like us, this is very helpful!

  1. Travel insurance

If you travel semi-regularly, say at least one OS trip per year, make sure your existing credit card has free travel insurance included. Match this with free international transactions and frequent flyer points for all purchases and you’re definitely winning!

If you have the budget and a heap of points, check out these guys who will take your existing points and find you a sweet deal on business class tix. (we’ve travelled business occasionally but only when using points to upgrade on a looooooong flight. Unless work is paying, save your coin for fun when you get there).  

If you’re in Australia, Choice has recently reviewed the travel insurance space, so be sure to check out their article here.

  1. The dog‘n’bone

Using mobile data when you’re overseas is a scary thing. One wrong move can really mess you up if you’re not careful.

A few years ago I was in Fiji having breakfast and thought I was on wifi. I was live streaming the Teahupoo surf comp from Tahiti for about half an hour on my work mobile. I caught most of the final, it was perfect timing before we headed out for a day tour on a boat.

Twenty minutes later the excess-use messages came flowing in and my Telco politely notified me of the $100 per MB data cost. Turns out wifi wasn’t working that morning and my previous employer received a bill for $8500 that month. Let me know if you can top this one.

The solution: it’s different for every country and depends on your plans. If you’re a hotel dweller then you might be ok with wifi only. Turn your data off before you leave the country and happy days.

If you’re driving around, addicted to Insta and like to Google as soon as you don’t know something (don’t we all?), then try an international plan with your current provider. We spent $10/day to get unlimited Data and Calls recently. That $150 cost was another example of spending wisely, especially considering the consequences of the Fiji incident that we’ll never mention again.

  1. Access to cash money

I mentioned this in travel insurance above about your credit card. This one is key – make sure you don’t get stitched with international conversion fees. An AMEX is usually a good option for Aussie and US travellers. We saved over $200 in three weeks in the US by having an AMEX.

For cash, most banks have international cash cards that won’t cost you a heap each time you withdraw money.

Some people worry a lot about security, I’m not really one of those people and for that I’ve had my wallet stolen twice overseas. Fortunately, I was set up right, so managed to scrape by without a ruined holiday. Leave large amounts of cash at home. Use cards with PINs and use internet banking to pre-set your transaction limits low. In the end you’ll usually get these back from the bank. 

  1. AirBnb your place – double your holiday budget!

The sharing economy works a treat team. Get on board with this. It’s super easy to spend a bit of time upfront packing your valuables away, locking one or two cupboards and advertising on Stayz, Airbnb or one of many other options. We’ve done this numerous times. In 2014 it paid for almost an entire 3 weeks in the States!

If you’re in Australia, check out Red Cap Concierge, a phenomenal new site built to help you set up and manage your online listing.

We’re only talking from our own experience here so are bound to have missed things. What are your top tips for keeping your holiday costs down?

Let us know in the comments!

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3 thoughts on “7 easy tips to master your travel budget”

  1. After a few holidays being caught short, we signed up for a fee-free, international charge-free credit card (Bankwest’s Zero platinum visa) with a hefty balance just for leaving on check-in at overseas hotels. It means we can travel within our budget and not have a huge, unexpected hold being put on our cards (and the fees that come with it). The card sits dormant for the rest of the year. It’s also a handy “holy shit” fall back for unexpected travel expenses like hospital bills.

  2. I’m probably one of the few weirdos who really enjoys planning holidays! I will have a spreadsheet with a day by day, research the local areas and create an average food cost per day (with a little extra for eating at nice places), research activities and where I can get the best deals (booking in advance vs last minute etc). I do leave some room for spontaneous decisions if something comes up and roll with the punches when things don’t go to plan, but I’ve never been left short on money or gone over budget because it is all built in.
    Some great tips here for those not as strange as I am 😉

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