7 Ways to Stick to Your Budget on Vacation

You saved up, put in your PTO, and now you’re finally on vacation for some much needed R&R. But what you don’t need while you’re soaking up the sun and taking in the sights is to overspend and go into debt. If you worked hard to save for your vacation, there is no reason to go over your budget when you get there and make life more stressful when you get back—and you can still have an Insta-worthy vacation while traveling on a budget.

Plus, travel prices are expected to surge this summer, so you’re going to want to plan ahead and look for ways to save when you get to your destination. Here are some tips to help you stick to your budget for a vacation that’s relaxing in more ways than one.

Video: How to save money on travel this summer (TODAY)

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Budget before you book.

Set a budget for your vacation before your book your trip—flights and accommodations will probably be the biggest expenses. “Go during the week (Monday thru Friday),” says Taylor Harrell-Goodwin, CEO of Lively Co. travel agency. “Fly out by Saturday morning for U.S travels.” Hotels usually have lower prices during the week because of low occupancy, and you might get a better rate and food and beverage deals if you book for more than two nights.

Carry a debit card or a prepaid Visa.

Use a debit card or a prepaid Visa card for expenses on your vacation. That way, you’ll be more aware of how much money you can spend. Carry a credit card with you for emergencies and use the debit or prepaid card for everything else.

Bringing your debit card along will also be helpful for withdrawing cash—Harrell-Goodwin recommends her clients set aside $200 in cash for tips and any small expenses. You might also get some discounts paying in cash instead of paying with a credit card. “Remember to pay your service workers in cash, so they don’t wait on their tip,” says Harrell-Goodwin. 

Set a daily limit for spending.

Along with an overall budget, setting a daily limit will help you spend within your means. “Create a set of envelopes with each day of vacation written on the outside,” says Stacey Marmolejo, executive director at Florida Beach Break. Use only the cash or gift cards inside the envelope for that day, and if you have any left over, add it to the next day’s envelope. Breaking up your overall vacation budget and having a set amount you can spend per day is less overwhelming and will help you stick to it better. 

Use a travel credit card.

While cash and prepaid cards have their perks, travel credit cards do too. Using a travel credit card can help you get rewards while you’re on vacation. “Travel credit cards have some of the best rewards in the credit card

industry,” says Mason Miranda, credit industry expert at Credit Card Insider. “Take advantage of them to save money and stay within your budget.”

Many travel credit cards come with perks like free travel insurance and discounted car rentals. Look for a card that works best for your vacation needs, whether that’s saving on airfare or getting points when you use it for entertainment or restaurants. 

If you’re going to use a credit card, make sure you pay if off.  “Always pay off your full statement balance each month to avoid interest, which could negate any potential rewards you’ve earned,” says Miranda. 

Most credit cards also have online banking apps you can use to track your spending or lock your card if you go past your limit, to help you stay in your budget. Miranda says he and his wife check their credit cards once a day on vacation to make sure they’re staying within budget. 

Cook some of your meals.

Of course you want to enjoy the local food when you’re on vacation, but eating out a lot can add up quickly and take away from other experiences during your trip. Nashville-based travel agent Erica James recommends finding accommodations with a kitchenette if your stay is a week or longer so you can cook some quick meals in your room. See if the hotel you’re staying at offers complimentary breakfast, or bring leftovers from a restaurant back to your room and eat them the next day as well. 

Buying food at the airport is also expensive; pack a meal or snacks so you can avoid spending a fortune before you even start your vacation. 

B.Y.O.B.

If you’re staying somewhere that is not all-inclusive, bring your own booze. Sure, you can splurge on a fancy cocktail here and there, but “alcohol can become your biggest expense while on vacation,” according to James. Those mini bottles of liquor will easily fit in your carry-on and save you a lot of money, too. 

Spend your money on experiences.

While it’s tempting to buy souvenirs for yourself and others, these can add up and throw you off your budget fast. Spend your money on experiences, and take lots of pictures and videos—these are free and will last a lot longer. 

Marmolejo recommends doing one free activity and one paid activity per day so you do something fun and exciting each day while sticking to your budget. For example, if you’re going on a beach vacation, you can spend half the day laying on the beach and the other half taking a surf lesson or renting a jet ski. 

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Sticking to a budget will make sure you have a great time during your vacation and after you get back—nothing kills a vacation glow like finding out you spent way too much money. Knowing exactly how much you have to spend every day and planning which activities you want to do ahead of time will give you the stress-free, fun vacation you deserve.

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