Estimating the cost of a vacation can be daunting especially if you’re looking for cheap places to travel. Embarking on a vacation on a budget can be stressful, difficult to plan and budget properly, and lead to more frustration than excitement. You worked hard to plan this vacation, and the planning should be a fun first step to a fun adventure to someplace new. So let’s all just cool our jets, breathe, and get ready to be realistic with our expectations (and our wallet)
These are some basic guidelines I use - and pitfalls I try to avoid - to help plan my vacations. I also utilize the help of my trusty "vacation calculator" (below) as a useful tool to estimate the total cost of the trip.
Charging Your Vacation
Plastic isn’t just dangerous to turtles, folks! Putting a vacation on plastic can be a recipe for financial disaster. If you must use your card, make sure to pay as much toward the charges up front as possible. Clouds can ruin a beach day, and you don’t want to be lounging on the beach with a cloud of debt over your head. When using credit, try to use a card where you earn travel miles or points. Take only vacations you can afford. If you want to use a credit card for the expenses, that's perfectly acceptable, but only put expenses that you can pay for within one billing cycle so you aren't "financing" your vacation. Remember, you have to head home to these payments, so make your return home as stress-free as your time in the sand.
Duration & Peak Season
The duration of your vacation will affect the total cost. The longer you go, the more expensive it will be. What time of year you go also plays a role in the cost of your vacation. Weekday hotel rates will be cheaper, so if possible, avoid the weekend travel. In the summertime, many destinations increase their weekend rates while weekday rates remain fairly reasonable. So, if you’re able to shift your weekend getaway to a Sunday to Tuesday/Wednesday trip you would be able to save a few extra bucks and still enjoy half of the weekend. Remember, every place has a peak, value and shoulder season(s).
Plan on going far? Deciding on air, cruise, train, bus or car will affect your vacation cost a great deal. When booking your transportation, don't forget hidden or overlooked "fees" associated with each mode of transportation, such as parking fees, attraction tickets and checked baggage. Fees will add up.
Getting a Deal
Deal shopping is tricky. I suggest getting a qualified travel advisor to help you determine when to book a particular vacation. While a travel advisor seems like a dated profession, it’s quite the contrary. In addition to doing all the heavy lifting for you, some travel advisors have access to flights, hotels with negotiated rates. While you may see a particular rate on a discount travel site, you may get an even better one through an advisor. While some accommodations are “sold out” on the internet, travel advisors have access to rooms that the public can’t easily get their hands on. Disco is dead - Travel Advisors are alive and well (and ready to help)! You can read an entire post about how to get a travel advisor here.
Domestic Travel - BEST Vacation Spots for Families On A Budget
One of the easiest ways to save money while traveling (especially taking a best family vacation on a budget) is to stay stateside. Look for medium-sized destinations and build a theme around it. St Augustine or St Pete / Clearwater, Florida are excellent ideas for a Florida vacation. Hilton Head, SC, believe it or not Las Vegas, NV or Long Beach CA. These (and many other offer fantastic deals for vacations of all shapes and sizes.
Booking Early / Paying Upfront
In some cases, booking a trip as far out as possible can save you some serious money. Also, last minute deals DO exist, so be on the lookout. Also, some airlines, car rentals, hotels, etc. offer a “Pay Now & Save” option. This is an excellent way to get a better rate than paying on a usual schedule. However, read the fine print as these “deals” are usually non-refundable.
Usually, I only insure trips more than $500. Larger trips should be insured.
Call Your Bank / Credit Card Companies / Mobile Phone Service Provider
Before you leave home, let your bank(s) and mobile phone service provider know you are traveling to avoid hassles on the road.
How did you pay for your last vacation? Leave your insights, tips or questions in the comment section below.
About The Author
Erik Hastings, a.k.a. Erik the Travel Guy is an EMMY award-winning television personality who speaks directly to consumers who can't afford to "get their vacations wrong". He is the host and managing editor of the internationally syndicated television series "Beyond Your Backyard" for public broadcasting stations (PBS) and other networks/VOD platforms. Erik leads an incredibly talented team of industry pros and is the editorial driving force of his platform. While the travel industry directly supports millions of families worldwide, Erik believes travel makes the world a better place. Through exploration and discovery, he has learned that travel brings cultures together and he eagerly shares that spirit with his viewers.
Read Erik's Full Bio
TV Series: Beyond Your Backyard
Audio: His Podcast
I am on a mission to get you traveling more often. As the host of the Emmy award- winning, nationally syndicated television television for PBS and the Create channel, "Beyond Your Backyard," I travel (on average) 25 weeks per year. I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet cool people, experience new places, eat delicious food and work with the best production crew in the world. Hopefully, through this blog, you will join me on my travels and be reminded just how exciting it is to be alive!