A trip in the sun and budget fun go hand in hand for us...
Hawaii, France, Australia - and more - in less than two years? Why not!? We're ordinary folks and we made it happen. There's no pot of gold buried under our house, nor have we had any luck sourcing wealthy, eccentric relatives. (Note: If you are indeed a fabulously rich, long lost uncle, we are keen to hear from you!) And while we're decent savers, we have our limits. We aren't willing to strip our lives of every tiny indulgence all for the sake of a future trip.
So how do merely adequate savers with a serious coffee addiction and a depressing lack of trust fund manage to travel around the world and still pay the light bill? We have a few tricks up our sleeve that make our travel adventures richer as a result. And with some incredible trips on the horizon for 2016 - including Scotland, Sweden, Slovenia, and perhaps some other countries that begin with the letter "S" – being travel smart is more important than ever before. This is how we do it.
Our beautiful, bespoke budget.
A blown travel budget is incredibly bitter medicine to swallow. We have a theory that it's not the big purchases that throw a budget off track - it's the little ones. Everyone remembers to budget for airfare and hotels but not many people remember airport taxi costs. Or checked luggage fees. Or tips, donations, services charges, and taxes. Or all that coffee!
It's SO easy to spend an extra $50 a day without even realizing it. You (rightfully) tip your housekeeper and waiter, you drop a few dollars in a donation jar (please do!), you grab some bottles of water at a gift shop, enjoy ice cream mid-afternoon, and pay the resort fee to gain internet access at your hotel. That's $500 extra dollars in just 10 days!
That's why we created an insanely detailed trip budget planner. Anticipating expenses is the first step to managing them.
A brilliant travel rewards credit card.
Credit cards to stay on budget? Aren't they better known for helping you blow your budget? Well, not the way I approach it! I use mine to pay for as much of my trip as possible well before I depart, paying off the card as I go. And then I let the card pay ME back!
I prepay for all my regular travel expenses on my card - things like tickets, hotels, attractions, and tours. I then use the accumulated reward miles earned through those transactions to cover the cost of some of my travel splurges. Want to take a limo to the airport? Or a scenic train ride through Europe? Yes!
Small savings (and treats!) can really add up over the course of a trip and every little bit helps me remain on target. But using my travel rewards to pay for my splurges isn't the only way my credit card helps me to stay on track. Advanced payment of everything from my hotel to my tours means I can carry less cash at my destination. I like this both for safety and for tracking my spending - and it keeps my money from mysteriously 'disappearing' once I break a large bill. Once again, keeping track of the little expenses helps me afford the big ones.
Planning - and paying for - so much of a trip ahead of time might not appeal to all travelers. Where's the spontaneity? What about having some fun? Trust me, this method has made my travels more spontaneous than ever before!
Ordering museum passes before a trip has encouraged me to visit extra museums, just to 'get my money's worth' and I've branched out to include some quirky choices that would never have been on my radar. And searching to find the best deals has opened up a whole world of alternative travel activities to me. Segway tours and cheese trails were things I never considered until I started to do some advanced travel planning.
We're crafty about coupons and codes.
There are coupons for EVERYTHING! And hunting them down is a rather intoxicating pastime of mine. I base my travel budget on pre-coupon prices and every time I find a chance to save, it's like discovering free money - money that builds flexibility into my budget helps me stay on track.
We have saved hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars by searching for online coupon codes before booking hotels. We simply narrow down our potential properties to about five or six spots and we do internet searches for "coupon code ABC hotel" and see what comes up. We almost always find a great deal for one of our top three choices.
Sometimes those choices are very basic, like an inn or a two star hotel. These already good deals become amazing bargains thanks to coupon codes. Our best deal ever was paying just $35 for a perfectly acceptable room at the Days Inn in Flagstaff, Arizona. Our savings covered a lot of fun the next day at the Grand Canyon!
Sometimes those choices are much swankier accommodations. Before our trip to Bangkok, we found a coupon code we could combine with an existing online sale. We spent less than $80 a night for a gorgeous room with deluxe breakfast and were even upgraded to a premium floor! (Proof that paying less doesn't make you ineligible for surprise upgrades). We felt like absolute movie stars!
Coupons aren't just online or just for accommodations. The tourist magazines at the airport kiosks are filled with two-for-one activity offers and even highly discounted meals. You can even support small, independent businesses while using coupons, as they often offer bonuses if you visit on a certain day or combine it with a different activity.
We take a mid-trip measurement.
I'm a bit obsessed with doing laundry when I travel. There's just something about sitting in a community laundromat, reading a book, and watching the machines whirl that I find so relaxing. I even love it more when it's Ryan who's out doing the laundry and I'm relaxing back at the hotel! But laundry isn't even the only chore I embrace when I travel. I love paperwork too!
A mid-trip measurement of our spending total takes very little time and goes a long, long way in helping us stay on budget. Everyday we might be up or down a little, but doing the math mid-trip give us a real sense of where we're at and if we need to adjust our spending.
I'll admit, sometimes it's a wee bit depressing. I certainly wasn't loving paperwork when I realized just how much money I had spent on my nightly shave ice trips in Maui! But in pricey Sydney, I was thrilled and relieved to see we were right on budget, despite the daily sticker shock. And in Las Vegas we were actually a bit UNDER budget. How is that even possible?!
Travel budgets are a tool, not a torment.
I'll admit there are times when "budget" is a bit of a dirty word around our house and it's not always easy to stay on track. But we're motivated not just by the trip immediately in front of us, but also by all those lined up in the future. And while it can be a challenge at times, it's one we've embraced. We do our best to turn it into a game and have some fun.
And ultimately being budget fiends has not only allowed us to travel more but has also greatly enriched our trips as well, bringing us opportunities and experiences we normally would never have found. And isn't that what travel is really all about?
We're always looking for tips and tricks to help keep our travel budget on track. What do you suggest?
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