How to Make a
Travel Budget & Stick with It

Coming up with a realistic travel budget is an important first step in planning your family vacation. It may impact where you choose to go, where you decide to stay, and what activities you can do.

Unless you have a bottomless wallet (and if you do - you probably aren't reading this article ;), you are going to need to be specific on the breakdowns of what everything costs.

Transportation Travel Budget

Budgeting for transportation will depend on where you decide to go and when. If it's a local destination, perhaps you can drive, but many people choose to fly because of the convenience and time constraint. 

I like to use Skyscanner because it shows a whole month at a time, so you can see what months are cheaper to fly and what days within that month - which is great if your travel dates are flexible.

If your travel dates are not flexible, research has shown that the cheapest time to book flights is 6 weeks ahead of your travel dates.


Other Transportation Budget

If you are flying, you'll need to budget in some money for at least the cost of getting to and from your accommodation.

However, you will more than likely need more transportation than just that. Unless you are staying at an all-inclusive resort where you won't be leaving the resort, you'll probably need to plan for how you'll get around.

  • Are you going to more than one city?
  • How will you get around your destination city?
  • Are you doing any excursions from your destination?

Some people choose to rent a car once they get to their destination, others will use public transportation (buses, taxis, trains, etc). It might make sense to calculate how much you think you need transportation and do a cost breakdown of renting a car vs. public transportation/distance.


Accommodation Budget

Your budget may determine where you can stay - or where you want to stay may determine what other things you can splurge or spend on!

The most common option is of course, staying in a hotel, but you can also look at all-inclusive resorts, renting a room or apartment locally, staying in a hostel, or even staying with friends or family in the area.

While you are building your travel budget, just try to get an idea of how much the accommodation you want is going to cost. You may want to wait to book an exact spot until after you have decided on everything else.

For hotels and hostels, I usually book through Travelocity.com and for room/apartment rentals, I've used Airbnb.com with great success.


Activities Budget

Ziplining in Costa Rica! Weeeeeeee!

One of the most exciting things about traveling is the fact that you get to visit new places and try new activities!

Of course, you'll want to experience the destination you are at, so plan in some of your budget for the adventures you want to take.

Will you go to museums? Take a tour? Need admission tickets to a park? These are all filed under the activities/attractions section of your budget.

I also put some extra spending money into this category, because who doesn't like to shop when they are traveling, amiright?!


Food Budget

This can be the hardest category to budget for, unless you are staying at an all-inclusive resort where you don't have to pay extra for any meals.

It really depends on how you like to eat - are you a grab some quick food from a deli/street vendor or sit down at a fancy restaurant kind of person? 

For my kids and I (and even when I travel solo), we like to go light for breakfast - oftentimes just grabbing some fruit and cereal at a local market. 

For lunch, if you are in the US/Canada, I would plan on (per person) $10-15 and for dinner about $20 per day. Europe can cost slightly more - but remember, you don't need to leave a tip there. Central and Southern America and Asia can cost less.


Travel Budget Example

You'll see in my travel budget example to the side how I budgeted for our trip to Chicago. We stayed for 4 days and took a train to get from home to the city.

I was able to find an amazing deal on Groupon for a hotel that had recently been through some construction, so they were looking to get customers back there. It was only $130/night - which is almost unheard of for a downtown Chicago hotel! 

Our food budget was fairly cheap because we brought our own breakfasts to eat - granola bars, protein shakes, etc. Since we didn't have to worry about the weight of our luggage, we were able to do this. If we flew, that cost would've have been higher.

While we were there, we took the bus or Ubers mostly. We also did a *lot* of walking, which helped keep our transportation cost down. (Side note - I picked a hotel that was centrally located downtown so that we could walk to most of the attractions we wanted to go to.)

You'll see that I have 2 extra items on my budget, which you may not: time off and kennel costs. We took a long weekend, which meant I missed a few days of work, which cost me income. So I added that to the cost of our trip.

We also have a dog that had to stay at a kennel (usually she stays with family, but this trip they were unavailable). So again, any costs related to you being gone - kennel, housesitter, etc. - have to be added to your budget.

Analyze Your Travel Budget

When you return home, it's a good idea to put in your actual expenses to compare to what you had originally planned. This may help you avoid overspending or see where you need to cut expenses the next time you travel!

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