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Creating a vacation budget is key if you want to avoid overextending your finances to fund your fun. Begin by determining your expenses—the top three being travel/transportation, food and lodging. If you are limited on extra money, choosing a vacation spot closer to home is a good way to cut back on travel costs. Calculate how much you’ll need per person a day for food ($35-$40 per adult per day is a good starting point). Then, start looking into what type of accommodations will suit you. This price point varies widely, from beds in hostels or a room through Airbnb to campsites to hotels; you will have to decide what works best for your situation.
You must also budget for entertainment, shopping, tours/attractions, and incidentals, plus it’s a good idea to have a reserve fund for emergencies/extras. Once you have set your budget, you can determine how long it will take to save the necessary money. If you’ve determined that your vacation will cost $4,200, and you can save $400 a month, it will take just over 10 months. It could mean tightening up your average monthly budget, but it’s worth it not to accrue debts that will take even longer to pay off.
When you add kiddos into the vacation mix, there are things you need to consider to stay on budget. If your children are in school, you most likely will be traveling during peak times like spring and summer break. If so, be sure to allocate additional funds for accommodations and flights to offset the prime-time price tag. Planning a vacation with others can help mitigate costs. You can share the expense of a vacation rental home, split costs of meals and have the benefit of playmates and childcare trade-offs.
Family vacations are about time spent together. You don’t have to go all-out at an expensive theme park or plan every second of the day. Choosing a location that may be off the beaten path, or taking a road trip to visit extended family, can be just as memorable and enjoyable. Take advantage of deals through online discount sites, but remember you may still need to reserve tours or activities. Family vacations can even be day trips spent exploring sites and towns near your home. Remember, you don’t have to spend a fortune to have a fun family getaway.
If some foreign land is calling to you, and the wanderlust is too much to bear, there are cost-effective ways to enjoy international travel. Be sure to have the necessary documents in order to border cross. U.S. passport fees for a first-time adult applicant (age 16+) are $140 plus $25, and expediting it is another $60. If your travels are taking you to a different continent, be sure to research flight deals. Sites like AirFare Watchdog and Skyscanner can help you identify hot fares. If your dates are flexible, it could save you a good chunk of money.
Be aware of fees for things like money conversion and using credit cards. If you choose to carry cash, exchange your money at a bank and be sure to carry it in a safe place on your body. When you’ve arrived at your destination, think like a local. Touristy places that rely on traveler dollars charge more. Eat local, use public transportation, stay with a resident through a hosting service — these tips can save you and give you a more authentic experience. Instead of buying mass-produced souvenirs, take a ton of pictures and gather unique collectibles that represent your journey. Your experiences are priceless, so spend your money on the things that will enrich the adventure.