If you’ve been bitten by the travel bug, you know there’s no cure.
A serious case of wanderlust isn’t a bad thing, as long as you don’t let your travels break the bank.
For a majority of Americans, however, sticking to a vacation budget is easier said than done. According to a 2017 report by LearnVest, 74% of Americans surveyed have gone into debt from a trip, at an average of more than $1,100.
What causes people to go into debt, even when they’ve planned for the traveling expenses? Here are eight common money mistakes people make on vacation — and tips on how to avoid them.
1. Buying food at the airport or on the plane
Airport restaurants know you have few options for buying food once you’ve gone through security. That’s why they’re able to mark up prices as much as they want.
“The markup on airport and airplane food is astronomical,” said Shannon Ullman, the traveler behind the Lives Abroad blog.
Avoid blowing through your food budget for the trip by carrying your own food and drinks.
“Instead of paying double or triple the price, come prepared with snacks,” Ullman said. “Make sandwiches or salads and keep them in a cooler or a lunch bag.”
Chances are, the snacks you bring will be better than anything you’ll find in an airport or on the plane. Ullman also recommends carrying a water bottle.
“Since you can’t bring liquids through security, try bringing an empty, reusable bottle,” Ullman said. “This way, you can fill it up at the water fountains before you get on the plane. Snack packs and reusable water bottles can save you between $20 and $100 dollars on both legs of your trip.”
If you’re craving something more than water, Ullman suggests bringing iced tea or lemonade packets to add to the bottle.
2. Paying extra baggage fees
With airlines increasingly offering budget fares and charging fees for amenities, a checked bag is often an extra expense. But it also might be an unnecessary expense, especially for a short trip.
“Learn to pack light,” said Katelyn Michaud, who runs the travel blog Diaries of a Wandering Lobster.
“Chances are you don’t need three pairs of shoes and five pairs of pants,” Michaud explained. “Pack smart and light and bring carry-on only. Not only does it save you money, but you’ll save time not having to wait for your baggage at baggage claim.”
Adopting a minimalist mindset while packing could save you money on baggage fees. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about the airline losing your luggage.
“Baggage fees are the worst,” Ullman said. “By packing only the essentials and choosing versatile outfits with layers, it’s easy to fit everything in one bag. Don’t pack anything you can buy once you reach your destination.”
3. Splurging on private shuttles
At a tourist-heavy destination, shuttle companies are happy to drive you from the airport to your hotel while charging an arm and a leg.
Instead of taking a private car, consider public transportation. When I traveled recently in Mexico from Cancun to Tulum, for instance, the price for a private shuttle was $100 while a bus cost just $9.
Of course, a shuttle might be worth it if you’re traveling with a group or reaching your destination late at night. But if you feel safe and arrive during the day, public transport will be more affordable.
4. Getting slammed with foreign transaction fees
Another unnecessary expense comes in the form of foreign transaction fees on purchases made by credit card. If you’re shopping during your overseas trip, try to use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, such as a Chase Sapphire card or Capital One’s VentureOne card. Note that some travel cards have an annual fee, so you’ll need to earn enough travel points to offset the cost.
“Many of the airline and travel credit cards offer no foreign transaction fees as a benefit,” said Michaud. “If you’re American, Charles Schwab offers [a checking account debit card with] no ATM or foreign transaction fees around the world.”
Opening a credit card or bank account with no foreign transaction fees could be a smart money move if you travel abroad frequently.
5. Opting for a pricey hotel over a cheaper option
Your travel accommodations can be as expensive or cheap as you want. If the cost of a hotel is steep, consider cheaper alternatives, such as a room or apartment through Airbnb or a hostel.
Emily Gallagher, the community relations manager for Hostelling International NYC, recommends hostels as a way to save money and meet like-minded travelers.
“Hostels are a great option for the frugal traveler,” Gallagher said. “If a communal room makes you uncomfortable, most hostels also have discounted private rooms available that still give you access to kitchen facilities and other free or low-cost amenities.”
Although hostels might not be a convenient choice for everyone, comparing your options could help you find the type of accommodation that fits your budget.
6. Forgetting to pay your bills at home
Vacation is all about letting go of routines, but you don’t want to forget to pay your bills at home.
Whether it’s your electric bill or paying your student loans, make sure to set up automatic payments in advance so you don’t miss a payment while traveling.
Otherwise, your vacation could cost a lot in late fees or interest. Plus, you don’t want to come home and find that your lights won’t turn on.
When you’re on vacation, it’s easy to want to buy all the things you see. You might push past your spending limits because of the “You only live once” or “When in Rome” sentiment.
But this kind of mentality will get you in trouble, and many of those souvenirs will probably clutter your home.
“Sometimes it is worth it to splurge on something meaningful and a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Michaud. “When I was traveling in Southeast Asia, I splurged on a five-day package of trekking with orangutans in Sumatra. It was expensive, but the highlight of my trip.”
Splurging can occasionally be worth it, but you also have to know when to draw the line on spending.
8. Not prioritizing travel goals for your trip
For Jennifer Li, the founder of travel company Map&Move, budgeting doesn’t have to do with the cost of food or baggage fees. Instead, she encourages travelers to think about what they want to get out of their trip, and then to spend their money accordingly.
“When I first started traveling solo, the biggest consideration I had was what I wanted to get out of my experience in the long run,” Li said. “The things that I put money into were interesting experiences and places where I could meet like-minded people and locals. Everything else was negotiable.”
That’s why Li thinks the key financial error people make on vacation is not reflecting on their priorities.
“The biggest money mistake is not considering what you want to get out of your travels and throwing money into things that might not achieve the experience you actually want, like expensive accommodations or going to attractions for the sake of fattening up your Instagram feed,” said Li.
By deciding your travel priorities and setting a budget accordingly, you can avoid spending too much or going into debt on your trip. The less you spend on your current vacation, the more you can save for your next travel adventure!
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