We love everything about family vacations ... except the cost. Let's face it, vacations can be pricey. Transportation and your hotel stay alone can cost a small fortune, not to mention the endless add-ons like meals, taxis, museum tickets, beach passes and more. "The financial issue is a reality of the times," says Jamie Jensen, author of several Road Trip USA guidebooks. "But you don't have to go into debt to have a great summer getaway."
A simple way to make your trip affordable without sacrificing fun is to create a vacation budget. It's easier than it sounds, even if you've never balanced a checkbook, and it will allow you to enjoy your vacation without worrying about breaking the bank. Here's how to do it.
Decide On the Type of Trip
Do you want to lounge on the beach, backpack in the mountains, explore a foreign city or hit the theme parks? Do you prefer a weeklong getaway or several long weekends? Is it just you and your partner or will you have kids in tow? Once you've answered these basic questions, you can begin crunching your vacation numbers.
Calculate Your Budget Max
How much can you really afford to spend? Travel blogger Anil Polat recommends using the Price of Transportation (POT) rule to devise a daily vacation budget. Here's how it works: Take the dollar amount of your total transportation cost, which includes getting to your destination and getting around once you're there, and divide it by the number of days you're traveling. Do the math and use that number for your daily budget for everything else. So if it costs $359 to fly to Florida, $121 for a rental car, plus $40 for the taxi to the airport, your total POT is $520. For a six-day trip, divide by six and that brings you to roughly $86 a day for meals, entertainment and shopping. Round up if you have the resources. And if transportation is free—because you're only driving two hours away—use half your nightly hotel cost as a guideline.
Now that you have a daily budget, what do you want to spend it on? Do you fancy a swank hotel or would you rather splurge on fine dining? "Figure out where you want your resources to go and find ways to cut corners on the rest," Jensen says. If a spa day tops your wish list, for example, consider slashing your souvenir budget, or opting for free entertainment on other days.
Divvy up your expenses into these categories: transportation, accommodations, meals, entertainment and shopping. Use your priority rankings and your budget max to decide how much to allot to each.
Stick to Your Budget
Preloaded debit cards are a great cash conserver—if you have only $200 on the card, you can't spend $500. Another option is to divide your total cash into envelopes for each day and dip only into that day's envelope! For strict accountability, jot down all expenses in a small notebook during the day and compute the total that evening. You'll see where your money's going and how you can save more the next day—i.e., by filling up water bottles at your hotel or taking the bus instead of a taxi. You can also download an iPhone app, like Tripulator, that lets you track your expenses via your phone. Keep a record of the budget for your next family vacation and you'll save money before you even leave the house.report abuse