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3 ways to tackle your travel budget

Creating a travel budget
April 26, 2018

By Kathryn, Maggie & Pam

How you feel about budgeting likely mirrors how you feel about organizing in general. If you’re someone who creates lists and schedules in your sleep, a budget will be second nature to you. However, if you’re someone who prefers to go with the flow, creating a financial budget may seem downright tortuous.

Except, here’s the thing: A budget actually gives you the freedom to do the things you love. Like travel!

The benefit of budgeting – and prioritizing within that budget – is that once you do it, financial decisions become so much easier. You just need to consult your numbers each month to make sure you’re on track.

Here, three of our Money Mentor blog contributors break down their (very different) smart strategies and overall approaches when it comes to budgeting for travel.

The bucket-list travel budget approach

Kathryn Pins, Marketing Content Specialist

Total 2018 Travel Budget: $2,700

I have quite a few lofty travel goals and definitely picked up the travel bug. Because the number of places felt endless, I created a travel bucket-list of where I want to visit and why I want to visit there. Although it’s a long list, I have a lifetime to complete it.

The bucket-list has helped my budget because I don’t feel rushed to travel everywhere at once. It’s nice to know that I have a plan and can take my time. Each year’s travel budget is based on other expenses including travel relating to loved ones’ weddings.  

In the next five years, I would like to visit Patagonia, Banff National Park, and Machu Picchu. Planning for the next five years doesn’t just help the budget; it also makes the trip more exciting. Studies have shown that anticipating a trip can make you happier than actually taking it. So, as I see it, I am getting the most bang for my buck by looking ahead.

Here is my budget breakdown:

In addition to the trips mentioned above, I try to take an annual ski trip and I always have a wedding out of town. For years that I’m not doing a big trip, I allow myself $2,000 for my wedding travel expenses and the ski trip.( I have used some of the tips that we shared on how to travel cheap in ski country.) Also, experience has taught me that a random weekend trip among friends may come up. I like to plan for this kind of trip no matter what. I allot $700 for an impromptu trip. In total, that would be $2,700 for travel-related expenses.

Because I am a self-proclaimed savvy traveler, I only need an additional $1,000 in the travel budget on years I am doing a big trip. I find I spend less on my ski trip and plan a big trip on years I don’t have expensive weddings. In total, I allot $3,700 for travel expenses on “big trip” years.

My bucket-list has helped me be flexible in my goals and has helped me stick to my travel budget. I am able to adjust my plans based on what is coming up in the next year while feeling that I am satisfying my wanderlust.

The mindfully adventurous approach to budgeting for travel

Maggie Jenkins, PR & Social Media Specialist 
Total 2017 travel budget: $3,500

When I left for college, the only advice my big sister gave me was, “No matter how broke you think you are, if you get the chance to go on a road trip or see a concert, do it.”

Now, I can’t say I followed that advice exactly; I have far too much of my mom’s frugal/responsible/saver gene ingrained in my brain. But my sister’s voice definitely pops in my head when it’s time to budget for travel.

First, the logistics: I set up automatic transfers each month to my “vacation” Supplemental Savings Account. I have a couple side-hustles that I use to fund about 75 percent of my total travel budget, so I can continue bolstering my other savings goals throughout the year.

Once I set my annual travel budget, I’ll map out my vacation for the year, which usually looks a little something like this: one “big” trip (often a ski trip but this year it’s London and Paris), two friend-visit long weekends (usually with free places to stay), two getaway weekends within driving distance (like camping or a wedding) and two holiday-centric family trips (drivable and low-cost with free lodging and not a ton of eating out).

I’m all about finding deals on the front end – i.e. keeping a close eye on flight deals, skipping the fancy hotel room I’m not going to spend much time in anyway, and packing light to save on baggage fees – so I’ll have more money to spend on experiences and meals. (I really, really love food. Like, a lot.)

I’ve landed on the perfect combination of advice from my mom and my sister: I stick pretty closely to my budget, but I also have no problem throwing caution to the wind when an opportunity for an unforgettable experience presents itself. For example, last year my boyfriend and I did the all-inclusive resort thing in Mexico, but on our last night, we decided to fork over the extra dough for a private lobster dinner on the beach. Zero regrets.

The tax refund  approach to budgeting for travel

Pam Leibfried, Marketing Content Specialist  
Total 2017 travel budget: $1,800 

For the past decade or so, the running joke with my friends and coworkers is that when they talk about upcoming trips to Hawaii or the Caribbean, I say, in a faux-excited tone, “Well, I’m going to Dubuque!” My vacations really were limited almost exclusively to trips to the area around Dubuque, Iowa, because that’s where my family is.

This limited travel meant that for many years, my vacation expenses were pretty minimal – just gas for three-hour road trips between Chicago and Dubuque, and the occasional drive-through lunch mid-route. But the past few years, as my nieces and nephews have grown old enough to visit Auntie Pam in Chicago for long weekends of sightseeing in the city, my vacation expenses have increased.

The way I budget for the expenses related to their visits is actually pretty simple. I set up a Supplemental Savings Account that is dedicated to their trips, and I deposit my tax refund into that account. Whatever my refund is that year, that’s what I spend on the kids’ visits.

Every year, we pick a Chicago museum or attraction – last summer, it was Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, and the year before that, Brookfield Zoo – and I buy an annual family membership. Every kid goes to that attraction for one day of their visit, which makes the per-person cost very reasonable and reduces the number of expensive individual admission tickets I’d have to buy to take each kid to a different place.

Once I’ve paid for that membership, I divide whatever money is left by the number of kids who are visiting that summer – sports commitments and summer jobs mean all eight can’t come every year –and that’s my budget for each child’s visit.

Admittedly, I’ve been fairly flexible about the budget. For example, I don’t count the extra groceries I buy for them or the extra money I spend on gas driving to and from zoos and museums against their vacation allotment.

This year, because the kids are getting older and have seen most of the area zoos and museums multiple times, I realized that I need to budget a bit more for their visits. So I set up an automated transfer to take $50 out of my checking account each month and move it to the vacation fund. That extra money will give me a cushion if one of the older kids wants to do something more pricey than a day at the zoo.