This is what it’s all about. You bought a cheap plane ticket, found a friendly ‘couch surfing’ host and you are ready to explore the city. Our cost benefit analysis gets a lot looser when we are on vacation and it’s easy to get caught up in the ‘you only live once’ moment and overspend. That’s why it’s best to plan the majority of your activities ahead of time and build some discretionary spending into your travel budget so you can take advantage of a few of those ‘once in a lifetime opportunities’ without blowing your budget. Vacations are important as a way to recharge, relax and expand your worldview. Spend wisely while you are on vacation so that those benefits aren’t replaced by financial stress or guilt when you return home. Here are some tips for making the most of your money when planning your vacation activities.
- Set some constraints: Before you leave, write down (or type up) a basic budget including a maximum number of how much you want to spend. Then break that down into categories, such as: dining out, souvenirs, activities, etc. You don’t have to get super detailed but it is important to plan ahead. While traveling, many of us suffer from restraint bias, the tendency to overestimate one’s ability to show restraint in the face of temptation. We might think we would never spend $100 on a gold-plated replica of the Eiffel Tower. But when you are there, in front of it, and it’s so beautiful, and where else would you ever be able to buy it (Amazon), you have to buy it now! What I am trying to get across is that you want to avoid making poor, impulsive decisions. The best way to do that is to plan ahead.
- Partake in expensive activities in moderation: I recently visited Gatlinburg, TN. If you have ever been there you know it’s full of the outrageous and temptation at every corner. Sweet smells of fudge, moonshine and pancakes fill the air. Upside down buildings, Christmas stores and a Titanic replica call out to you as you drive by. It would be easy to spend hundreds of dollars partaking in the all of these activities. Nearby are the Smoky Mountains, where you can play in the waterfalls, hike the trails and see a few bears (hopefully from a distance) for free. Plan a few fancy dinners or museum tours and then balance it out by finding free options to fill the rest of your time.
- Utilize local and travel resources: Do your research so you don’t end up in a tourist trap. Here are some of my ’go-to’ research methods:
- Spotted by Locals: a website that gives you a local perspective on the best a city has to offer.
- Lonely Planet: travel guide series that has an ‘on a shoestring’ series specifically targeted towards budget savvy travelers.
- Urbanspoon: Website/app that helps you find local restaurants and reviews. The ‘Bargain Gems’ section has never led me astray.
- Local FREE newspapers: most cities have a free local newspaper (in Nashville, TN, it’s the Nashville Scene) that provides information on community events, concerts, art exhibits or happy hours.
- Crowd source the information: chances are, someone in your social network lives in or has visited your vacation destination before. Ask them for recommendations before you go.
- Groupon or Living Social: Find coupons/deals for the city you are visiting.
Plan ahead and make the most of your vacation budget. Ultimately, spending money on experiences will bring you great joy and seeing new places will refresh and revitalize you. Enjoy your budget friendly adventures!