Come up with an estimated budget and then double it.
My dad says there are two types of dollars: Regular Dollars and Vacation Dollars, and he is right. Things that would never seem like a good idea at home seem like the investment of a lifetime on vacation (ahem. $17 beer in Norway). It is best to work out a budget ahead of time and then double it. Not all of your vacation budget is actually spent during your trip. Airfare, some hotels and rail passes are the big ticket items you have to shell out for ahead of time. This spreads the financial impact of a trip over several months, which makes it easier to save for, but it also masks the true cost of a vacation.
Airfare and accommodations are usually the two biggest expenses for most travellers, so start your budget out with these. Click here for tips and tricks to get deals (or at least not get screwed) on hotels and airfare. Airfare is most, but not all, of your transportation budget. You’ll have to figure in what you will have to pay to be whisked from the airport to your hotel. This can be negligible (2 euros for a bus ride from the Pisa airport to the Leaning Tower) or not (30 pounds for a round trip ticket on London’s Gatwick Express). Next, include the other forms of travel, such as cabs, trains, buses and the metro. Do some quick math to see if a rail or bus pass is worth it or not for you.
For your hotels, this is usually pretty straightforward as the price you will pay is in your confirmation email. Occasionally, there are local taxes (usually $1-$10/night) that are not included, but usually that will be mentioned in the email or on the hotel’s website.
So far, we have tackled transportation and lodging, which are fixed and probably already paid for. Everything else you will buy, you will buy there and this is the part of your expenses that you should over budget for. First up is food. We all gotta eat, but what we eat and where we eat it varies from person to person. Are you comfortable going to a grocery store or market to pick up items for a picnic? Are you someone who likes to sit down and have a hot meal brought to you for every meal? How about coffee, juice, soda, beer and wine? All of these variables, not to mention the country, region and city or town you are travelling to affect the amount you will spend on food, so the best you can do is estimate. For 2 people eating out for every meal, I figure on $15 for breakfast (coffee and a pastry), $25 for lunch (sandwich and a beer) and $60 for dinner and drinks. This totals $100 per day for 2 people and really adds up over the course of a trip. If your hotel includes breakfast, you can save there (and even sneak off some food for lunch for further savings-shhh!). You can also buy food from a market or grocery store for picnics and cut out soda and coffee (not likely-Kindra). A loaf of bread and a pound of cheese can provide a couple of days of meals for less than $10.
Next, we come to the reason why you are on vacation: to have fun. Many things you can do are free (thanks, major museums in London), but many are not. Look at your itinerary and check online for the current admission charges. Be sure to figure in the cost of getting to the attraction and other purchases you will have to make when you get there, like an audioguide.
Finally, a nebulous category called “incidentals.” This ranges from a new pair of shoes in Sevilla to chocolates for your besties back home and everything else that isn’t food, shelter, admission or transport. The only constant here is that you will spend way more than you think you will, so best to plan accordingly.
All of this planning is not meant to suck the joy out of travelling. You are going there to have fun, not pinch pennies, right? It is meant to give you an idea of what things cost to minimize sticker shock and help you enjoy your time there. Travelling is usually not cheap, but it has never been cheaper (remember, a transatlantic crossing nowadays will not result in indentured servitude.)
Know Before You Go
Even for an estimated budget, it helps to have up to date resources, so check the websites for the hotel, restaurant, attraction or transit company for current prices.
Making a trip budget and then doubling the amount you plan on spending while you are there will help you enjoy your trip more by reducing your worry about what you are spending.