Friday, August 01, 2014

How I budget for a trip or family vacation

Trip planning is more than estimating gas and lodging costs. Because I travel extensively, people often ask me how to budget for a trip. Budgets help you plan for car maintenance and souvenirs along with gas, food and lodging. Vacations aren't about keeping up with the Jones family, they're about relaxing and having fun. This article outlines how to budget for a vacation or trip, so you can focus on fun instead of funds.

Before hitting the open road, decide how much you have to spend.

 If you are using an annual bonus or tax refund, then you only need to fit expenses into that amount. Families who are saving for a vacation will need to develop accurate figures. Either way, when it comes to looking at how to budget for a vacation, you'll need to work with accurate figures.

1. Destination and activities
Plan your destination and investigate fees.National and state parks are by far the cheapest destinations. Zoos and science museums come next. Tickets for theme parks can be expensive and eat up most of your trip budget. 

2. Personal needs
This area was my biggest downfall when I started learning how to set a budget for my trip. Include any toiletry or clothing items that you want to purchase. Shampoo, sunscreen, deodorant and lotions can add up in a big hurry. Plan for these items and pick them up on sale before the trip.

3. Lodging
When you budget for a trip be sure to include room costs that are based on actual prices. Some people pull a number out of thin air and I have found that to be counterproductive. Making calls and check online before creating your budget will give you an accurate figure.

4. Car
Don't forget to include car maintenance in your budget. These items add to the bottom line, but can pay off in increased gas mileage. Always include these travel costs when budgeting.

5. Gasoline
Speaking of gas, I start monitoring my miles-per-gallon a month or so before vacation. This step is important to learning how to budget for a trip and is a necessity. Online sites like Travel Math and Mapquest can help you calculate your gas cost, but only if you how many miles to the gallon that your car gets.

6. Overestimate your fuel costs
Increase your gas budget for a trip by 15%. Idling, slow traffic and mountains negatively impact mileage. Plus, you will probably drive when you reach your vacation destination.

7. Food and snacks
Yes, and snacks. Do you grab a soda or snack water when filling up? How about extra runs through the drive through for drinks. Put these costs in when you budget for your trip?

8. Souvenirs
Does your family buy postcards or high end souvenirs? They add sentimental value to every vacation but it is important to plan for them. Be sure to add a line item for the souvenirs when you budget for your trip.

9. Miscellaneous
This is the catch-all category for anything that isn't included above. Extra batteries, rain ponchos and other odds-and-ends can add-up fast. I allow at least $25-$30 for miscellaneous items.

10. Unexpected
Always, always always plan for the unexpected when you plan your trip budget. A major car repair can skewer the best laid plans. I look at the anticipated gas costs to get me home from my destination and go from there. I may still be caught off guard but at least something is included in my budget for a trip.

This post originally appeared on the now closed Yahoo Contributor Network. It's part of the travel article migration that I talked about here.