Research, research, research
Ultimately, this will be your greatest asset when it comes to trip planning. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love (I think) to research our trips—locations, hotels, restaurants, activities, etc. till I’m blue in the face. Sometimes this results in me finding awesome suggestions and deals (like the Hotel San Pedro in Saint Malo, which we adored), and sometimes this makes me leave the computer in despair (like trying to find a decent restaurant near the Eiffel tower that doesn’t cost too much). You’ll become better at researching the more you do it too. I liked to utilize websites like TripAdvisor and looked at blogs to get a little guidance—just remember to take some reviews and comments with a grain of salt (everyone says a hotel is awesome except for one person? Maybe it was a off-day or may it was the reviewer, get my drift?).
I would have never discovered these awesome waffles if I hadn’t randomly stumbled across a blog.
Honestly though, researching your trip is the best bet for having a handle on planning and budgeting your travels unless you’re just wanting to go where the “wind make take you.”
What are you willing to skimp on? What’s really important to you?
Does that hotel need to be on the beach? Are you totally cool with having a sack lunch every day? What are you willing to save on and what’s worth the splurge for you? Colton and I tried to do as much walking as possible when visiting cities on our Christmas trip, this saved on the cost of public transport and taxis. However, we were also ok with hoping on a subway from time to time if the distance we were covering was a tad on the long side (over 2 miles), this way we still had energy to see whatever we were visiting.
Like the one time we decided to rent a car instead of taking the bus, it cost more but
we had more freedom and made some awesome memories.
We also gave up a little control over our sleeping arrangements and relied on Hotwire for the majority of hotels we stayed in, this saved us quite a bundle in the long run—just make sure that the neighborhood options will work for you and pick a high-enough star rating to ensure you end up with a decent place.
Want to immerse yourself in the local cuisine or a fancy dinner? You’ll probably want to budget more for food. Food is nothing but fuel for your adventures? Grab some grub from a grocery store and picnic lunch it. Colton and I prefer to spend more of our money on experiences rather than on souvenirs, so that part of our budget stays low. Figure out what’s more important to you when deciding on a budget amount.
This may make your budget look scary in the beginning, but once you start putting in your actual expenses, things will be much “prettier”.
Factor in the unknown
You can never be quite sure what will happen on your trip, so it’s best to add some extra wiggle room in addition to your overestimates. Something we have to contend with on our trips was the Euro to USD exchange rate; on our trip to northern France, I had budgeted one amount but the exchange rate had changed and so my hotel costs were higher than I had planned. If you’re traveling in the States, you don’t have to worry about the value of the dollar, but things break or get lost, you miss flights/trains, etc.—so just tuck away a bit of your budget for such an event.
I budget out a certain amount from various categories—living, travel, food, etc. but if I spend $50 worth of food and I budgeted $100, I’m OK with that extra $50 contributing to a different category—it’s still the same amount of money, just getting dispersed a bit differently than planned.
Write it down
When we start discussing a trip I create a budget on excel—I like it because it makes calculations and changes easy; more of a pen and paper person? Go that way—you won’t have to worry about battery dying or no electricity. Before we start traveling I upload the budget to Google Drive to keep track of how much we’re spending and whether or not we’re staying within budget. My style is still evolving for how I record my estimates and actual expenses but you can see some of the examples below.
This is what I started with when I began the planning process
And here’s what the actual budget looked like
Remember it’s not all about the money
If you spend your whole trip focused on how many pennies you’re spending, you’re not really enjoying that trip. Being so money conscious is something I’m guilty of too. Don’t go crazy, but also remember it’s not all about the money, if it was you probably shouldn’t have gone on the trip in the first place.