How to budget and plan vacation

We love family vacations

Many of my favorite childhood memories were made during family vacations. Growing up we didn’t have a lot of money for fancy European tours, but every summer my parents budgeted for a family vacation somewhere. Some years we camped and rented cabins at state parks or we stayed in inexpensive hotels within a couple of blocks of the beach. Maybe we never stayed at the Ritz, but we always had fun and our trips were always filled with laughter.

The key here is that my mom planned our vacations well in advance so that every vacation fit our family budget. My parents did not go into debt – they planned and saved for our vacations. Whether you are just starting to think about doing something with the family this summer, or are already pondering next Spring Break, below are great budgeting suggestions and things to consider to keep you from paying for your trip months after the sunburn has faded and the fun is over.

How much can we afford to spend?

Before you and your family even consider where you want to go or what you want to do for your next family vacation you need to ask yourself ‘how much can we afford?‘ You need to take an honest look at your current cash-flow plan. Do you currently have a vacation budget? If not, then you’ll need to figure out how much money you can save and scrape together before the target date for the vacation. This will also help determine if you and the family are going on that long-awaited Hawaiian cruise or a stay-cation to play tourist in your hometown. (Please know my family and I have done both and with the right amount of planning they can be equally as fun!)

Disney vacation planningFor our family budget, vacations have always been a top priority. Actually, after tithing and donations, it is our next biggest budgeted line item – that’s how important family vacations are to us. This year is a little more challenging for us though. Because of a couple larger than planned expenses, we’ve had to re-allocate a portion of our vacation budget to other categories, leaving us with a much smaller vacation budget. Just to make things a little more interesting our daughter wants to go to Disney and most people know that Disney is anything but cheap. Two things to note here. 1.) We LOVE Disney and 2.) We LOVE our daughter. The fact that she is 20 years old and still wants to go on a vacation with us is just the right motivation needed for us to make Disney work within our limited budget – it is just going to require us to be more diligent in the planning process.

What to include in your budget planning

As soon as you know your overall budget you should begin gathering information for individual costs of your trip. The list below should cover a large chunk of your vacation expenses.

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Where are you going to stay

This is typically your largest expense so it is important to start here first. Going to the beach? Do you want to splurge for that oceanfront room or perhaps save money and go with the ocean view? Is the view or the location a top priority? For our trip to Disney, we knew staying at one of the resorts at Disney World would quickly sink our budget so we looked around at more cost-effective options. Staying just a short distance from the theme parks allows for HUGE savings.

We are big fans of short-term (and long-term) property rental companies like Airbnb and HomeAway. Why, you might ask? Well, for starters, renting an apartment or a condo can be cheaper than resorts and hotels. Plus most of these rentals have full kitchens and laundry facilities – which is both convenient and cost-effective. They also allow for additional bedrooms at a fraction of the cost of a hotel. Is it less convenient to stay a few miles away from the parks? It is, but for us, the location was not the top priority.

Where are you going to eat?

If you aren’t careful, eating out while on vacation can take a big bite out of your overall vacation budget. It’s important to take the time beforehand to honestly plan on how much you want to spend per person per day. Eating three meals plus any snacks can quickly add up. Are you looking to pack sandwiches or do you plan on splurging? If you’re splurging is it every meal every day or just one or two really nice dinners? Having a few (or more) drinks out can also quickly add up. This is something to consider when planning.

If you decide to stay at a hotel or resort be sure to take advantage of any meals included with your stay. We recently stayed at a Drury Inn for business and were pleasantly surprised to learn that not only was a hot breakfast included with our stay but so were evening drinks and heavy snacks. We saved quite a bit on dining that trip so be sure to ask when making a reservation. Since we decided to rent a condo with a kitchen for our Disney trip, we plan to eat breakfast before leaving for the parks, and we’ll also cook a few dinners. That will allow us flexibility should we decide to eat at any of the nicer restaurants on or around the resort.

Don’t forget all the travel costs

The cost of getting to a vacation destination can often time be overlooked. If flying you’ll need to take into consideration the cost of leaving a car parked at the airport or the cost of a taxi/Uber to get to the airport. Once you arrive at your vacation destination will you need to rent a car? If transportation is not needed once you get to the hotel/resort, ask in advance if they offer a shuttle service.

If you are driving you’ll need to roughly calculate gas costs. All you need to do is find the total mileage to your destination (Google Maps will do the trick) and multiply by average gasoline prices. Of course, you’ll need to then multiply that by two to cover the trip home. You may need to consider additional mileage as we did for driving to and from the theme parks.

The last item you should think about is parking. Will you have to pay to park your car at the hotel? Disney is nice enough to include the cost of parking in their theme park tickets, but the cost of parking at Universal is not included, so that is an additional cost we’ll need to factor into our overall vacation budget.

What are the entertainment plans?

For our family vacation, the cost of entertainment is definitely a large portion of our budget – theme park tickets are anything but cheap! (By the way, here is the site where we found the cheapest ticket options.) What sorts of activities will you and your family want to participate in over the course of your vacation? Are you planning on zip-lining or maybe renting any special Financial Planning your vacationequipment? Maybe a kayak or a snorkel? Want to take a deep sea fishing trip or maybe do a little shopping? Some of these fun things can be expensive and add up quickly – be sure to discuss and plan accordingly. The more you plan ahead the better your chances of avoiding any major budget pitfalls.

Now enjoy your vacation!

Once you have determined your budget and taken into account these categories, I strongly urge you to stick to it. It can be easy to get talked into eating one more meal out or just one more souvenir. But if you take the time to plan carefully and set up expectations beforehand you can avoid impulse spending (and blowing your budget). This will ensure a stress-free vacation and one that you aren’t still paying for months-and-months later – long after its over.

So put together your plan, budget and save for the trip, and go enjoy your time knowing that everything is already paid for. Vacations are that much better when you know the cost isn’t going to follow you home.