Vacation Budget Blunders: 8 Ways Travelers Throw Money Away
Your vacation budget—like any good financial plan—should reflect your priorities and your aspirations. That said, keeping a lid on your travel expenses can be more easily said than done.
The good news is: Planning an affordable trip on a budget doesn't require financial wizardry. The first step is to understand the common pitfalls that can waste your hard-earned (and hard-saved) vacation dollars. Here, the eight biggest mistakes travelers make when planning a trip budget—and, most importantly, how not to make them ever again.
Mistake No. 1: Not Establishing Clear Priorities
Before you begin building a budget, you need to identify what aspects of your vacation are most important to you and your traveling companions so that you can allocate funds appropriately. To simplify that inherently subjective process into something highly actionable—and, we hope, even fun and inspirational)—start by separating your “must-haves” from your “wants." For example, is staying at a 5-star resort a must-have for you? Would flying coach instead of something tonier be a deal breaker for your or your friends or family? Just because you’re visiting, say, Southern California, is it really essential to your experience that you pony up for a pricey rented convertible?
Mistake No. 2: Not Reviewing Your Finances
Before you even start establishing a travel budget, you’ll want to assess how much you can realistically afford to spend on your vacation. This requires taking a close look at your finances, including your savings and credit card debt. If you don’t have enough cash squirreled away, you may want to adjust your priorities (in other words, return to No. 1, above), or push back your travel dates to give yourself time to save up.
Having trouble saving? Try budgeting software such as Mint, a free online tool that not only shows you what you’re spending each month but also suggests ways to trim your expenses. Month after month, incremental savings can add up to money for gelato, restaurant meals, and souvenirs, and maybe even plane fare and hotel rooms.
Mistake No. 3: Not Using a Spreadsheet
Sure, just hearing the word spreadsheet may slap a great big whomp-whomp on your trip-planning process. But compiling all of your travel costs in one place will help you figure out roughly how much money you’ll have to spend on your vacation—and the best way to do this is, indeed, to use a spreadsheet.
There are a number of travel-budgeting spreadsheets that are available online for free. Our favorite is thiseasy-to-use template from Vertex42.com. You simply plug in a quantity and unit cost for each item; for lodging you can enter the number of nights you’ll be staying and the cost per night, and the worksheet will calculate the total costs for you. As you enter your travel costs into the worksheet, the handy pie chart will show you exactly where your money is going based on spending categories (e.g., hotels, meals, flights). It’s that easy.
Mistake No. 4: Overlooking the Smaller Expenses
Though lodging, food, and airfare tend to be the three largest travel expenses, there are a number of smaller travel costs that are worth factoring into your overall budget—they have a way of sneaking up on you if you’re not paying attention. Some of the most common expenses people forget are:
- Airport parking
- Travel insurance
- Cell phone fees, such as data roaming charges when traveling abroad
- Visa costs
- Foreign transaction fees on your credit card (see more about this below)
- Gear (e.g., snow pants, ski masks)
- Taxis and ride-sharing services
Mistake No. 5: Not Factoring in the Exchange Rate
Researching your destination’s exchange rate might seem like an obvious step, yet some travelers forget to do it before departing for an overseas trip. Before you leave home, check exchange rates online. One way to save money is by obtaining currency from your bank or a currency exchange instead of waiting until you arrive at your destination, because airport kiosks, hotel desks, street vendors, and shops make extra money by charging an undesirable rate of exchange.
Mistake No. 6: Not Giving Yourself a Buffer
While a degree of discipline is crucial, you also want to give yourself a little flexibility. Take a cue from any responsible CFO and set aside a portion of your funds—about 10 percent of your total budget—to allow for the unexpected. On vacation, that can mean the occasional splurge or any unplanned or emergency expenses, such as a flat tire (road trips don’t always go as planned!) or medical care. Label this as “miscellaneous” on your spreadsheet.
Mistake No. 7: Forgetting About Foreign Transaction Fees
Some credit cards charge up to a 3 percent fee on foreign transactions, which is why we recommend that international travelers apply for a credit with no foreign transaction fees, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred card or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. One caveat about credit cards: There are some destinations, such as Cuba, that do not honor U.S.-based bank or credit cards at all—meaning you’ll have to arrive with cash.
Mistake No. 8: Not Understanding Hotel Fees
Last year, U.S. hotels collected a record-high $2.93 billion in fees, according to research by Bjorn Hanson, a professor at New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. Unfortunately for travelers, some hotel fees are buried in lengthy disclosure statements or tucked into bill summaries at checkout. But by knowing in advance what these hidden hotel fees are—and how much they cost on average—you’ll be able to set a more accurate budget.
What hotel fees should you watch out for? Check out our article “Beware of These Hidden Hotel Fees.” Some hidden fees can be quite expensive. Daily resort fees, for instance, can cost up to $50 per night, and they typically appear only after you have selected a room and are about to pay for the reservation, warns Randy Greencorn, co-founder of ResortFeeChecker.com, an online tool that, as its URL suggests, allows users to look up resort fees at more than 2,000 properties around the world.
TALK TO US:
How has a travel budget helped you save money for your trip priorities? We’d love to hear your tips—or blunders!—in the comments below.
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As professional travelers, we put in lots of hours on the road, and with that much time on our hands, we get to know our gear pretty well. The little quirks that don’t seem like a big deal up front can become full-blown annoyances after a week of travel, and likewise, the nerdy details that might not merit more than a shrug at first glance can easily become an obsession once we realize how handy they can be in practice. We put another round of carry-on backpacks through their paces to find our favorites—all of which will fit in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you on most jets, and cost less than $200. 1. For the Weekend Road Trip (Courtesy Topo Designs) Topo Designs makes some of our favorite accessory bags and Dopp kits, so it’s not surprising they make one of our favorite backpacks too—the brand’s bags and accessories are designed to work together as part of a modular system, and the 30-liter Travel Bag is no exception. Pack bags, Topo’s answer to packing cubes, cost a little extra, but they nest inside for a tidy fit, and the Dopp kit does too—no cramming necessary. (If you need more room, clip a smaller bag onto the outside of the pack, or go for the 40-liter version.) But enough about the accessories—the backpack itself earns rave reviews. It has organizational pockets galore: On the front, a large zippered compartment with two internal zippered mesh pockets, plus another section with two open pockets for snacks and chargers and a deep zippered one as well. The main compartment holds three or four outfits, with two big mesh pockets for additional storage. At the back of the pack, there’s a padded laptop compartment, and an external pass-through sleeve to stack the bag on top of your rolling suitcase; it also comes with a removable crossbody strap, so the shoulder and hip straps tuck away if you choose to use it. The zippers even have security loops to protect against sticky fingers, and the stiff nylon material is water-repellant in addition to being practically tear-proof. All in all, our number-one pick.Travel Bag - 30L, $189; topodesigns.com. 2. For the Urban Excursion (Courtesy Knack Inc.) Launched in late 2018 by a team of former Tumi execs, Knack makes a good case for ditching the luggage and carrying just a single backpack. With a slim profile, clean lines, and crisp suiting-inspired fabric, the expandable Knack Pack displays the attention to detail you’d expect from a contingent of industry pros. Unexpanded, the medium version holds just 17 liters; expanded, that capacity nearly doubles. The packing compartment unzips to lay flat, holding a few days’ worth of clothes with compression straps to lock it all down, with a zippered mesh pocket covering the facing side. One of its savvier highlights is the built-in sunglasses case, lined with fleece and conveniently placed at the top of the pack, but other travel-minded touches include a rain flap that covers the expansion zipper; a zip-away side pocket that hides a water bottle; and padded shoulder straps, reinforced with sternum straps, that tuck into the back panel. Two minor complaints: There isn’t a side handle, and the front pocket is a bit of a head-scratcher, a triangular flap that folds down to reveal pen loops, one strangely shallow pocket, and a row of small slots big enough to hold business cards...and not much else. But for a nice-looking bag with a deceptively generous capacity, we'll allow it.Medium Expandable Knack Pack, $175; knackbags.com. 3. For the Long Haul (Courtesy Rick Steves' Europe) This convertible carry-on from Rick Steves' Europe came on our radar by way of a reader's comment—and we have to say, it was a solid suggestion. At about 40 liters, it’s the roomiest of the bunch (and at 3 pounds, the heaviest too), a no-frills pack that excels in its simplicity. The main compartment is nearly suitcase-size, with compression straps, an elasticized pocket running the length of the lid, two loose mesh bags for laundry or smalls, and a document pouch that clips into place so important papers are always within reach. On the front, there are three pockets of varying sizes: a square one for a cardigan or a neck pillow, a small one for glasses, lip balm, and the like, and a really deep one for magazines, tablets, tech gear, and more. The pack can expand a couple of inches if need be, but beware of overstuffing if you want to use it as a carry-on. Though there isn’t a dedicated compartment for a laptop, the side pocket will accommodate one, albeit without any cushioning; additional features include a mesh water-bottle sleeve, handles on the top and side, outer compression straps, and shoulder and waist straps that tuck away as needed. This is the most old-school model we tried—those shoulder straps are only slightly padded, and the floppy nylon fabric gives it the feel of a classic gym bag—and while we tend to prefer more structure and more organizational components, you won't find many travel packs this size at a comparable cost. Convertible Carry-On, $100; ricksteves.com. 4. For the Outdoorsy Overnight (Courtesy Mammut) If outdoor adventures are on the agenda—with some work on the side—try Mammut’s Seon Transporter X. In something of a reverse mullet, it's business in the back—think: a padded, fleece-lined section for a laptop, tablet, paperwork, and reading materials, plus two orange-zippered mesh compartments and pockets for pens—and a party in the front, with a main compartment housing a ventilated, zippered section for hiking boots, with space leftover for toiletries and a change of clothes or two. (Though the bag technically has a 26-liter capacity, it's definitely for those who travel light—that shoe compartment claims quite a bit of real estate.) As for access points, the big pocket at the front is basically the height and width of the pack itself, with a zippered mesh pocket inside, and the small compartment at the bag's top is good for valuables, with two fleecy open pockets and yet another zippered mesh one. Smart elements include well-padded, ergonomic shoulder straps, top and side handles for ease of carry, and big looped zippers that pull without a hitch, all under the cover of a sturdy, weather-repellent material, in a camouflage print that makes it stand out from the crowd. Seon Transporter X, $190; mammut.com. 5. For a Few Days Away (Courtesy Solo New York) With a spacious main compartment that opens like a suitcase, incorporating a built-in bag for shoes or laundry and four small stash pockets (two mesh and two solid nylon) in the lining around its frame, Solo New York’s 22.6-liter All-Star provides the capacity of a duffel—minus the duffel’s tendency to turn into a black hole, thanks to its organizational touches. On the front, a zippered pocket holds the necessities you'll want to reach on the fly, like sunglasses, tickets, and chargers. The front is padded to protect the laptop section, which also has a sleeve that fits a tablet, so you’ll only have to dig through one pocket for your electronics when you hit the security scanners. Two side handles and one on top make for easy stowing on planes or trains, and the cushy straps tuck away when they're not in use. (It also comes with a long shoulder strap, in case you get tired of hauling it around on your back.) As a whole, the pack is lightweight and inexpensive—in fact, the lightest, least expensive one we tried. At this price point, and considering its five-year limited warranty, it’s a great option for a short trip. All-Star Backpack Duffel, $87; solo-ny.com.
NYC Pride Parade: 6 Things to Know About WorldPride 2019
Pride in the greatest city the in the world is going big this year. Record-setting big, with LGBTQ WorldPride events across New York City already starting to roll out on the way to a blowout late-June weekend that’s part commemoration, part celebration. Why all the gusto? Because 2019 marks a half-century since the Stonewall uprising, when lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer citizens fought against police raids and harassment—and in the process, galvanized the LGBTQ civil-rights movement. The riots ignited late on June 28, 1969 outside the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village and lasted several days. A year later, the very first “Gay Pride” parade was held, celebrating what was then known as Christopher Street Liberation Day. Commemorations of NYC’s Stonewall protests took root in cities across America and Europe, eventually becoming common in most major cities around the globe. Since 2000, WorldPride has served as a kind of Olympics of Pride. It takes place in different cities around the world every other year, and in June 2019 will streak New York in rainbows with its American debut. For a city that’s already home to the country’s biggest LGBTQ Pride festivities—with around two million attendees and participants—WorldPride NYC and Stonewall 50 promise to potentially double the headcount over the big weekend. Beyond the annual march, which sets off Sunday, June 30th at noon, the city and state are ringing in June Pride month with a bevy of events to jumpstart the gaiety in May. Here’s a rundown of WorldPride highlights across New York. 1. NYC WorldPride Basics New York’s tourism office, NYC & Company, has been a driving force behind WorldPride. Its 2019-worldpride-stonewall50.nycpride.org website—built collaboratively with Heritage of Pride (the city’s Pride organization) and the state’s I Love New York tourism bureau—is an ultimate resource for information about the wide array of events ahead. Plus it’s a great place for visitors to find tips on partner hotels (there are many), transportation and airline info, and an impressive interactive map showing everything from events to historic LGBTQ+ sites. Unmissable events include the Opening Ceremony on June 26; the Stonewall 50 Commemoration and Rally on June 28; Pride Island’s nightly concerts June 29–30; plus many more family and community events throughout the season. June 30 is the mega day that starts with the Pride March, follows with the Pridefest streetfair, and wraps up with the WorldPride Closing Ceremony in Times Square that evening—with Melissa Etheridge and many more luminaries slated to perform. 2. One City, Six Prides The WorldPride NYC extravaganza culminates on June 30, serving as citywide pride in the borough of Manhattan. But don’t miss the chance to catch the outer boroughs’ distinct and amazing celebrations, each with full schedules that include concerts, sports, parties, and more. Here’s a rundown of their march dates: Staten Island PrideFest on May 18; Queens Pride on June 2; Brooklyn Pride (with a fun night parade) on June 8; the 1 Bronx Festival on June 23; and Harlem Pride June 29. 3. America’s LGBTQ Monument The Stonewall National Monument was designated in 2016, and encompasses 7.7 acres of Greenwich Village where the uprising took place in 1969. It stretches from Greenwich Avenue to W. 4th Street, and W. 10th Street to Waverly Place, and will serve as the city’s crossroads for all things LGBTQ throughout Pride month. Be sure to visit little Christopher Park, home to George Segal’s 1980 Gay Liberation sculptures of two same-sex couples—they’re the city’s only public art dedicated to LGBTQ rights. 4. Arts & Culture Expect to easily fill your June visit with a fabulous selection of LGBTQ-centric entertainment and art. Among the brightest are the New York Public Library’s Love and Resistance: Stonewall 50 exhibition; Leslie-Lohman Museum’s Art After Stonewall; the Guggenheim’s Robert Mapplethorpe photography exhibit; and NYC Opera’s Stonewall (The Opera). Official WorldPride events also include Family Movie Night on June 21 and OutCinema screenings. Upstate New York is luring musical-theater fans for the free “Sing Out, New York” music festival (in various locations, May 28–June 9); and the renowned Forestburgh Playhouse’s summer staging of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (July 30–August 11). 5. LGBTQ Local Fun There are staples of LGBTQ community and culture all over the Big Apple, in the Village and beyond. Don’t miss visits to The Center, Bluestockings Bookstore, the Lesbian Herstory Archives, the Alice Austen House, as well as legendary piano bars like Marie’s Crisis, Monster, The Duplex, and Townhouse. Of course, iconic (and innumerable) gay and lesbian bars are also well worth grabbing a tipple, from Stonewall Inn and Julius’, to Henrietta Hudson and Cubbyhole; plus the great outer-borough lounges like Ginger’s, Excelsior, Metropolitan, Albatross, Friend’s Tavern, and Harlem’s Alibi Lounge. For drag fans, don’t miss fabulous weekend drag brunches like the weekend shows at La Pulperia HK and Lips (both in Midtown), and the special June weekend shows heading to historic Oscar Wilde restaurant in NoMad. 6. Take a Pride Tour LGBTQ history runs deep in NYC, so consider a tour with the gay professor behind Oscar Wilde Tours, who explores different neighborhoods and queer art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Both Walk About New York, and lesbian-owned Local Expeditions lead LGBTQ and other fascinating city tours (walking and biking) in a variety of neighborhoods. There also are a few specialty tours gearing up for June, like Madame Morbid’s Victorian trolley tours, with drag queen Miss Sinister Strawberry guiding guests through Brooklyn’s macabre side on June 20 and 27. Don’t miss the free self-guided tour options of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, where you can customize your preferred themes and neighborhoods with a downloadable map, and discover amazing queer history across all five boroughs. For travel inspiration, know-how, deals, and more, sign up for Budget Travel's free e-newsletter.
When it comes to America’s national parks, we wear our heart on our sleeve: For natural beauty, wildlife appreciation, and value, there may be no better vacation choice than, say, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, or the dozens of other national parks that stretch from the Caribbean to the South Pacific and from Maine to Alaska. But there’s something else we wear, not just on our sleeve: Climate-appropriate clothing, which usually means layering and sun-protection. The right apparel is just one of the must-packs for a safe and comfortable visit to a wild and sometimes unpredictable environment. As the summer travel season approaches, we want to share the number-one NPS safety tip all travelers must know, plus 10 essentials to pack to ensure health, safety, comfort, and fun. 1. Follow Park Rules & Ranger Instructions This should go without saying, but the number-one item to pack for a successful national park visit is your common sense. When you visit a national park, it’s vital that you follow all posted rules and directions, and follow any verbal instructions given by park rangers. Often, the rules boil down to staying on the park paths and keeping a safe distance from all wildlife. No problem, right? But, unfortunately, each year park visitors are injured or killed because they wander where they don’t belong or get too close to wild animals. 2. Prepare to Navigate Pack a paper map and compass in addition to your GPS device—not coincidentally, some of the most beautiful places in America are far from Wi-Fi hubs. Review driving and hiking directions in advance, from the comfort of a Wi-Fi-enabled hotel room or rental property, and be prepared to navigate the old-fashioned way when you hit the trails. 3. Protect Yourself From the Sun The sun’s heat and damaging UV rays pose both short- and long-term risks. UV-protective sunglasses, sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, and sun-protective shirts and pants will keep you cool and energized on your day hikes, and protect your skin from premature aging and skin cancer. 4. Insulate Even in summer, some national parks become chilly in the evenings and sometimes dangerously cold at elevation. Insulate yourself by packing a jacket, hat, gloves, rain shell, and thermal underwear. 5. Get Illuminated Packing a flashlight, lantern, and headlamp may feel like a throwback, but illumination that doesn’t require an electrical outlet can come in handy for campers, cabin renters, cavern explorers, and just about everybody else from time to time. 6. Bring a First-Aid Kit Sure, you are trying to limit what you have to stuff into your car’s hatch or your checked bag. But a small first-aid kit that can supply antibiotic and bandages while you’re out hiking, padding, or engaging in other summer activities can help keep cuts and scratches from turning into a much bigger deal. 7. Be Ready to Build a Fire This tip applies mostly to campers and those who plan on exploring park backcountry, where waterproof matches, a lighter, and kindling can help with cooking and, in a pinch, staying warm. (If you pack matches and lighters, keep them locked away where kids can't get to them.) 8. Bring a Repair Kit Duct tape, knife, screwdriver, scissors. No, you’re not preparing to appear in an episode of MacGyver. But outdoor activities from camping to kayaking to hiking can sometimes require last-minute repairs to equipment, and most travelers just don’t think of packing these handy tools. 9. Pack Nutritious Snacks The NPS suggests having at least one day’s food on hand in the event of an unforeseen change of plans, which can happen in the blink of an eye thanks to changing weather, wildfires, and flooding. Packing nonperishable foods can be easiest, but do strive for high fiber carbs such as woven wheat crackers, lean proteins such as jerky or cheese sticks, and easy healthy snacks such as trail mix, nuts, and granola bars. 10. Stay Hydrated Water can sometimes seem like an afterthought to travelers who are lucky enough to take access to abundant drinking water for granted at home. But staying hydrated in the wild requires some planning and is crucial to health and safety. In the hot summer sun, you should sip water regularly, not waiting until you feel thirsty. Park rangers suggest a gallon of water per person per day. That’s a lot of water. Campers and backcountry hikers will do well to pack water-treatment supplies and to research nearby bodies of water. (Never drink untreated water in a national park—as clean as the water looks and feels, it may carry bird-borne microbes that can upset your digestive system.) 11. Carry Your Own Emergency Shelter This may not be necessary if you’re planning to hit the park highlights via car or park shuttle, but those going farther afield should carry portable shelter such as a tent, space blanket, tarp, or bivy in the event that they get stuck out in the great outdoors longer than they expected.
12 Best Apps for Solo Travelers
From booking cheap flights and hotels to staying fit on the go and recovering from jet lag, today’s mobile apps can solve a wide range of problems for travelers. They can also make it easier to travel alone, which is good news for the roughly one-third of consumers who take a solo vacation every year, according to a recent Travel Leaders Group consumer travel trends survey. Here are the 12 best mobile apps for solo travelers. (P.S. We assume you’ve already downloaded our parent company Lonely Planet’s indispensable inspiration and planning apps, Trips and Guides.) 1. SoloTraveller This widely trusted app lets you make new friends on your trip by connecting you with other solo travelers in your city in real time. It also helps you save money by pairing you people to share taxis, tours, or other travel expenses. You can find a travel mate nearby by searching for people based on age, gender, and interests. Available on iPhone and Android. 2. Backpackr Think of Backpackr like Tindr but for solo travelers—the app shows you people with similar interests who are headed to your destination. If you find a match, you can message the person to meet up. The app earns bonus points, in our book, for offering its members deals on hostels, pub crawls, bars, restaurants, and local tours. Available on iPhone and Android. 3. Eatwith Just because you’re traveling alone doesn’t mean you have to dine alone. The Eatwith app can connect you with locals in more than 130 countries for truly immersive cuisine. From dinner parties to food tours to cooking classes, the app has a variety of culinary events that let you wine and dine with local hosts at your destination. Users can filter food experiences based on dietary restrictions such as vegetarian, vegan, and Kosher meals. Available on iPhone and Android. 4. BonAppetour An alternative to Eatwith, BonAppetour helps travelers find immersive food experiences through in-home meals such as dinner parties, cooking classes, barbecues, and picnics. Available on iPhone. 5. ChefsFeed Offering restaurant and bar recommendations from chefs, bartenders, and sommeliers in major North American cities, ChefsFeed shows you how to eat and drink like a pro. Targeting younger travelers, the app bills itself as the "Anti-Yelp" in part because only positive reviews are welcomed. Available on iPhone and Android. 6. Meetup Another excellent tool for rubbing shoulders with locals while you’re traveling, this popular app brings like-minded people together in thousands of cities around the world. Use it to discover residents at your destination with specific interests, such as running groups, dance troupes, animal lovers, and more. Available on iPhone and Android. 7. Travello A social network for travelers, Travello uses your travel interests to match you with other nomads flying solo. It’s designed for a broad range of travelers, including urban tourists, backpackers, and gap-year adventurers. Available on iPhone and Android. 8. Tourlina Exclusively for women, Tourlina helps females find travel companions. Simple plug in your destination and travel dates, and the app will show you potential traveler partners, who you can then message to plan a trip together. Available on iPhone and Android. 9. Mend Though it’s not squarely designed for travel, Mend—an app that helps newly single individuals recover from breakups through audio trainings by mental health and wellness experts—offers travel guides for the freshly heartbroken to cities such as Boston, Los Angeles, and London. Available on iPhone. 10. Couchsurfing What better way is there to get to know new locals than crashing at their pad? The Couchsurfing app lets travelers search for a place to stay by using filters such as age range, gender, and friends of friends, and users can view references of potential hosts. Available on iPhone and Android. 11. Chirpey Focused on building a community for female travelers, Chirpey lets its members link up with other female travelers heading to their destination. Have a small emergency while you’re traveling, such as losing your wallet? Drop a message in the app and women traveling in the area will be notified that you need help. Available on iPhone and Android. 12. Bumble BFF Form friendships with locals and other travelers on Bumble BFF, an extension of the dating mobile app. Using your social networks, the app will connect you with friends of your friends in your local area, so you can meet companions at your travel destinations for coffee, city tours, meals, and more. Available on iPhone and Android.