How to Accurately Estimate Your Vacation Costs
How to Accurately Calculate How Much Your Trip Will Cost
Going on a vacation is always an exciting time, and whether you are traveling alone, with friends, or with family, having a good idea of what you can expect to spend before going is crucial to helping you stay on a budget. The thing with traveling is, is that it is very easy to go over budget and splurge.
I have been there plenty of times, trust me, and while it’s awesome in the moment, when I got back and checked my bank account, that feeling of awesomeness was quickly flung out of the window. This post will be a good overview of all the costs you can expect to deal with when planning a trip. This isn’t all inclusive, and there will be hidden costs that you can’t possible expect.
Are You Flying or Driving?
First and foremost, getting to your destination will be your first and potentially biggest cost. There are many different ways to travel, I have heard of people taking buses, trains, hitchhiking, etc. However, I will be going over the two most common methods.
Flying. When planning a trip, the first piece of the trip you research and purchase will be your flight. But flight costs change all the time, how can you accurately estimate how much this is going to cost you?
By planning out ahead of time. I covered this in my post about when the best time to book a flight is, however, to keep it short, it’s between two and four months prior to your departure. This is where Google Flights comes into play. They have a great system that shows you the prices for each day on their calendar, and it is projected out for a while.
This allows you to compare months and days against each other to give yourself an accurate representation of when the best time to buy is. Taking dates from this calendar, you can then plug them into a flight scanning tool that compares prices across every provider on the internet to deliver you the cheapest price.
So in the example below, Google Flights shows flights to Belize City for $363, however, after plugging them into our flight scanning tool, we can get them for $339.
So for this trip, I can expect to pay about $350 for one round-trip ticket.
Driving. Driving is a whole lot easier, in terms of estimating cost, and it is most likely cheaper than flying. For driving, just hop on over to Google Maps. Let’s say you are going from Fairfax, Virginia to Atlanta, Georgia. As you can see, this trip one-way would be 632 miles. Round-trip would bring us up to 1264 miles.
Now, how many miles per gallon does your car get? Let’s keep it simple and say you average 30 miles to the gallon. That means you will burn through 40 gallons of gas on your whole trip. Multiple this by the average cost of a gallon of gas, and there you have it!
In this case, with the national average for a gallon of gas being $2.74 at the time of writing, you could expect to spend $109 on gas for the trip.
Now, that’s just gas, you also have to take into consideration the wear and tear on your car. This trip, being only a little over a thousand miles round-trip won’t require an oil change, however it does significantly decrease the time until your next oil change.
And what about snacks and activities? Can’t forget those! Make sure you pack the good stuff for your long road-trip. I’d personally budget around $50 for snacks and other various purchases along the way.
So, in this example, driving would cost about $160.
Hotel and Lodging Costs
So now you have an idea as to when you are going on vacation, now it’s time to figure out your lodging situation. I know hotels are incredibly popular, but Airbnb’s are quickly becoming the go to option for travelers around the world. Which one is better for you?
Hotel. Staying in hotels are the traditional way to go. You are practically renting a room out of a large apartment building. You get amenities such as room service, pools, and sometimes included breakfast.
But how do you find the right hotel, and how much is it going to cost?
So using the same dates from the Belize trip above, and going to Booking.com, I can just plug the city and dates into the search engine. This will give you a list of hotels and how much it is going to cost you per night.
Now, the rest is up to you. What do you value? Do you want to stay in a super nice, five star hotel with all the bells and whistles? Or are you good with living more modestly in a three star hotel?
Either way, pick one from this list, and it will tell you exactly how much you will spend for the stay.
Picking one that I like, it looks like I’ll be spending $603 for 6 nights in Belize City.
Airbnb. This is the route I would take, and I will almost always take, no matter what trip I go on. I feel you get much more value for how much you pay. Airbnb is simple, and you can rent out various different types of properties ranging from a shared dorm room, to an entire super luxurious house with 10 bedrooms!
However, there are hundreds of affordable apartment or houses that you can rent out for you and your group. The key is finding the perfect one.
The premise is the same as hotels, you just go to Airbnb.com and plug in the city and dates. Then you click on ‘stays’, and this will bring up a list of all the homes available in the area. They even have a map function so you can look for places in a specific area.
Past this, again, it is up to you. I recommend reading all the reviews and filtering by what type of place you want, whether you want the whole place to yourself, or if you are looking to go cheap and share a place with other people.
For me, if I’m on vacation, I am going to rent out the whole place for myself. So, in Belize City, the one that I like will cost me $418 for my 6 night stay.
Now comes the fun part, and my favorite part of both planning and going on the trip: planning activities. By activities, I mean excursions that you pay for whether it’s museum tickets, city tours, outdoor adventures, etc.
These can add up quick, because once you get that taste for adventure, it is very easy to continue spending money on more and more activities. That’s why planning ahead is so important. You can get a good idea of the things you want to do, as well as how much it’ll cost to do it. On top of finding activities ahead of time, budget an extra $50 to $100 per person to cover any additional excursions you do last minute while you are on the trip.
The two main services I use to book these activities ahead of time are Trip Advisor and Groupon.
Trip Advisor. Trip Advisor is the way to go when booking activities out ahead of time. You can just Google “Things to do in X” and Trip Advisor will be one of the first options. It’s so great because they not only list out the top things to do, but they also categorize EVERY opportunity by type. So if you want to do museums, they have a section for that. Want to go on a day-trip to a nearby city? They have a section for that.
So, out of this list, pick which ones you like. To continue with the Belize example, I’d like to go cave kayaking and a tour of ancient ruins. Total, this will cost me $147. This is just an example, realistically I’d be doing more activities than just these two.
Groupon. Groupon is amazing because they are all sales prices on all of the available activities. So you may find some incredible deals on events that you couldn’t find elsewhere. The problem is, it isn’t available everywhere, and it’s hard to book these ahead of time. That’s why I only use it for last minute activities, to see if I can snag any sweet deals!
Food and Drink
Budgeting for food and drinks is hard because you can’t get a super accurate number. You can, however, look at the averages to get a rough estimate of how much to budget. Budgeting something is always better than winging it and not budgeting at all.
Food. For food, I assume I will eat out for three meals every day of the trip. Usually I do buy groceries and cook a meal or two during the trip, but I like to stay conservative on my budget estimations and just go the three meal route.
The first step is to Google “Average meal cost in Belize City” or whatever city you are visiting. There are plenty of websites that provide estimates, but BudgetYourTrip.com has very accurate numbers with dollar conversions. Based on this, it is estimated at $17 per meal per person. Since it is just me, that would run me $51 per day for food, or $306 total for my stay.
Drinks. For this, just Google “Average drink cost in Belize City” or whatever city you are visiting. In this case, Trip Advisor forums are actually the first result. People that have actually been here provide their insight as to how much a drink is. And by drink, I mean alcoholic beverages, just to clear that up.
Based on the forum, beer goes for around $3 each. So a safe assumption for liquors would be $5 per. Let’s say I have 3 per day, which is super conservative because I don’t drink much, but that would run me $13 per day, or $78 for the duration of my stay.
Adding both food and drink together, I can expect to spend $384 for the trip.
Transportation is a big one that a lot of people forget about. Especially if you are going to be utilizing public transportation. However, if you are going the rental car route, you probably have it covered.
Public Transportation. The biggest thing with this, is that typically cities will offer one week, or similar passes. That gets you unlimited trips on the buses and sometimes trains for one flat fee. In my experience it averages around $10 per day.
So in this case, I would budget out $100, just to be safe and to have extra money in case of emergency, such as the buses and trains stop running and I need to take a taxi or Uber.
Rental Car. Rental Cars will generally be much more expensive, however, they are much more convenient. After a quick Google search, the rental car rates average $58 per day. This would run me $348 for the duration of my trip.
Also note that some countries require special driver’s licenses, like the international driver’s license.
So, after paying for the rental car, I also have to factor in gas. Since it is only a few days, I’ll budget $30 towards this.
I almost forgot about souvenirs! One of the most expensive expenses of your trip. Depending on how many people you have to buy souvenirs for, I’d budget around $15 per person you plan on getting a souvenir for.
Let’s say I will buy five souvenirs, or six including myself, that would run me $80.
My total cost of my Belize City trip, by myself, would be:
Hotel w/out Rental Car: $1,664
Airbnb w/out Rental Car: $1,479
With proper planning, traveling can be a whole lot more affordable. Knowing an accurate number to aim for in terms of saving will go a long way in ensuring you make these trips happen without going over budget.
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