When you’re planning a vacation but you don’t know how far your budget will take you, what should you do?
Vacation planning is supposed to be fun. The excitement of finding the best restaurants to eat at, and tracking down less-visited attractions, is part of the experience.
For those on a budget though, vacation planning can be stressful. Scouring those flight comparison sites, and searching endlessly for an affordable place to stay can bring on a migraine.
In these cases, there is a range of tools that can help you. From sites that give you suitable places to visit based on your budget, to travel expense calculators.
Below I’ve explained step-by-step how you can use these tools to:
- Figure out your daily budget and the ideal length of your trip
- Easily create a shortlist of destinations you can afford to visit
- Break down the precise cost of visiting each of those destinations so you can make the best decision.
How Much and How Long? (20–40 mins)
The places you can go on vacation are largely determined by your budget. The first thing you should do is realistically calculate exactly how much you can afford to spend in total during your vacation. This could be based on how much you’ve saved, how much vacation pay you will receive, or a combination of both.
Next, decide on the maximum duration of your vacation. This maximum length of stay will give you the lowest daily budget you can afford. You should then see how your daily budget changes if you shorten the length of your trip. The more you shorten your trip, the more cash you’ll have to spend each day.
The more flexible the length of your trip, the more places you’ll be able to choose between.
To help with this, I’ve created the above Excel calculator (click to download) that shows how your daily budget will change if you alter the length of your trip. You can also see your net daily budget (your spending money) if you choose to enter the estimated cost of your flight and stay.
Note: If you’re planning a particularly long trip (over 4 weeks), shortening your trip will give you a larger daily budget, but your daily costs will likely increase. This is because your flight cost will be split over fewer days, and you may not be able to negotiate as good rates for accommodation if you are staying for fewer nights.
Creating a Shortlist (30–90 mins)
Once you understand how much you can spend, and how flexible you are with your dates, you can start creating a shortlist of destinations that you could feasibly visit on your budget. This will save you hours of wasted time daydreaming about places you can’t afford just yet.
Very recently, Google made this a whole lot easier by launching Google Destinations. In the Google search bar on your smartphone type the area (Europe, South America) you want to visit followed by “destination” or “vacation”. Google will offer suggestions that can be filtered based on date, budget, etc.
Don’t just rely on Google, though. There’s a range of other sites that let you search for destinations based on both budget, and flexible dates. Some of these are:
On each of these sites, enter your dates, budget, and select any other filters they offer. Remember that the budget you input into these sites is your budget for your flights and accommodation only. You can use the spreadsheet above to check that you’ll have enough spending money once the flight and accommodation costs have been taken into account.
The results will be a range of destination options that you can in theory afford to visit. These are only price guides. If there are a couple places you’d love to visit, but are slightly out of your budget for flights and accommodation, include them in your shortlist anyway. In the next section, I’ll show you how to try and get these costs down.
Play around with some different date options on each of these sites, and create a final shortlist of destinations you’re considering.
Here’s the breakdown for deciding your next travel destination and the approximate time each step might take.
Work Out The Costs (45–120 mins)
You’ll now have a list of places you can afford to fly to, and book accommodation in. But before you can make an informed decision, you need to figure out what a vacation in each of these places will cost in total. This includes food, drink, and sight-seeing.
For backpackers, check out SoloTravel and TrekHard. These sites give an average daily cost of places on the backpacker trail. These sites don’t break the costs down into too much detail, but from my own experiences, they are pretty accurate estimates.
For everyone else, break down these costs a little more. You could do this in a notepad, create a spreadsheet (or download this free one), or use one of the following online calculators.
Flights and Accommodation
The prices for flights and accommodation you based your shortlist on were only guide prices. To find the actual (and hopefully cheaper) prices of you flights, use Skyscanner, Kayak, or any of these flight comparison apps.
To access a huge choice of accommodation (and to find a room within your budget), search Priceline, Hipmunk, Travelocity, and Hotels.com. Before booking, always search online, and check CouponHeaven and Retail Me Not to see if you can get any discount coupons for an even cheaper price.
Once you’ve found the cost of your acommodation and flight (and any other fixed costs, like travel insurance), subtract these from your total daily budget (or enter these into the downloadable spreadsheet I shared earlier). You’ll now be able to work out your remaining daily spending money.
Other Daily Costs
To see which of your shortlisted destinations best suits your budget, you need to see how far your remaining spending money will go in each of those destinations.
If you’re going to be driving, you can easily work out your fuel cost online with the help of this official site. If you are in the U.K, try this Postal Code Fuel Calculator or Journey Price Calculator.
Enter the relevant costs into your travel budget calculator. You’ll then be able to see the standard of restaurants you’ll be able to eat at, the number of beers you can have per night, and the number of outings you can go on.
Make a Decision
Once you’ve done this for each of your shortlisted destinations, you’ll be in a perfect position to make an informed choice about where you can afford to spend your vacation. You’ll know whether you can afford that perfect adventure, or whether you need to budget carefully on your trip.
We went into a lot of detail in this post, but the system is simple.
1. Figure out your budget.
2. Create a shortlist of destinations that should fit within that budget.
3. Spend a little time making sure you can afford the vacation you want in those destination.
When a decision has been made, be sure to book pronto. If you leave it too long, prices will increase, and you may have to start over!
How do you choose where to go on vacation? Do you have any sites you visit to ensure you can afford certain destinations? What is the one essential trip planning tip we should all follow?