Manage Your Money While Traveling

Budgeting a key part of travel, but your usual budgeting tricks lose their potency when you leave home. Get Rich Slowly compiled a handy list of budgeting tips to keep you from overspending on your next vacation.

Before You Leave

  • Set Goals: Set a daily budget to restrict extraneous spending. Account for food, hotels, transportation, entertainment, and a little extra for those adorable tchotchkes.
  • Know How To Exchange Money: Know exactly where you can exchange currency, how much it will cost, and if your credit card is planning to slap you with foreign transaction fees.

While Away

  • Track Your Expenses: Either keep all your receipts, or write down your expenses in a notebook. At the end of the day, see where you can cut expenses the next day.
  • Separate Your Cash: If you change currency in bulk, separate out the mass of cash into chunks that match your daily budget. Wallets brimming with cash scream “Spend Me!”
  • Understand The Conversion Rates: “You’ll do a better job of reining in your purchases if you know how much you are spending. Your rule-of-thumb doesn’t need to be exact. For example, at today’s rate of 1.57 US Dollars to the Euro, I would multiply any price I saw by two and then subtract 20%. (Meaning a 30 euro item is approximately $60-$12=$48.) This accounts for any transaction fees, and slightly overestimates the cost of each item so that there aren’t any nasty surprises when I return home.”

Tracking expenses may seem like a fast way to sour a relaxing getaway, but it’s better than returning home to an eye-popping hole in your bank account. How do you contain costs while you travel? Share your tips in the comments.

How to Track Travel Expenses and Stick to a Vacation Budget [Get Rich Slowly]
(Photo: Rory Finneren)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Last year we rented a studio flat from someone who worked in the London office of my company. Not only was it more private than a hotel, it was a lot quieter and not in the middle of tourist central. We had a fridge, microwave, and cooktop. So we bought a big box of cereal and had that for breakfast, at a FRACTION of what a hotel breakfast would have cost. And we could sit around in our pajamas too! For dinners instead of going out, we bought premade sandwiches or microwave entrees from the local grocery store. We saved money and had decent sized portions. And of course a bottle of wine from the store is lots cheaper than in a restaurant.

  2. ConsumptionJunkie says:

    Travel is so expensive. I’m waiting until the off-peak season to travel to Paris in September . This season is called the “shoulder” season. Hopefully, I will receive my stimulus check this month and have enough money saved in case of an emergency while traveling. It can cost up to $300 to change the date on an international ticket.

  3. thesabre says:

    I also found out that letting your credit card company know you’ll be away helps. My wife and I went from the US to Italy in 2006. Our flight got canceled and we had to stay an extra day without cash. They hotel took Visa, but Visa denied the charge as fraudulent. Had we called Visa and told them we were going to Italy, it probably would have saved us from having quite a few problems.

  4. mgy says:

    @ConsumptionJunkie: HEY! You’re supposed to stimulate the United States economy with that check! I’m telling!

  5. agb2000 says:

    – Don’t forget to learn about your mobile phone provider’s international rates and plans.
    – An American Express card can help save you money when traveling. Using it gives you great car rental & hotel deals, as well as lost baggage and car rental insurance.

  6. Resonant says:

    Hostels are an amazing way to save money while traveling! Ignore that horror movie. Quality varies, of course, but most of the ones I’ve stayed in have been cleaner and had more amenities than local hotels, and were far cheaper. Get a Hostelling International membership before you leave home (about $35), or get a membership in the country that you’re visiting once you arrive.


  7. humphrmi says:

    I take road trips every year with my family. I’ve compiled a few money-saving tips of my own:

    – Try not to buy gas at the gas stations right off the highway exits. If an exit indicates a surface street that leads to a city, the highway gas stations will usually charge a lot more than gas stations in the city. But be sure to balance that with how far you have to drive to get to that city.

    – When staying overnight, take advantage of every amenity that hotels offer. For instance, many hotels offer free breakfast of some sort, eat that and you save breakfast money each day. Also look for deals like kids eat free.

    – Check out the hotels for deals on attractions. Some offer coupons, and even transportation (e.g. free shuttle). Don’t use your expensive gas when the hotel will drive you there for free!

    – If you’re disciplined and have a rewards credit card, use that card for all of your expenses. You get a big boost in miles or cash back, and up to thirty extra days to pay for your vacation.

    Of course, YMMV

  8. mac-phisto says:

    i don’t really like to constrict myself too much when i’m on vacation – the whole point is to unwind & relax, right? instead i have a portion of my pay deposited into an account that i solely use for travel. since the money’s already set aside, i don’t have to think about it so much.

    still, i save money when i travel a variety of ways. 1) i rarely buy junk. maybe a shirt here or there, but i don’t go looking for crap to buy when i’m away (but i know a lot of people that do). seriously, is your cupboard going to care whether or not you have a coffee cup that “proves” you went to cape cod? 2) i avoid the mainstream eateries & try to find the spots that the locals frequent. usually i get a much better meal at a much better price. 3) i skip the sightseeing tours by researching the sights beforehand & use the cash saved for fun stuff like museums, aquariums, etc.

  9. I highly recommend Craigslist to find temp housing as opposed to Hotel Rooms.

    We have done this three times, and have been amazed at what you can get for $500 a week (especially since you don’t have to pay 10-12% lodging tax)

    We have gotten fully furnished, 2 BR apartments in Providence, Dallas, and Seattle. All in great locations, with lots of room, parking, etc.

    Plus, the people we have rented from were awesome in giving us dining tips and attraction information.

  10. balthisar says:

    Here’s one: only go on vacation if you can afford it. I don’t mean don’t use your credit cards if you can afford to pay them back.

    Kind of like don’t buy cars you can’t afford, homes you can’t afford, etc. It’s easy to “deserve” to go on vacation even if you can’t afford it.

  11. mac-phisto says:

    @balthisar: definitely, but vacations are important. it’s really easy to burn yourself out if you don’t take some time off.

    maybe if you can’t afford the elaborate vacation of your dreams, consider something more within your budget. but definitely take time off before you walk into work with a semi.

  12. pixiegirl1 says:

    When I travel my biggest expenses are hotels & food. If I’m just going somewhere for a few days I have no problems crashing on someones couch for a few nights, if its a longer stay I’ll get a room at a hotel.

    I agree with the above poster who said make use of your hotels amenities. If you are looking at hotels see what they include in the price, for a extra few bucks you can get fed everyday it might be worth it. I booked a hotel to visit my brother and his family in a few weeks. The two closest hotels to their house is a marriott and a embassy suites. I went with embassy suites it only cost $30 more and I get breakfast and at night you get free drinks and finger food snacks. You can always grab a extra bagel and a piece of fruit after you eat to snack on later in the day.

  13. Syrenia says:

    There’s a lot of hate on Consumerist for Bank of America, but they are members of the Global ATM alliance, so no ATM fees at participating bank ATMs around the world. For example, Barclay’s in the UK.

  14. synergy says:

    Yay! Proper use of the word “rein.”

  15. GearheadGeek says:

    @mac-phisto: “take time off” != “take an expensive vacation.” If you stress out when you get back and get the bills for your vacation (or because you’ve spent all your cash, if you don’t do credit) you’ve blown the whole feel-good part of taking a vacation. You could take the time off to explore around where you live, or to do some projects at home you’ve been putting off. I’m not sure if we’re going anywhere, but I’m taking time off during the 3 whole weeks my partner has off between 1st and 2nd year of med school this summer.

  16. Landru says:

    I don’t have these problems so much, now that I have given up air travel.

  17. spinachdip says:

    @synergy: Rein in your spending on the road, make it rain at home?

  18. Have a friend family member in the hotel or airline industry?

    They can get friends and family members discount.

    If it weren’t for that fact half of my family would never talk to me.

  19. mike says:

    A tip I got from a frequent traveler: When exchanging money, find a casino! They often have the best exchange rates because, well, they hope you spend it there.

  20. ARP says:

    Here are my tidbits:

    1) Don’t bring too much cash unless its a third world country where ATM’s may be limited. Find out where an ATM is near your hotel and get cash everyday for what you will need. It will force you to keep a better budget. Yes it might be a few dollars more compared to pulling out all your money at once, but think of that few dollars as preventing you from spending a lot more later.

    2) Get a travel visa/MC. That way your primary credit card is not at risk for theft or stealing your number. They also have a much higher “tolerance” when you spend in foreign countries (i.e. less likely to flag as stolen). Finally, the exchange rates/fees are usually very good. You can always bring your primary credit card as a backup and keep it in the hotel safe.

    3) Find out where the locals eat and eat there. More likely to be less expensive and better quality. If you don’t know locals, try to find some that are friendly. Often tour guides, or others you might interact with at tourist spots might be nice enough to tell you.

    4) Major tourist cities (Chicago, New York, London, etc.) will have “city passes” that get you into a number of major attractions for a single fee. Be careful though, if you’re only doing a few attractions it might be worth it to do those a la carte rather than a city pass.

    5) Your credit cards often have reward programs where you can rent a car or stay in a hotel for much cheaper. Also, the hotels and rental car companies might give you a discount if you sign up for their program. Some don’t require you to give CC numbers to join, only when you reserve.

  21. spinachdip says:

    @balthisar: I have another dick-ish advice: don’t travel abroad until the dollar stops tanking (Carribean islands that accept the Dollar are an exception, obviously). Seriously, the 1 euro = $1.55 exchange rate is kinda ridiculous – your money is going to go a lot further in US dollars than any other respectable currency right now.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Best advice I can give is:

    For any credit card you take, call your bank while you’re still in your home country. Give them your itinerary dates as well as which countries. This avoids your charge getting flagged as fraud which in turn avoids getting screwed on calling home. (Yes, I know they all accept collect calls but try explaining in a language which you have little ability in to a hotel clerk that you want to make a collect call and not pay the outrageous hotel charges for an international call. GSM roaming might even be [slightly] cheaper.

    Yes, it’s a loss of privacy telling your bank where you are going even if you don’t use that card – but you’re American. YOU HAVE NO PRIVACY! :) Just get used to it. ;)

    If you need a phone when you’re traveling, get a local GSM SIM card if at all possible. Leave your Verizon/Sprint/Metro/Cricket phone at home because it’s not going to work in 99% of the world outside Canada and Mexico (especially not Metro or Cricket!). There are certain countries I visit often enough to just maintain a local prepaid SIM card so my number stays the same from visit to visit.

    What’s a SIM card? It’s that little chip behind the battery in your T-mo or deathstar phone.

    Make sure your phone GSM phone is “unlocked” I have no idea what the Deathstar’s policy is about unlocking phones but T-mobile will give you one unlock code per phone every 90 days provided your account is in good standing. Another option it to take your phone to a local no-name cellphone store that advertises most all of the carriers because likely they will have some employee that can do the unlock.

    The unlock is NOT illegal.

    Then look at [] to determine whether you need a phone that does GSM850, GSM900, GSM1800, or GSM1900. An unlocked quadband phone can be your best friend when you travel. Check with your USA phone carrier to see if they allow roaming and how expen$ive it is. Usually it’s astronomical! For god’s sake – if you have a crackberry you should ask two questions: if its really a vacation why is it going with? The second one is – crackberries use a VORACIOUS amount of data. If you are “data roaming” – always more expensive than voice in most cases you might get a 4-figure US dollar bill just for the privilege of staying in touch with your office.

    Using a local prepaid SIM for data is rare. You have to get down ‘n dirty with the programming of your GSM phone. But it’s worth it. I guesstimated that using T-mobile roaming in one foreign country to get my email it would be about USD$70 per day. Using local prepaid service with the phone properly programmed to access the data facilities – 70 US CENTS per day. Worth it. (And yes, it was a business trip!)

    Check your messages on your USA phone using Skype (turn it OFF first!!!!!) that way you don’t wind up paying $15 in roaming charges to hear chatty messages from friends who don’t know you’re overseas.

    Do not try to access your USA-based online banking from an overseas cybercafe or sometimes even hotel. USA banks tend to block entire ranges of internet addresses as sources of “fraud.” The cybercafe may have a keystroke logger attached as well to capture your online passwords.

    Many European countries are just too #$#!$! expensive for Americans right now. Look at places like Central America. Costa Rica’s currency is pegged to the USA dollar so it really wasn’t that expensive.

    Of course those small countries have currencies with some really weird exchange rates – a general rule was 500 Costa Rican colones was equal to 1 USD. This means you will have bank notes in your pocket that say 10000/5000/2000/1000. 99.9% of shops take credit cards – the penetration of credit card machines and ATM’s into that country is amazing. Yes, my hand shook a little too as I asked a cash machine for 50000 (USD$100) of anything… But if you stay anywhere posh your bill is going to be in the six figures in Costa Rican Colones. I almost had a heart attack when I got a hotel bill (at an expensive international chain) for 497000 colones (about USD$950).

    You’ll pay 3200 for a decent meal and 500-700 for a can of diet coke! (At a cheap place, not the posh ones!)

    At the end of my trip – I converted all my leftover currency to Euros. I’m betting the dollar is going to keep falling until at least November.

  23. Amy Alkon000 says:

    There’s a lot of hate on Consumerist for Bank of America, but they are members of the Global ATM alliance, so no ATM fees at participating bank ATMs around the world. For example, Barclay’s in the UK.

    The same is true at Bank Paribas in Paris for BofA customers. Call your bank and see who their partner is before going.

    On a hate note: Bank Paribas’ ATM (at Madeleine Métro) once ate my card, but their tellers never gave out thousands of dollars my money to a lady with no teeth and only a fake driver’s license in my name, like BofA did…to her or others who were not me on seven separate occasions this past month.

  24. Sodypop says:

    Lot of hate about Capital One but they are the only CC that does not charges fees when use outside of the US.
    Fees can add up really easily.