The vast majority of the year, you’re meticulous with your budgeting and spending. No penny goes unaccounted for, and you’re a pro at sticking to your financial plans.
But for too many of us, our spending smarts take a backseat when we’re on vacation. Going on a holiday is all about letting go of the stresses of daily life, and it’s all too easy to become lax with finances when you’re away from home.
To be sure, there’s a time and a place for indulgence—and vacations are right up there. But you know where overindulgence leads, and there’s nothing worse than coming back home and experiencing the vacation spending hangover. From a financial point of view, it can take months to recover—and you’ll be wondering whether or not it was really worth it.
We’ve assembled some tips that will help you manage your budget without forgoing awesome experiences on your trip. Strive to find your balance, and you’ll have a great time—without suffering when you get back.
Set ground rules
Planning and budgeting aren’t necessarily the most fun things to do—that’s why you should do them before you leave home, not once you’re actually on vacation. If you plan ahead, then you won’t need to stress about it on your trip.
Decide now how you’re going to navigate your holiday from a financial point of view: With your travel mates, determine where you want to splurge (maybe on a few famous local restaurants) and where you’re willing to save (like the hotel room you’ll only be in at night when you’re sleeping). Set aside an allowance for “fun money,” and promise yourself you won’t spend a cent more.
Setting clear boundaries now means less guesswork later—and more time to just enjoy yourself.
Ditch the tourist experience
Don’t get caught in the tourist trap—your wallet will thank you. Tourist traps are known for being crowded, a little cheesy, and a lot expensive—and they usually don’t showcase the best of a location, anyway.
Instead, seek out authentic experiences that—bonus—are known to be lighter on the wallet. Rather than a pricey zip-lining tour, head out on a hike that leads you to a waterfall. Skip expensive shows and head to the local watering hole for some live music. Window shop at tiny galleries, tour the city by foot, and visit free parks and gardens to get a real taste of local culture.
Eat like a local
You can learn a lot about a place by checking out the local grocery store (for example, the cheese section of a grocery store in France speaks for itself). Head to the supermarket (or better yet, the farmers’ market) to find out what’s local and what’s in season. Packaged food always makes for fun souvenirs, and the candy section is usually full of gems you can’t find at home. Plus, picking up some local fare for a picnic is far cheaper than eating out, while still letting you sample the region’s flavors.
When you want to hit up a restaurant, avoid those in touristy areas; they often serve mediocre food for way too much money. Instead, follow local workers on their lunch breaks or let the students at the nearby university lead you to the best post-class pit stop. This is where you’ll find the real local treasures, and they’re usually pretty inexpensive.
Be a savvy shopper
It’s easy to fall into vacation mode and spend way too much money on stuff you’d never even think about splurging on at home. Avoid this pitfall by planning your packing list carefully ahead of time so that you won’t have to pick up expensive items you accidentally left at home.
You don’t need to forgo souvenirs entirely; just stay focused on items that are practical, not just novel. We already mentioned that local food makes a great souvenir, and something small like a scarf or a Christmas ornament to add to your collection typically won’t break the bank.
In terms of shopping just “for fun”—just say no. Unless the item you’re picking up is one-of-a-kind and it’s something you truly need, you’re better off spending your time taking in the local sights, not the local shops.
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