How to fully revel in your vacation

Updated: Oct 25


A little planning can make your vacation financially digestible


Almost everyone likes to travel in some form, whether it’s overseas or something close to home. Beach vacations, city trips, road trips, camping, cruises, and cottage getaways are all ways that we travel, bringing us a lot of enjoyment.


Because it is so important to people, travel is often a non-negotiable line in the budget, and a bit-ticket one at that. Travel can be expensive and the carefree feeling we get when on vacation can lead to over-spending, making a vacation more expensive than we expected. After all, vacation is a time to indulge - we waited all year for this time away, so we’re not holding back! This feeling makes sense – a vacation should feel carefree and indulgent. As someone close to me likes to say, “I don’t go on vacation to save money.”


But let me offer another view on this subject. Yes, a vacation is time to enjoy the fruits of your labour. But do you need to go all out and throw financial caution to the wind? Do you really want to cringe at the thought of coming home and looking at your credit card balance?


I’ve taken both approaches in my life: spend with abandon and spend with conscious choice. I just got back from 12 days in France with my two sons. We had an amazing trip, one we will never forget. I’m quite sure my children would say that they didn’t lack for anything on this trip, despite my “spend with conscious choice” approach.


Let me share three things that help me to fully enjoy my vacation without worrying about the money.


1. Save for travel. By setting aside money throughout the year for a trip, you will know that you can afford it and that this money is meant to be spent on FUN and won’t compromise your financial situation for months afterward.


2. Set a travel budget. Budget? On vacation? What a total buzzkill! Well, it’s not so much a strict budget as just having a sense of how much you want to spend every day. This helps you avoid too much YOLO spending, and actually can make decision-making easier, as in “we spent our $300 today so let’s have a low-key dinner tonight”. (This is also great for teaching your children about choices and trade-offs.)


3. Find ways to save money. There is a myriad of ways you can spend less without compromising enjoyment. Spend more on what really makes you happy and go cheap on things that don’t. Here are three things that I do to keep the cost of a vacation in check.


  • Use AirBnB or another home rental service. We stayed in three places over our 12 days. Each of them was good value for money. We got basic but nice apartments at prices less than a hotel with the added bonus of staying in a neighbourhood with locals. I estimate we saved $1,000 at a minimum versus a hotel, and we had a lot more space than if we’d shared one hotel room.

  • Eat some meals in. I don’t know about you, but after three or four days in a row of eating all my meals in a restaurant, I don’t really feel all that great. We ate all of our breakfasts in our apartment, and later in the trip, we also had several dinners at “home”. It worked great for all of us – we were tired after a day sightseeing and being out and about so eating in the apartment was relaxing. I estimate this was about a $400 savings, and our stomachs felt better for it.

  • Take trains and other public transit. I have always taken a taxi from the airport when I arrive in a new place, but this time we took the train from the airport into the center of Paris. It was so easy (except for the mishap of getting separated from my older son, but that’s another story). We also used the subway in Paris and took the train to our next destination in Northern France. Like staying in an apartment instead of a hotel, taking public transit enhanced our experience, making us feel closer to the city than we would from behind the glass of a taxi. And of course, it saved money.


Where did I spend with abandon? Entrance fees for museums, galleries, monuments and all other places we wanted to visit, coffee (because when in France you must enjoy café au lait at a little table on the street at every opportunity), and road tolls to shave time off of our drives to various places.


My point in all of this is that vacations can be fully enjoyed even while employing some money-saving tactics. This trip for the three of us cost me about $8,000 all in. We spent at least $1,500 less by doing these simple things, without compromising the trip. Traveling this way makes me feel better about going again in the future because it’s not overwhelmingly expensive.


Being a fiscally frugal person, I usually don’t like looking through my credit card statements, but I did so after this trip with no cringy concerns. Every transaction was money that made me happy and that I felt good about spending.


There are great lessons in here for kids too, showing them that they don’t have to spend a ton of money when traveling, which will bode well for them as they get older and embark on their own adventures.


So where to next?