How to Track Travel Expenses and Stick to a Vacation Budget

Most families need to stick to a budget when they travel. But tracking daily expenses, especially in a foreign currency, can be tricky. Here are some easy tips to make it easy to keep track of how much you're spending.

Before you leave:

  • Create an email folder for your trip. Each time you make a booking, place the itinerary confirmation and receipt into the folder. You can use the folder to help you build your final itinerary before you leave, too.
  • Set a daily budget that includes lodging, food, transportation, and entertainment. During the trip you can track your spending against this goal.
  • Find out how much it costs to get money, and know which source is the cheapest. For example, what fees does your bank charge for using an international ATM and withdrawing foreign currency? What about your credit card? What is the exchange rate? If you expect to travel a lot, you might consider opening a Capitol One credit card with no international transaction fees.

On your trip:

  • Develop a rule-of-thumb for converting between currencies. 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.
  • As you get receipts, write on each what it was for.
  • Bring an envelope for receipts. If some expenses are deductible, reimbursable or shared, bring separate envelopes for each type of expense. At the end of each day, empty your receipts from your wallet into your envelope.
  • Keep the cash for the day separate from the rest of your cash. For example, you get $300 out of the ATM and you want that to last you 4 days, so that's $75/day. Put $75 in an easy to access part of your wallet and you put the rest in a harder to reach spot. If you see yourself going into the hard-to-reach spot, you know you're going over budget.
  • If you need a more detailed accounting that includes smaller cash transactions, or want more accountability, carry a small notebook. Record each transaction in the notebook (including snacks, bus rides, etc). Each evening, total your expenses and note where you wasted money and can do better the next day. This tip helped us cut our budget significantly by doing things like buying bottled water and snacks at local grocery stores to carry with us when we travel.

Not only will having a detailed accounting of how much you spent on your trip help you keep expenses down, it will help you do a better job of estimating expenses for your next trip before you leave home.

J.D.'s note: On our trip to Europe last summer, I did all of these things based on reader advice. They worked like a charm. I was able to adhere closely to my intended budget. This may sound like too much work, but it really alleviates a lot of hassle, making travel easy and care-free. Photo credit: Refracted Moments.

More about...Budgeting, Travel

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