Budget your next vacation and avoid going into debt or having to deal with the post-vacation I-spent-too-much slumps!

ST101: Budgeting for a Vacation

If you’re just stopping by for the first time, this is a class in a series of classes over the next few months which will culminate in the development of a complete financial plan.  Stop by the orientation class HERE first for class orientation/overviews and HERE for more information about the website if you’re interested in seeing the other classes and improving your financial life!

Class Objectives: To enable you to create a vacation budget that aligns with your financial goals.
Prerequisites: none
Handout: none
Assignment: Download and fill out the vacation budget spreadsheet in Excel | Google Docs


Going on vacation soon?  If you are, great!  If you’re anything like me, though, you tend to overspend while you’re on vacation and then reality hits you when you get back. Or worse, sometimes I tend to get stressed out while on vacation that we’re spending too much and then it’s not as enjoyable.  Just as in “real” life, a budget can make things less stressful while you’re on vacation.  I’m NOT suggesting that you have to track each and every dollar that you spend every minute of your vacation, simply that you plan out the total cost before-hand, try to follow your budgeted amounts within reason during the vacation, and then write down what you spent afterwards based on how much cash you took with you and spent and your debit/credit card transactions, just as you should do on a regular basis with your household budget.

As another note, if you have credit card debt or significant other long-term debt, you may want to seriously consider how much you are spending on vacations.  It’s important to spend time together as a family and be able to relax from the monotony of jobs and housework, but that doesn’t require an extravagant vacation.

Visa’s annual travel survey reports that in 2015 (of those that do take summer vacations)…

The average American family spends approximately $1,600 total on their summer vacation.

This amount is a significant expense in the typical budget and warrants some planning, research and cost tracking.


As you can see below, the following vacation budget spreadsheet you will be using has main categories of transportation, travel insurance, lodging, food, supplies, entertainment and miscellaneous expenses.

Let’s go through each category to plan it out step by step:


Start by estimating your transportation costs.  If you will be traveling by airplane, include the airfare, taxes and fees as well as baggage fees charged by the airline and parking at the airport or transportation to and from the airport.  If you are going on a road trip, include the car rental fee if you are renting a car and also do a rough estimate of the gasoline cost based on current gas prices, your gas mileage (try Google if you’re not sure for your car make and model) and the number of miles you will be traveling.  Transportation will likely be the largest cost of your trip.


If you plan to procure travel insurance, look up the estimated costs for these items and enter them next.  Be sure to check whether your credit card offers trip insurance as a perk before purchasing separate trip insurance (I admit I have never purchased trip insurance and fortunately would have never had to use it anyway, and now use a card for travel expenses that includes trip cancellation and rental car insurance).  If you’re traveling internationally, it is important to check your coverage with your current medical insurance plan to make sure you’re covered while you’re out of the country.


Next, estimate your lodging costs.  Add any lines for additional places that you will be lodging on your trip.  There is a built-in calculation if you enter the number of nights stayed and the hotel’s nightly rate.  As this is probably one of the largest line items in your vacation budget, I suggest you consider alternative arrangements like camping for a few nights or trying websites such as airbnb.com.


Food is a large vacation cost, because even on a road trip, you can only bring so much food with you, not to mention you often don’t have a way to cook meals yourself.  One helpful thing you can do is consider the cost of breakfast when you’re looking at booking hotels-it may be cheaper to book a less expensive hotel, but if you have a large family and have to eat out for breakfast each morning, it can add up to more than what you saved on the hotel cost.  Also, you should come up with a budget for each meal before the vacation so that you know what you can spend while you’re gone on a daily basis for meals.  There is a spot on the spreadsheet to calculate the numbers of each meals and the price per meal.  For example, if you are going on a 5-day trip as a couple, you might plan to stay at a hotel that offers a complimentary breakfast, spend $20 total per lunch ($20 x 5 = $100 total for lunches), $40 total per dinner ($40 x 5 = $200 for dinners), and $10 per day for snacks and drinks ($10 x 5 = $50).  While you’re out, you know if you spend $50 on lunch that you only have $10 for dinner that day or you need to eat much more inexpensively for several other meals or you’ll be over your budget, without having to actually write down anything while you’re on vacation.


Budget for any supplies that you need for your travel, such as luggage, guide books, etc.


Include ticket prices for any type of entertainment you plan to attend while on vacation.  This would include tickets to performances, entry tickets to amusement parks and museums, movies, etc.


Last, create a budget for souvenirs and other miscellaneous expenses.  What we’ve done in the past is given each member of the family (include the adults) an amount that they can spend on souvenirs for them to remember the trip.  For example, when we traveled to Indonesia, my kids loved picking out special wooden toys and purses that they could play with there and keep later to remember the trip.  In addition, I like to put in a little chunk of extra money into my miscellaneous budget just to make sure I have a buffer if anything else comes up during the vacation that I really want to do or buy.


After your vacation, write down your expenses related to the vacation, at least in total.  I always use my credit or debit card so I can go back and take a look at where I’ve spent my money.  Another way to do this would be to bring a specified amount of cash with you based on your budget so you know quickly how much money you’ve spent by simply subtracting how much cash you have left at the end of the vacation (or how much extra cash you had to take out of the ATM while you were gone (oy!).

If your vacation goes over-budget, you need to either use some of your saved funds to make up the overage or cut down your regular budget for the rest of the month (or next month).  Vacations are great, but not at all a good reason to go into debt.


The Smith family had been planning to take a trip to Disney in the summer, but instead decided to put most of the money they had allocated toward paying off their credit card debt and travel locally.  They’ve decided to travel to Mackinac Island in northern Michigan.  They thought it would cost them around $500, but after researching the lodging and entry fees, they’ve decided that for a 3 day trip, around $650 is a more reasonable estimate.  Here is their vacation budget:

Smith Example Vacation Budget


If you already have a vacation that you are planning, use the spreadsheet to plan out your costs.  If you don’t have a vacation planned out, start planning one, even if it’s a small trip within your state or a dream vacation that may be years away.

  • IMPROVING– Set an overall budget for your vacation in the previous categories of transportation, lodging, food, supplies and miscellaneous.
  • INVESTED– Plan your next vacation out using the spreadsheet.
  • UNSTOPPABLE– Same as invested-plan out your next vacation in detail using the spreadsheet.

 Do you keep a detailed budget and track your expenses for your vacations?


4 Responses

  1. We set aside a bit of saving each month in a vacation fund to cover the costs of our summer vacation. Depending on the type of vacation we are planning on taking we can increase/decrease the saving rate. The goal is always have the total amount save before the vacation. This way we avoid a vacation hangover when we get home and don’t have to worry about any large bills associated with the trip.

  2. Good vacation budget advice. It’s a good thing to start NOW on next year’s budget so you can plan and save. I am a big fan of the all-inclusive resorts so I know exactly what my expenses are. Of course you have to shell out a bit more cash upfront so it’s not cheaper, just less stressful since there are no other costs.

  3. If you plan carefully, you can cut down a lot of those expenses too with stuff like travel rewards to airplane or hotel rebates, Groupon or LivingSocial for activities or dinners out.

  4. Hi Kathryn,

    Nice post! I plan ahead and find good deals on air travel, rental cars, and hotel accommodations.

    I don’t have a detailed spreadsheet – however, I have an overall budget limit set for the vacation and stay under it.




I’m Kathryn Hanna-wife, mother of 3 and a Certified Public Accountant. I love to budget (really, I do!) , build spreadsheets and spend money on travel, sewing supplies and good chocolate.


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