Do you ever find that it’s easy to create a vacation budget – but really hard to stick to it?
I’m one of those people that will plan out every minor detail of my vacation budget – but as soon as one minor inconvenience pops up – poof! My budget goes up in smoke.
Running late on the way to the airport? I’ll hop in an Uber instead of taking a bus. Forgot to pack protein for the flight? A $10 back of beef jerky it is. A little too much time to kill before my departure? I’m sure to walk out of the newsstand with a magazine or two…and a book too.
It’s almost like my brain goes MIA about an hour before I leave for a flight. In that last mile I’ll do whatever it takes to make the trip happen comfortably. If I don’t create some sort of buffer, there’s no way to prevent myself from forking up loads of cash before I even land at my destination. And those conveniences I’m paying for? They’re nothing compared to the fees I could get charged at the airport if I’m not careful.
Want to make sure you don’t fall into the same budget-busting, fee-laden trap I fall into? Follow the steps below!
Become a Savvy Internet Traveler
You can protect your budget from fees long before your vacation – if you get comfortable with the internet. For starters, nearly all airlines will charge you to book your ticket over the phone or at the counter.
Internet booking isn’t just good for finding deals. It can save you the $15-$35 fee for booking over the phone or in person (and it’s a lot faster)!
That’s not the only reason to get comfortable with the internet as a traveler. Every airline has a contract of carriage that lists their fees (as well as other details about their regulations). Before you choose an airline, read their contract of carriage to make sure they offer flexibility in the areas you may need it most.
Triple-Check Your Travel Plans Before You Book
There’s one fee that can ruin your vacation budget faster than anything else: the dreaded ticket change fee.
It cannot be emphasized enough how important it is to triple check your plans before your book. Don’t buy a ticket until you know your vacation time was approved at work. Don’t buy a ticket until all parties going on the trip have confirmed the same. Don’t buy a ticket until you know for sure where you want to go, when you want to go, and that there are no reasons you shouldn’t go at that time.
Once you book your ticket, you’re locked in (lest you want to pay up to a whopping $1,000 to change your flight). Booking a refundable ticket may not even help be the best way to prevent this, since they can cost so much that it’s not even worth it.
Triple check those plans before you book to save yourself from exorbitant ticket change fees.
Become an Expert Light Packer
Let’s say you made it to the airport, checked in for your flight, and are waiting at the gate for your departure. This point (at which you likely feel most relaxed) is still a danger zone packed with potential fees. More specifically: carry-on baggage fees and overweight baggage fees.
Nearly all airlines charge a fee for checked baggage, but now there are a few airlines who charge for your carry-on as well. If you’re flying with an airline that charges for carry-on baggage, you could be charged up to $100!
Even if you avoid the carry-on baggage fee, you could get hit with an overweight baggage fee if your luggage is over 50 pounds. Whether to prevent a checked baggage or overweight baggage fee, packing light is going to be your best money saving tactic.
When you’re packing, bring clothing, coats, and shoes that can be used for multiple purposes and outfits. I have a rule of wearing my coat on the flight (instead of packing it) and only bringing the pair of shoes I’m wearing. For the rest of my clothing, multi-purpose pieces and layering are key. That frees up room for the other odds and ends I may need, as well as souvenirs I buy on the trip.
If you manage to pack light but pick up a few souvenirs that are either fragile, bulky, or heavy, you can save a lot of money by shipping them home. Bonus, you won’t have to spend your whole flight home worrying about the safety of your souvenirs!
Bring Your Own Amenities Instead of Paying for Theirs
Unless you’re flying first class, there’s a good chance you’ll feel uncomfortable at some point in your flight. As airplane seats keep getting smaller, fees for comfort items keep getting higher. While working to stick to the light packing tip, leave room for comfort items you might want so you don’t have to buy them in flight.
For example, blankets and pillows. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an airline that offers these for free. But frequent flyers can save by purchasing a neck pillow and by using their coat or sweater as a blanket.
Then there’s the food. Pack your own so you don’t lose money to in-flight food. I typically buy things like beef jerky, granola bars, a chocolate bar, and protein bars that will hold me over for both legs of my trip. When I fail is when I forget and have to buy these items at the airport. Even still, this method can be cheaper as I always have some left over for the flight home (which won’t happen with in-flight meals). Look for deals on compact but nutrient-rich foods at your grocery store so you don’t waste money on airline food.
The final two amenities airlines charge for can be prevented with a bit of compromise on your part: seat selection and WiFi.
If your airline charges for seat selection, there’s not much you can do. However, you can find other ways to be more comfortable without paying for priority seats. In my case that means always trying to find aisle seats – even if they’re in the back of the plane. That way I can get up and walk around without disturbing my neighbors if my legs need a stretch.
WiFi is another fee that’s hard to avoid. But if you plan ahead you can avoid it (as long as you don’t need to be available online for work during your flight). For entertainment, I rely on my Kindle or pre-downloaded movies on my laptop. No WiFi needed there! For work, I save the tasks I can do without the internet and use Microsoft Word instead.
Remember that Saving Money is About More than the Price
Finally, whenever you’re trying to save money on flights or fees, keep a strong focus on flexibility over price. Some budget airlines are the same culprits of fees that other airlines may not even charge (such as the carry-on baggage fee). In those cases, that low price you paid at booking could double by the time your flight takes off.
The same goes for searching for your airline. For example, some airlines charge more for flights but offer flexibility on fees. Balance your priorities, be mindful of what’s most likely to go wrong, and choose a price and an airline that make sense for you. A little bit of research in the beginning could rescue your vacation budget in the end!