Travel Budget Breakers (and How You Can Avoid Them)

From the richest first-class tourist to the poorest vagabond, a majority of travelers outline travel budgets – even loose ones – before they leave home. In some cases, a budget serves as a general guideline, while for others the mantra is, “the cheaper the budget, the longer the trip.” Even if you’ve charged too much on your credit card or shortened your trip in the past, it doesn’t mean you are doomed to a life of overspending. Here are a few travel budget breakers and how to side-step their cunning ways.

The Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity

Bungee jumping, sky-diving, jet-boating… Once-in-a-lifetime purchases often come in the way of adventure activities. Why? Because you’re so freaked out that you know you’ll never do it without the encouragement of your fellow travelers. Other spendy splurges include spur-of-the-moment tattoos, dinner on top of a famous monument and “you can’t take it with you” justifications. Now, memories are priceless, but that 15-second plummet toward imminent death won’t seem so invaluable when you realize you have to eat peanut butter and jelly for a month to make up for it.

Instead of turning down these amazing offers that will undoubtedly cause your friends to look at you with a mixture of admiration, awe, and jealousy, budget better for them. Keep aside a relatively small amount, like $500, and use it as your “splurge/emergency/trip extension” fund. That way, you can spend an extra day scuba diving on the great barrier reef without conspiring how to catch your dinner while you’re down there.

The $3 Coffees AKA “The Drink”

You need one in the morning to wake up. You need one with lunch. You need one when you’re strolling around town at 4 in the afternoon. Coffee is addictive, and it hits you right where it counts: in your pocketbook. Whether it’s one a day or six, designer café coffees are not something you need. The same goes for any beverage – soda is more expensive than wine in some parts of the world! Those little numbers add up. Do the math the next time the waiter asks for your order – and go with the water.

The New Friend

Buddies rock – especially if you’re a solo traveler and you’re looking for some company to help navigate the night streets. Unfortunately, new friends means new budgets – and often times, they won’t be in line with yours. A just-met companion may suggest an attraction that you never would have thought to vist. This is cool. The £15 entry fee you have to shell out when you arrive, however, isn’t. It’s easy to get clingy to new travel partners, and in order to stay friends, many people will agree to do things their budgets won’t allow. The top reasons price tags tend to increase? More meals spent eating at a restaurant, additional activities, and upgrades to private versus dorm hostel rooms. In order to combat these creeping costs, clearly state your budget restrictions to your new friend and don’t be afraid to venture out to explore on your own, or bypass the pricey place to nosh.

The “Add-Ons”

Ah, the deceptive “cheap extras.” Extras are the so-called upgrades in service, attractions, or transportation. For example, buying a museum pass for 20€, when your original plan included two museums that cost 6€ apiece (and you hate paintings), doesn’t make sense. This get-a-deal mentality often costs you more than you expect. Another popular pocketbook punisher is the day-or-week touring pass. Unless you know that you will get your money’s worth out of them, don’t drop the dough. Next time you are presented with an upgrade situation, ask youself, are you really going to save money? If not, stick with your original purchase, and move on.

Food, Glorious Food

You gotta eat, right? The key to not taking a bite out of your budget is to be aware of the common traps that force travelers to dole out the dough.

  • Sitting Down Versus Taking Out – Part of the cultural experience is eating the local food. However, prices can be higher for sit-down meals versus take-out. Some restaurants charge different amounts for the same item – tips will also cost you more. Consider dining a la park instead of a la expensive.
  • On-Board Food – Grabbing a quick snack on the train – or plane – usually rewards you with an upset stomach, a lousy meal and a hole in your wallet. This overpriced garbage isn’t worth it. Bring your own munchies and a bottle of water as well.
  • Snacking in the City – Being caught downtown during lunch hour or 45 minutes away from your hostel during the dinner rush will make resisting restaurant food that much harder. Make sure to put some snacks in your daypack – they’ll hold you over until you can make it back to your PB&J at the hostel.

Booze, Booze and More Booze

A common ailment affecting many travelers is the inverse “beer/budget” affect. The more beer (or wine/spirits/local stiff brew) you consume, the less you care about your budget. Unfortunately, the more beer you drink, the more you usually blow your budget as well. Fight this gremlin by leaving the credit card in your room and only bringing out as much money as you can afford to spend. This includes your taxi/train money back to the hostel! This way, when you’re out of cash, you’re done drinking. Your wallet (and liver) will thank you in the morning. Then again, you can always try to work on that eyelid-flutter and keep boozing on someone else’s tab…