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Some people worry about the thought of spending lots of money on travel - a personal indulgence with nothing to show for it.

While we advocate prudence, spending too little on a vacation, while on the face of it sensible, can be a grave error that causes the entire expenditure to be wasted.

 
 
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How Much to Spend on a Vacation part 1

Our Philosophy on Travel Costs
 

Before you start budgeting your next vacation, it helps to have an understanding of some guiding principles and to create your own philosophy on how much to spend on travel, and how to spend it.

Part one of a five part series on how to budget and plan for a vacation.  See also :

1.  An introduction to the philosophy of travel cost budgeting

2.  Understanding the true cost of your vacation and what this means

3.  Using the true cost figure and knowing when you should spend a little more on travel costs

4.  Balancing the time and cost of your vacation - how less can be more

5.  What quality level to choose, and the importance of including a special highlight in your vacation

 

 

Over the years, I've helped tens of thousands of people design their travel itineraries.  And while I've sometimes had people return home unhappy with their vacation experience, this unhappiness has never been because they felt the hotels were too good, the rental car too comfortable, the tours too interesting!

Even if they didn't express it this way directly, without exception, travelers who were unhappy felt that way because they chose to inappropriately economize on the costs of their vacation.

Here then is the distillation of what I've learned - vicariously from others, and directly from myself.

Our Philosophy - Spend a Little More, not a Little Less

An international vacation is probably the most expensive 'non-tangible' item you'll ever spend money on.  This is not a reason to cut back on all possible costs, for fear that 'you'll have nothing to show for it' - because in reality you will have things to show for it.  You'll have souvenirs, you'll have pictures, and you'll have, most of all, memories.

Instead of saving money for fear of it being wasted, ensure that you spend enough to be certain that the memories you will be acquiring will be good memories.  If you spend too little money, it will be wasted, because you'll end up with a bland and boring travel experience that you quickly forget.  But if you spend a little more, you'll end up with a memorable highlight of your life that you'll treasure and remember forever.

A vacation is supposed to be your personal reward to yourself, and is your entitlement, your return, for all the hours, days and weeks you spend working and leading your normal life.  You save up for a vacation, and taken them only rarely.  So, when you are taking a vacation, make it the positive, rewarding, and memorable experience it should be.

This will usually end up costing you a bit more money, and the purpose of this article series is to help you understand and appreciate that spending more on a vacation is both appropriate and sensible.

The chances are that during your normal life at home, you don't buy the cheapest car, the cheapest bottle of wine, or the cheapest tickets at a concert.  So, please - use the same good sense when planning your vacation as well.

Do I need to add a disclaimer here?  I haven't been paid/bribed by any airline, tour operator, hotel, or destination marketing service to encourage you to spend more money on your travel!  The comments below represent the distillation of what I've seen and learned not just from my personal travel experiences, but from those of the tens of thousands of travelers my travel company helped on their vacations.

The Ultimate Budget Travel Experience?

When I had my travel company, I'd sometimes be confronted by people with such an unrealistic approach to budgeting their vacation that I'd suggest to them the ultimate budget vacation.  This would sometimes make them laugh and help them to better appreciate the issues.

For the ultimate budget travel experience, don't leave home.  Instead, borrow a travel book from the library on the destination you want to experience, rent a travel video about that place, and cook yourself some distinctive regional food.  Then spend an evening reading the book, eating the food, and watching the video.

The total cost of this travel experience?  Probably less than $20.

A Suggested Vacation Budgeting Philosophy

The whole idea of a vacation is that it is a special treat and reward for yourself.  While that doesn't mean you need to abandon good financial sense, it does mean that you're negating the concept of your vacation if you end up staying in places that are less pleasant and comfortable than when you're at home, driving in cars inferior to your car at home, and eating in places with unpleasant food that you'd normally avoid.

And if you go somewhere, but then don't experience the major tourist sights and activities due to their cost, you'll leave unfulfilled and with your experience incomplete.

This is perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind.  Your vacation is intended to be a special treat for yourselves, something you want to enjoy, during which you want to be relaxed and comfortable, and enjoying convenient and pleasant experiences that are different from what you'd have at home, and which have - to a greater or lesser extent - a degree of self indulgence and 'reward' to yourselves.

Of course, we all have very different budgets to work with, but we find there are six reference points to use in determining the appropriateness of travel expenditures :

  • Understand the true cost of each day and hour of your vacation and spend appropriately

  • Spending a little more can sometimes get you a lot more enjoyment, but beware of the 'vanishing returns' where spending a lot more no longer brings matching quality enhancements

  • Balance your time and money constraints

  • You don't have to see and do everything - there's always next time

  • Try to maintain or exceed the same standards that you have at home

  • Ensure you create some special memories

The following pages in this article series consider each of these six points.

Part one of a five part series on how to budget and plan for a vacation.  See also the other articles in this series :

1.  An introduction to the philosophy of travel cost budgeting

2.  Understanding the true cost of your vacation and what this means

3.  Using the true cost figure and knowing when you should spend a little more on travel costs

4.  Balancing the time and cost of your vacation - how less can be more

5.  What quality level to choose, and the importance of including a special highlight in your vacation

 

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Originally published 14 Nov 2008, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
Related Articles
Vacation Budgeting Strategies 1 - Introduction and Overarching Philosophy
Vacation Budgeting 2 - The True Cost of Your Vacation Time
Vacation Budgeting 3 - When to Spend a Little More
Vacation Budgeting 4 - Balancing Time and Cost Constraints
Vacation Budgeting 5 - Spending Enough
Vacation Planning Strategies
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