I came into this world programmed with a whole lot of wanderlust and a knack for low-paying job skills. In my younger years, this paradox wasn’t a problem: my parents generously picked up the tab on family ski vacations and my study abroad. Now that I’m no longer tied to their purse strings, the travel money isn’t lapping in, but the friendly skies haven’t stopped calling.
This fall my husband and I took off for two weeks to France and Italy. When we started planning the trip, I didn’t want to be one of those tightwad, stringent budget-wielding travelers with a minute-by-minute itinerary. But with our limited funds, we couldn’t just traipse off to Europe without a plan and think we’d make it back with money in the bank. So we set out to make a trip budget.
The thing that sucks about budgeting–and why I think we all hate it–is that it’s really difficult to be accurate. As soon as you’ve made an optimistic list for the month on a fresh piece of binder paper, you get a speeding ticket for going 5 over in a school zone (when IT WASN’T EVEN SCHOOL HOURS!), or your textbooks cost you $200 more than you had planned. Then that nice list seems about as useful as water-soaked toilet paper and it’s downhill from there.
To combat this when it came to our trip, we decided to take a simple but aggressive approach to our travel budget: extreme planning.
After booking our flights through expedia.com and reserving places to stay (we found prices comparable to hostels with much better accommodations on airbnb.com), we set out to budget for all the tiny purchases that can add up to a lot on a trip. First came a spreadsheet for sightseeing, which we filled up with the current ticket prices of each place we planned to visit.
By the time we’d covered all the blanks, we knew that in Paris, the museums and monuments we wanted to see would cost us about $250 total. That was a lot more accurate (and came in at less) than our initial approach: “I guess we’ll budget about $45 a day per person on site-seeing?”
For the less concrete costs, we brainstormed every random thing we could think of: metro passes, travel to and from the airport, tips for services, buying two of everything at French pastry shops to feed our American appetites (kidding?), and even minutiae like voltage converters and luggage tags. If we could find any information on costs online, we added it to our tally. If not, we made our best educated guesses. I even looked up menus and pricing for the cafes and restaurants I was salivating over.
Though I did feel totally over-the-top planning down to the current cost of a croque monsieur, it was huge relief to know that we actually had a realistic idea of much the trip would cost.
The best result was that all of the research and planning made it easier to be spontaneous once we were in Paris and Rome. “Eclair or pain au chocolate? Pistachio or almond macaron?” These were the decisions we were left to make, not “Should we spend 30 euros per person for that exhibit?”
Where has your wanderlust taken you and how did you budget for it?