It's Late January — Time to Start Thinking About Spring and Summer Plans
Explore budget travel tips and a timeline charting when to find the best deals.
January 21, 2022
The new year can be a smart time to start planning your trips for the next twelve months, especially if you plan to travel during spring break or over the summer. These are popular times of the year when prices may be higher than usual — the average summer vacation costs $1,979 — so it can be smart to set a travel budget and start saving early.
Here’s a look at some budget travel tips to help you keep your expenses down, plus a travel timeline to keep you on top of the best deals.
Budget travel tips for your next trip
When making plans to save for a trip, the first step to take is examining your at-home budget. If you don’t already have a budget at home, it's well worth your time to make one. Start by tallying your totally monthly income from your salary and any freelance sources.
Next, make a list of all your necessary expenses, such as:
Average grocery bills
Subtract your necessary expenses from your income to get your discretionary spending. This is the pool of money you can draw from to save for a trip. You may need to trim other discretionary expenses to ensure you have enough to put away for travel.
Once you know where the money you’ll be saving is coming from, you can start building out a travel budget so you know how much to save. Consider using one of the ready-made travel budget templates available online.
Research the cost of flights to your destination. Because spring break and summer are popular times, flights may be a bit more expensive than usual — in 2021, the most expensive months to travel were March and June — so it can pay to look for cheap ways to travel. For example, if you can be flexible with your dates, you may be able to find cheaper flights. Also, the day you travel makes a difference. As a rule of thumb, airfare on Tuesday and Wednesday is the cheapest, while the most expensive days are Fridays and Sundays.
Additionally, if there are multiple airports in your area, be sure to check out prices at all of them to see which offer the cheapest flights. Set airfare alerts on booking sites to let you know when prices are affordable.
You may also want to explore sites that alert you to travel deals like Scott’s Cheap Flights or Matt’s Flights, especially if you’re flexible about your destination.
Be sure to consider how you’ll get around your destination once you arrive. Will you need to rent a car? If so, be sure to budget for rental fees, gas, and insurance. Rental car prices have surged as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused supply shortages. As a result, you might want to consider traveling to areas with good public transit.
If you’re traveling to a country with a good rail system, including many European countries or Japan, you might consider getting a rail pass, such as a Eurail Pass. For a set price, these passes can offer unlimited travel by train for a specific period of time, such as 10 days. Travel budgeters who use these systems may be less likely to be surprised by unforeseen transportation expenses
When booking a hotel, compare multiple booking sites. Some may offer deals or rewards for booking a certain number of nights with them. For example, Hotels.com members can receive a free night for every 10 days they book with the site.
Compare hotels to other options for lodging such as houses or apartments on Airbnb, which may be cheaper than hotels. Renting a house may also allow you to save by cooking some meals at home. That said, if you’re renting a home, you may end up staying in a residential neighborhood, which can have an impact on your transportation needs. It might require you to rent a car, for example.
If you’ve got an adventurous streak, throwing a couple of nights of camping into your vacation can be a great way to keep expenses down. This, of course, may be a better option if you’re taking a cross-country road trip than if you were to stay in a city. If tents and sleeping pads aren’t up your alley, but you’re still a fan of the great outdoors, you may also consider seeking lodging in national and state parks that offer affordable cabins.
As you budget for lodging expenses be sure you understand the taxes and fees that will be charged on top of nightly rates.
Food and drink
The price of food varies widely from place to place, so do a bit of research about restaurants at your destination before you go. Avoiding eating out for every meal can help you keep a tighter budget. Consider doing some grocery shopping for breakfast and lunch foods, for example, that you can eat or prepare in your hotel room and take on the go.
Consider other travel expenses that can add up, from entrance fees to museums to paying for cell phone coverage in a foreign country. Continue keeping your eye out for ways to save. For example, if you’re traveling abroad, consider buying a prepaid SIM card for your phone, which may be cheaper than turning on cellular data through your home carrier.
Once you’ve got a good idea of what each component of your trip will cost, total your potential expenses. Then work toward saving this amount.
Research pays off
Be diligent about researching your trip and potential costs, that way you can be strategic about the ways in which you can save and what expenses you’ll splurge on.
For example, if you take a cheaper, later flight, will you land after public transportation has shut down, forcing you to take an expensive taxi or Uber ride? Are restaurants near the hotel you’ve chosen pricey? If so, it might be worth looking for lodging in a different part of town where you won’t be forced to pay higher prices for food. Mapping out these details in advance can help you eliminate unnecessary costs that arise from having no other alternative.
You’ll of course have to start booking your travel well in advance of your travel date. However, if you plan to travel a fews months down the road, you may save more if you make some strategic purchases closer to your departure date. Here’s a travel timeline to help you understand when to purchase each part of your trip.
Right away: Book your hotel early. As soon as you know your destination and dates, consider booking a room that you can cancel without penalty. Then keep an eye on prices. If they drop, cancel your initial reservation and rebook at the cheaper price.
Two months in advance: On average, the cheapest time to buy an airline ticket is 64 days before your travel date. That said, because this figure represents an average, it may not be true for every trip. So start keeping an eye on flights a week or two in advance of the two-month mark.
Two to three months in advance: You can buy a Eurail pass up to 11 months before the beginning of your trip. Trains in Europe start to book up two to three months ahead of departure dates, so book these early.
Three to six months in advance: Prices on rental cars tend to be most competitive in the three to six month window before you travel. Any farther in advance and prices may actually be a bit higher.
Savings for your travel goal
If you’re planning to travel in the spring or summer, you’ll likely have three to eight months to save the money to cover your travel expenses. If you already have some money set aside and earmarked for travel, great. If not, figure out how much you’ll need to save each week to meet your goal.
For example, if you’ll need $2,000 to cover a summer trip that’s six months away, you’ll need to save about $83 per week. Consider having that amount automatically sent to a special savings account each week or after each paycheck. That way you won’t accidentally dip into your travel savings to cover another expense.
Do your best to stick within your travel budget so you can avoid credit card debt as you pay for your trip. It may even be smart to include a small emergency fund in your budget that you can tap if you find yourself in a pinch.
If credit card debt is putting a damper on your ability to save for travel and other goals, you can consider Tally†, a credit card repayment tool to help you pay off your debt quickly and efficiently.
†To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. The APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% and 29.99% per year and will be based on your credit history. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 - $300.