Vacation should be a time to kick back, relax. But don’t let the carefree attitude spread to your wallet, which can lead to teeth-gnashing stress when the tan has started to fade and the bills have begun to arrive.

One way to keep stress at bay even after you come home is creating a vacation budget that sets spending priorities and limits. It helps you keep track of what you’re buying and how much you can afford. Here are some tips to get you going:

1.  Start early

Planning your vacation ahead of time, and crafting a budget for it well before you go, is crucial. It starts with figuring out how much you can afford for the trip, including all the expenses, not just transportation and lodging. You have to figure what you may spend on things like food, entertainment and shopping. Try to be conservative in your budget, to leave room for unexpected expenses.

Once you’ve created a spending plan you’re comfortable with, pack a pocket-sized notebook on your travels to record day-to-day expenses. This way, you can monitor your spending to check it against your budget.

2. Cut food costs

If you’re having trouble finding ways to stay on budget, food can be an easy target.

Fewer fancy restaurant meals, inexpensive breakfast and lunch options and a prohibition on ordering room service all offer good ways to trim the fat.

Ask around your vacation destination to find inexpensive sandwich shops or cafes – most likely the locals don’t frequent high-priced venues geared to tourists. If you do dine out, consider taking any leftovers away for the next day’s lunch.

Look for hotel rooms with kitchen facilities, or even just a small refrigerator and a microwave. Free ice packed into a cheap cooler can let you store fresh fruit, milk, juice and other perishables if there isn’t a fridge. A microwave oven can work wonders, even at dinnertime. Stock up on snacks that won’t spoil like nuts, granola or chips. If you drive to your vacation spot, buy as much as you can carry with you at a low-cost market near home. Bringing along a filter-equipped water bottle can let you stay hydrated without buying a lot of drinks.

3. Save on transportation

 Are you flying to your destination? If so, try to travel light to avoid baggage fees, and be aware of TSA regulations to avoid checking a bag at the last second. If a piece of checked luggage is over a certain weight, you might face an additional fee. What’s more, some airlines now charge extra for each bag you carry on board.

Once at your vacation spot, use public transportation as much as possible instead of renting a car or taking taxis. If you’re staying near a spot you want to visit, try walking or renting a bicycle. If you really need to rent a car, try to get one with the best fuel economy. Often, fuel prices overseas or in places like New York are much higher than you may be accustomed to paying.

4. Save on lodging      

Avoid brand-name hotels. You may find a less-expensive alternative through online services such as Airbnb or HomeAway, which connect travelers to local residents and landlords looking to rent out homes, apartments and even single rooms. Other less-costly alternatives may include hostels, bed-and-breakfast inns and roadside motels.

5. Use cash when you can

Setting aside a daily cash allowance is a great idea, as it encourages you to stick to your budget. Keep the money for each day of your trip separate from the rest, and try not to spend any more than the day’s allotment. And don’t just take out cash from any ATM – check and see if your credit union offers you access to free ATM networks. Be sure to monitor your checking account frequently to ensure that you are not overspending.

Having a good time on vacation won’t set you up for months of stress later on if you follow a few simple steps like these. 


Steve Nicastro, NerdWallet