How to stay within your budget while on vacation

By Jackie Lam

Reviewed by Kimberly Rotter

Jun 07, 2023

Read time: 3 min

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So you're on vacation. And you want to indulge. Why wouldn’t you? You work hard. You deserve to play hard. You are on a personal holiday, after all. 

Hold up. 

It's easy to put everything on your credit card when you’re on a vacay—we've all been there! And with inflation and the rising costs of airfare and hotels, you might feel even more pressed to do so. 

But if your current budget doesn’t have room to pay off the balance when you return, guess what? You could be setting yourself up for disappointment—not to mention spiraling into a debt vortex. 

Let's talk about ways to watch your spending while you're on vacation. That way, the fun won’t be dampened by regrets. 

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Save before you vacation 

Plan on everything costing a little more than it did last year. Do your best to stash some cash into your vacation fund before you go on your trip. Every dollar is a dollar less that you’ll need to put on your credit card. 

As the saying goes: The more you save today, the less you need to put on credit tomorrow. (OK, we just made that up, but you get the drift.) 

Set up a vacation fund, and put as much as you can in there pre-travel. Better yet, automate your savings. Set aside a certain amount each week. 

Find ways to save on your trip costs

You can still have an amazing time and stay within your budget. How? Look for ways to keep it FYF (Frugal Yet Fun) while you vacation. 

If you're staying in a place with a kitchen or even a microwave and fridge, buy groceries instead of restaurant meals. Enjoy simple meals for breakfast, and pack snacks for on the go. Check out the local markets for unique ingredients you can mash up into say, your breakfast oatmeal or your yogurt and fruit mix. This strategy leaves room for splurging on a few dinners, if you so desire. 

Another way you shave off some dollars? Find free or low-cost activities. Free concerts, natural landmarks and parks, and farmer's markets are great places to start. Plus, many museums have a free day. You just have to find out when.

Set spending limits each day. Once that money is gone—that's it for the day. Since you're on holiday, add a bit of padding to your usual daily "OK to spend" amount. That gives you room to embark on a spontaneous mini-adventure when an opportunity arises.

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Pay with actual money

It's far easier to spend, spend, spend when you're whipping out plastic left and right to pay for everything on your trip. If you travel to another country, pick up some local currency. If you’re staying in the old U.S. of A., use cash. Cash makes it easier to keep a handle on exactly how much you're spending. 

Tip: Steer clear from exchange currency shops and airport kiosks where you can exchange currency. While convenient, they can charge you a lot more than swapping currency at your bank.

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Use a card with no foreign transaction fee 

Using a credit card while on vacation is a no-brainer. If you're traveling outside the U.S., be mindful of foreign transaction fees, which are charges you pay for transactions in other currencies. On average, these fees range from 1% to 3% of each credit card transaction. While that doesn't sound like a ton of money, those fees can add up fast. Opt for a credit card without a foreign transaction fee. Otherwise, use cash. 

Set up credit card alerts 

Push notifications on your phone are like the good angel on your shoulder. They're there to remind you not to let your spending get out of hand while on vacation. You can set up alerts for every purchase you make in-store, over the phone, or online, or for things you buy over X amount. 

Traveling this summer can get pricey. But that doesn't mean you need to pile on credit card debt like there's no tomorrow. Be frugal, plan ahead, and be mindful of your spending to steer clear from post-vacation debt.

Jackie Lam - Author

Jackie is an Achieve contributor. She is an accredited financial coach (AFC®) who has written for Business Insider, BuzzFeed, CNET, USA Today's Blueprint, and others. She coaches artists and freelancers.

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Kimberly is Achieve’s senior editor. She is a financial counselor accredited by the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education®, and a mortgage expert for The Motley Fool. She owns and manages a 350-writer content agency.

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