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Keep your vacation budget under control

Be realistic about how much you can spend and stick to a plan.

Updated

It’s not uncommon to wake up at the end of a vacation and discover a massive credit card bill. There are ways to avoid this, however. Just be sure to travel on a strict budget.

In order to control overspending, take a look at our guide on how to keep your holiday money under control.

How to manage your vacation expenses

You need to be aware of your financial situation and make you’re sticking to your spending limits. Here are a few things you can do to ensure you won’t spend like a rockstar:

  1. Set a realistic budget.
    There’s no point in setting a budget you can’t keep. Set a budget that seems manageable once you take a look at your finances and think about how much you spent the last vacation.
  2. Remember your numbers.
    People tend to forget about their financial situation while on vacation and have an “I’ll deal with it later” attitude — this is how debt happens. Organize your budget and check it regularly to see how your credit cards and bank accounts are holding up.
  3. Make plans and stick to them.
    If you’re planning a day out with family or friends, organize how much you’re going to spend beforehand. Check your bank accounts online so your financial situation is fresh in your mind and you’ll be less likely to overspend.
  4. Travel on airline miles.
    An airline credit card lets you earn miles on your purchases, which you can redeem for flights and seat upgrades. Depending on your spending habits, you can earn enough miles for a round trip within the US.
  5. Use points at hotels.
    An alternative or an addition to an airline card would be a hotel credit card. This type of card rewards your spending with points you can use for hotel stays. Plus with some cards, you can get an additional night when you redeem four or more reward nights at particular hotel brands.
  6. Travel off-peak.
    Avoiding the high season when traveling on a budget could be a solid way to save some money. This also applies to airline mile redemption. However, check the seasonality of your destination as it varies from one location to another.
  7. Travel light.
    Unlike checked baggage, it’s usually free to bring a carry-on bag on the plane. If you do multiple flights, the cost of checked bags will add up. Avoid this by traveling light or by getting an airline credit card that comes with a free-checked-bag perk.
  8. Avoid taxis if possible.
    Instead, opt-in for public transportation. If the location you visit offers ridesharing services, it may also be cheaper than taxis. And if you have a credit card with top rewards on Uber, you can earn points and then redeem them for travel rewards.
  9. Travel insurance.
    If purchasing an individual travel insurance policy seems expensive, consider a credit card with travel insurance. Depending on the card, you can get travel accident insurance, trip cancelation reimbursement, lost luggage insurance, delayed baggage reimbursement and more.
  10. Consider a credit card with a purchase rate offer.
    Credit cards with a 0% intro APR period are a great option for vacation as they can let you make purchases during a promotional period without accumulating interest. The key thing to remember with these cards is to pay back all of the money you owe before the promotional period ends. Vacation cards can also help you stretch your funds.
  11. Consider a balance transfer.
    Another option worth considering is balance transfer credit cards. A balance transfer involves moving the debt from one credit card to another one without interest for a promotional period that can last up to 21 months.

Spending habits to avoid on vacation

There are some things that make sticking to a budget difficult. Here are some things to avoid when trying to save over the holidays.

  • Shopping in a mood.
    Never go grocery shopping when you are hungry, right? If you know that a mood will make you forget about your budget, do yourself a favor and avoid frivolous spending.
  • Shopping with someone who doesn’t care about your budget.
    Only you’re aware of your financial situation and budget. Don’t let someone who doesn’t care about your budget be a bad influence on your spending habits.
  • Getting carried away at a sale.
    Sales can be a great place to save money, but it also poses the threat of overspending. If you’re planning on going to a sale, avoid impulse purchases and stick to your budget.

Compare travel money options

When traveling on a budget, it’s important to compare your travel money options to find the best solution for your needs.

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Foreign transaction fee Welcome offer Rewards Filter values
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
None
60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, a value of up to $750 through Chase Ultimate Rewards
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
Earn a signup bonus worth $750 with this popular travel card. Combine with other Chase Ultimate Rewards cards for even greater value.
American Express® Gold Card
None
60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
3x points on directly-booked flights; 4x at restaurants; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 annually (then 1x points)
Earn up to 4x points on select purchases, a bevy of travel perks, and a welcome offer worth up to $600 with this upper-mid tier travel card. Rates & fees
Petal® 2
None
N/A
Up to 10% cash back from select merchants, on other purchases earn 1% back, 1.25% after six on-time payments and 1.5% after 12 on-time payments
Build your credit with rewards and no fees: Apply if you're new to credit or have a fair to good score of 600 or higher. See if you prequalify with no impact to your score.
Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi
None
N/A
4% at gas stations on up to $7,000 annually (then 1%), 3% at restaurants and on travel, 2% at Costco and 1% on all other purchases
An impressive cashback card that offers up to 4% back on everyday purchases like gas, travel and dining all for the cost of a Costco membership.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
None
50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
10x points on Lyft rides, 3x points on dining and travel after earning your $300 travel credit and 1x points on all other purchases
Get a generous $300 in annual travel credits, 3x points on travel and dining, and a 50% bonus on point redemptions with Chase's premier card.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Name Product Fee ATMs ATM transaction fee Out-of-network ATM fee ATM fee rebates Foreign transaction fee
HSBC Premier Checking
$50 per month
Free to use at all ATMs in the US
$0
$0
0%
Get a 3% cash bonus, up to $600 (max. $100 per month) during first six months after account opening. Must open HSBC Premier checking account through offer page by September 30, 2020, and set up qualifying direct deposits into the new account. Conditions apply. Deposit products are offered in the US by HSBC Bank USA, N.A. Member FDIC.
Chime Spending account
$0 per month
38,000 fee-free ATMs nationwide
$0
$2.50
0%
Get rid of fees with this mobile-first bank offering consumer-friendly accounts. Chime can also help you save easily and access your paycheck faster.
SoFi Money
$0 per month
$0
$0
SoFi will reimburse ATM fees charged by other institutions when it is used at any ATM displaying the Visa, Plus, or NYCE logo.
0%
SoFi Money® is a cash management account that charges no account fees to save, spend, and earn cash back rewards when you spend on brands you love.
Lili
$0 per month
32,000 fee-free ATMs nationwide
$0
$2.50
0%
A checking account designed for freelancers with no account fees and no minimum balance.
Novo
$0 per month
Novo doesn't charge ATM fees and will reimburse any non-network fees you incur
$0
$0
Refunds all ATM fees
0%
A low-fee online checking account designed for small businesses and startups, but you won’t be able to deposit cash.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Our pick for a prepaid travel card
Travelex Money Card

Bottom line

Traveling on a budget is possible. But you have to take several aspects into consideration, including choosing the right travel money option. This factor can be the most important one. Check out our travel money pro tips for more help managing your money during your next vacation.

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