The Best Way to Decrease Your Travel Budget

man holding wallet to pay for travel incidentalsTraveling is expensive. We get it. You have to book flights, make hotel reservations, secure transportation, buy a new travel outfit (or five), set aside money to try local restaurants, and more. If you’re looking to decrease the cost of your next trip and lower your overall travel budget, we recommend taking a hard look at all of the incidentals that creep into your travel expenses without your knowing. These expenses are often thought to be “just part of traveling,” but the more you understand your common travel incidentals, the better you’ll be able to notice how much they add up. Here’s how to find small ways to chip away at those incidentals to travel cheaper.

What Are Incidental Expenses?

Incidental expenses, or travel incidentals, are small expenditures associated with travel. These expenses are part of travel and entertainment costs that a person most likely will come across due to basic travel needs. Try to think of a few small costs right off the bat. Do you normally tip your Uber driver? How about tipping after a meal? Your morning coffee? These are all considered incidental expenses.

Business travel incidentals get even more granular depending on your job position because you may travel more, accruing more expenses such as Wi-Fi/internet costs, laundry services while traveling, and even international travel costs when applying for visas, international driving permits, etc. Typically, incidentals are reimbursed by your company when traveling for business, but you’d hate to exceed your per diem with unexpected costs.

Cutting back on incidental expenses also benefits you when taking personal vacations because it helps you decrease your travel budget, allowing for more experiences, and best of all—more fun. Here are some common incidental costs to plan for ahead of time, so they don’t add up during your next trip.

1. Rental Car Insurance

Be careful when it comes to car rental insurance. Some drivers may actually need it, but keep in mind that many credit cards or auto insurance providers include rental coverage. Prices for a loss damage waiver depend on the vehicle and rental company. A loss damage waiver is a product offered by car rental companies to auto renters that waives a renter’s financial responsibility for loss or damage to the rental car. On average, you can expect to pay $10 to $30 per day. But check with your credit card or auto insurance plan beforehand so you’re not buying insurance you already have.

2. Unnecessary Transportation Costs

If you’re not renting a car or driving your personal vehicle, transportation can get expensive when you add up everywhere you need to go. Make an effort to plan your day effectively and decide if you can either take public transportation, such as a shuttle or the subway, to get where you need to go from your hotel. You may even be able to walk or partake in an Uber Pool or Shared Lyft (which are shared rides that are discounted from regular fares) to get where you need to go throughout the day. If it’s doable, skip the valet parking to save yourself that extra $10 to cut back on parking costs at your hotel or while dining out.

3. Meals and Beverages

Saving some extra money on meals is probably the easiest way to cut back on incidentals while traveling. Instead of eating out every meal, stop by a grocery store and stock up on easy breakfast and lunch foods. Think fruit, granola bars, bread, and sandwich meat for meals on the go. Consider choosing a hotel that provides breakfast so you can start your day with a free, hot breakfast to hold you over until lunch. Trust us, it all adds up!

4. Baggage Fees

Although it may be difficult, try doing carry-ons only for your trip to cut back on baggage fees. If you tend to overpack, we have a minimalist packing guide that can help you focus on the essentials. If you must check a bag, you can cash in those mileage points for free checked bags. Many hotel co-branded credit cards will earn you travel rewards. Plus, they are a good way to save some extra money in your travel budget.

5. Tips and Gratuities

Tips are also considered incidental charges, so keep that in mind when you’re dining out, tipping your bellhop, housekeeper, driver, etc. Ask if tips are already included in your hotel charge (sometimes a gratuity is already included in your bill for baggage and room service). Also, read up on international tipping guidelines. For example, tipping isn’t expected when dining out in some countries, such as Italy.

6. Hotel Fees

Though many hotels now provide free internet, you may have to pay a premium for high-speed connections. Most hotel loyalty members get free high-speed Wi-Fi just for signing up. This is just one of the free perks you can get when you become a loyalty member.

Other hotel fees may include dipping into your hotel room’s minibar or enjoying the always-tantalizing snacks on the desk. (Why do gummy bears always seem so much more enticing when they’re sitting in your hotel room?) You may also want a night in to order a pizza and watch TV in your hotel room. Did you accidentally spill something on your dress shirt? Laundry services are also considered an incidental fee.

7. ATM Fees

ATM fees are easy to avoid when you plan ahead. You can either take out the amount of money you’ll need before you make the trip, or you can map out where your bank’s ATMs are located near where you’re staying using Google Maps or your bank’s website or mobile app. Most banks don’t charge fees if you use their ATM, so if you can find an ATM tied to your bank this is definitely the way to go. However, if one isn’t available or nearby, some banks offer refunds for ATM fees incurred at non-affiliated ATMs.

8. Gas

Let’s say you’re using your personal vehicle for a trip—you can minimize the amount of gas you use by being smart about it. Map out exactly where you plan to go so you’re not having to turn around as much. You can even plan your day so you can park centrally and walk to your daily activities.

If you’re renting a car, always ask about what extra fees are included if they fill the gas tank back up when you drop it off. It’s almost always cheaper to fill the tank up yourself before heading back to the rental car property.

9. Tour and Activity Costs

You may budget for things that are a “must-see,” but there might be some tours or activities you may stumble upon and really want to do. Do some quick research to see if you can find that same tour for cheaper with a different company, or even look it up on Groupon for discounted experiences. 

10. Souvenirs

Souvenirs seem like a good idea at the time, but these items mostly go unused or are shoved in a box in the attic. So, before you blow $20 on fancy spoons, magnets, or T-shirts, think about if that item you’re about to buy is absolutely necessary. If you’re looking for a way to remember your trip, consider framing a special photo from your adventures instead.

11. Emergency Items

Unexpected items like heartburn medicine after a spicy meal or sunscreen don’t necessarily break your budget. But often, these items purchased at convenience stores (or worse, from the airport or hotel gift shop!) will be more expensive than if you would have brought it from home, so keep these in mind when you’re packing to cut back on additional purchases.

Setting a Budget to Plan for Travel Incidentals

It’s OK to nerd out and create a travel budget spreadsheet to keep with your itinerary. If you need some help, here’s a list of budget planning apps to get you started.  Have an idea of what you want to spend per day and make a list for every expected expense.

Setting a travel budget will help you have a better understanding of what each day will cost you during your trip. Then you can start planning ahead to minimize any extra incidental expenses we talked about earlier.

At Roomkey, we can help you find the perfect hotel that suits your needs. Our easy hotel search functionality allows you to filter by location, so you’re saving on transportation by booking near your activities, as well as filter by free amenities such as Wi-Fi and breakfast. Also, when you book through Roomkey, you’ll save on expenses by getting lower hotel loyalty member rates. As always, our goal is to show you exactly what you’re looking for and help your budget along the way.