Is it possible to travel on a budget, and still have the time of your life? Absolutely!

Am I great at it? Definitely not. Ha! Jordan and I are notorious budget-busters when traveling. We like to let loose and live a little…too much. I mean, every single food truck deserves at least a taste, right? How else would we know that the breakfast tacos at the Waco farmer’s market are so good they make you want to cry, or that the best lobster roll in Maine is made in a tiny truck parked outside the Portland Head Light?

However, since we love to travel and we want to do it as frequently as possible, we have to make a choice. We could do one big trip every couple years and go all out, or we could take many more trips…and actually stick to a budget. Honestly, traveling with a family of six is just not cheap anyways. In order to make it happen, we have had to learn how to plan our finances ahead of time and then actually stick to our plan while on the road.

how to travel on a budget graphic

The good news is, traveling simply and cheaply does NOT mean missing out. I actually believe you experience more of life this way, and you build more lasting, meaningful memories.

I’m going to walk you through the system we have developed to plan our finances for traveling and stick to a budget while on the road. Everyone likes to travel differently, so don’t take these as hard-and-fast rules! It’s just what works for us at the moment, and hopefully it will spark some good ideas of your own. With every trip we take, we bend and tweak our own system to fit our needs at the time!


1. Save Ahead of Time

I talked more extensively about this in my post, 4 Great Ways to Save For Travel. Basically, you need to set up a separate travel savings account and contribute to it every month, no matter how small or large the amount. And then, do not touch it. Your travel savings is sacred! You can also save up in other ways. We always put part of our tax return towards ours!

2. Take a Look at Your Regular Budget

We follow a pretty careful budget every month, with our finances divided up between utilities, groceries, clothing, etc. So when we plan out our trips, we take this money into account, too. If we’ll be gone for a week, we factor in a quarter of the month’s budget for groceries, gas, eating out, etc. and add that to what we can spend on our trip. If our trip will be two weeks, we can use half of that month’s budget in those categories, and so on. This always adds quite a bit to the funds we have available to spend on our trip!

3. Divide Your Travel Funds into Categories

Once you know how much money you’re going to have for your trip, it’s time to decide how you want to spend it! This is the fun part, because you get to decide what matters most to you.

How much will you spend on lodging? Do you want a lush resort where you can relax, or are you perfectly happy with the cheap motel, because you won’t be spending much time there anyways? What about food? Do you like to sample the local cuisine like we do, or are you okay living off peanut butter and jelly the whole time? (Hint: We do both!) Will you be spending much on things like museums, attractions, state park fees and activities, or will you be parked on the beach with a good book the whole trip? How much will you need for transportation–gas, rental cars, airplane tickets, etc.

Figure out how much you’ll need for each category and make a list!

I highly recommend writing this all down in a small notebook you can bring along with you, or keeping it in a note on your phone. I have a travel journal that I use for our budget, packing lists, ideas for activities and sights we want to see, meal plans for the trip, and anything else I can think to write down! It helps me stay organized, and ensures we have all the information we need in one place. It’s also a great place to write down a bucket list of things you want to make happen, like I did here:

notebook with bucket list and seashells

4. Keep Track of Your Expenses While on Your Trip

I know, this is NOT the fun part. You’re on vacation…who wants to be thinking of things like finances? Well, first, if your mindset is that travel is LIFE, not just a vacation, then there’s nothing at all unusual about paying attention to your budget! Mindset is everything, my friends.

I promise finances do not have to be a consuming part of your trip, and they most certainly should not be something you worry about.

Jordan and I plan to spend 5-10 minutes looking over our budget every three days or so while on a trip. This can be something we do while the kids are watching a movie, after they go to bed, or even while driving in the car. It’s not a big time commitment, but it gives us a lot of peace of mind, knowing we’re on track with our spending. Or, if we have gone over on our expenses, it shows us that we need to chill our passionate local-cuisine foodie selves, and just drink cheap coffee for crying out loud. (Are you seeing the patterns of where we tend to spend money while traveling?)

We use an awesome budgeting app called YNAB, short for You Need A Budget, for our regular finances. We have that plus our banking apps on our phones, which makes it quick and easy to keep track of what we’ve spent on a trip. But if you’re not into all that technology stuff (I always tell Jordan that if he ever dares die without me, I will put all our money in one bank account and keep track of our finances in a college-ruled notebook!), you can keep it simple. Keep receipts in your glove box, jot down what you’ve spent in your notebook, or even just take it all out in cash so you know exactly what you’ve spent and how much you have left. You do what works for you.

stack of notebooks with financial notes

And there you have it. Does it take more planning and preparation to travel on a budget? Definitely. But again, mindset is everything. In our daily lives, we work, we budget, we live (mostly) responsibly. We can do all of that from home, or we can continue to do the same while seeing the world, making memories, meeting fascinating people, and watching our children grow and learn in the real world.

If travel is a priority for you, as I sense it is if you are reading this blog, you learn how to make travel happen. I write with the hope that our blunders, experiences, successes, and hard-learned lessons will make your journey just a little easier.

We have plans to travel A LOT over this coming spring and summer, and, um, our travel savings is not too beefy right now. So I am going to be really digging into this travel budget concept, and learning how to make things work! I hope you’ll follow along as we happily, chaotically see the world together.

What ways do you plan finances for your travels? I’d love your ideas!

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with YNAB, and am receiving no compensation for my recommendation. 

More posts you might like:
Beginning Early – Traveling with Young Kids
How to Not Settle Down – Staying Adventurous after Marriage and Kids
Minimalist Packing for Traveling with Kids