When I’m doing a trip that is not all-inclusive, my budget tends to break down into three large chunks- transportation, lodging, and everything else.

Transportation- On my last several trips, this has been the largest piece of my budget. It usually ends up being around 33% to 50% of the total cost of the trip. Transportation includes everything from plane and train tickets, rental cars, and the cost of using a mass-transit system. Whenever I’m trying to figure out if I can afford to go somewhere, this is the piece that I try to figure out first. I do have some tricks that I use to keep the cost down. One is the time of week that I travel on. Plane tickets tend to be the cheapest on the slowest days of the week- Tuesday and Wednesday. Another way is by traveling during the low or shoulder seasons of the year, which varies by destination. Not only will I save on flights, but the destination will usually be less crowded too.

If I’m traveling by train in the US, I can save on the cost by booking the train ticket as far out in advance as possible. Amtrak uses a bucket system where they will sell tickets at the cheapest price first. Once the tickets in that bucket are sold out, Amtrak then moves to the next-cheapest bucket and so on until all the tickets are sold. Which means if I wait until the last minute to buy a ticket, I’m probably going to end up buying one of their most expensive tickets for that route.

I also try to use mass transit as much as possible and avoid taxis and rental cars. Taxis especially are very expensive for me since I’m usually traveling alone.

The next chunk is lodging. This is usually the second-largest expense for me after transportation. I do manage to keep my costs down by either staying with friends or in a hostel whenever possible. Several websites like Expedia and Orbitz offer package deals where you can book a hotel and flight together and save money. However, I haven’t had much luck booking a package deal as I’ve always managed to make cheaper arrangements on my own.

The last category is “everything else”. This includes food, admission fees, souvenirs, etc. For me, I keep costs low in this area because I enjoy walking around and visiting parks and such. My biggest splurge is usually just a nice dinner somewhere. Before a trip, I do some research into any places or events that will be taking place that offer free or low admission. In most cities, this include things like historical landmarks and museums. I’m not big on buying souvenirs- they normally just become more clutter in my apartment. I do like stopping into a dollar store and picking up some small trinket that represents the trip to me. This has included everything from a Quebec flag from Montreal; a Chinese dragon hanging from San Francisco; to a small dragon figurine from the Chinatown in Vancouver.

For my upcoming trip to Boston, airfare is likely going to be my largest expense again. Lodging is free as a friend is letting me crash at his place for the weekend. In return, I plan to buy him several meals throughout the weekend, which will raise my “everything else” costs. But since Boston is full of historical landmarks and fun places to walk around like Harvard, I won’t be spending much on anything else.

What’s in your travel budget?

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