4 Reasons My Vacations Often Cost More Than Expected

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  • Despite budgeting beforehand, I often end up spending more on travel than expected.
  • While overspending hasn't forced me into debt so far, it's something I need to be careful with.
  • Enjoying local food rather than cooking, treating my kids, and exploring without an itinerary have all led to higher vacation costs.

Does the same thing tend to happen to you?

I'm the sort of person who pays attention to what I'm spending. Not only do I stick to a monthly budget, but I make a point to map out a budget for every vacation my family takes. That way, I can try to work more ahead of time and divert those extra funds toward travel to avoid landing in debt.

Now thankfully, I've yet to accrue a credit card balance I couldn't pay in full as a result of a vacation. But have I gone over budget in the course of traveling? That would be a resounding "yes."

In fact, more often than not, I find that the amount of money I end up spending on travel is more than I've budgeted for. So I did some thinking and have discovered that these are the four main reasons why.

1. I have a hard time saying no to my kids

Please believe me when I say that my kids aren't spoiled. They help out around the house, they really only get gifts on their birthdays or during the holidays, and they don't tend to make unreasonable demands when it comes to wanting new stuff. (When it comes to staying up until midnight on a school night or requesting junk food for dinner, that's a different story.)

As such, when we're on vacation, I don't like to say no when my kids ask if they can buy a modest souvenir or if we can stop at a cute-looking candy store (even though we have access to lower-cost candy at our local Costco or supermarket). To me, part of being on vacation is indulging a little. And so I tend to incur small but meaningful costs that didn't necessarily make it into my travel budget initially.

2. It's easier to cook in my own kitchen than in a rental home kitchen

These days, when we travel, we rarely stay at a hotel. It's easier for my family to spread out in a private vacation rental, and since we have a dog, renting a private home often means getting to bring him along.

Because we tend to wind up in rental homes with a full kitchen, I often underestimate our food budget by assuming I'll do a lot of cooking. Only I've realized I can't remember the last time I actually cooked in a kitchen that isn't my own.

The reality is that it can be tricky to get used to a new kitchen. And when I'm on vacation, I don't always want to make a pit stop at the supermarket or go rummaging through someone else's cabinets for the right pots and pans. But because I tend to assume I'll cook more, I often bust my vacation budget when my family inevitably ends up eating most of our meals out.

3. I love sampling local food

Along the lines of misjudging my food costs on vacation, I happen to enjoy sampling local dishes and checking out the best bakeries, cafes, and ice cream shops in town. And so I often end up spending more on food because exploring local eateries actually serves as entertainment for me.

4. I like going off the beaten path

Budgeting for entertainment while away is somewhat easy if you're going to a place like Disney World, because chances are, your theme park tickets will be your sole expense in the "staying busy" category. Because my family likes visiting random places, we don't always know what entertainment is available to us until we get there. As a result, I'll often end up spending more than anticipated.

Lesson learned

At this point, it's pretty clear that I have to start padding my per-trip travel budget. But I'd rather do that than keep overspending and scrambling after the fact (namely, by dipping into my savings).

Now that I'm more aware of the above factors, I can account for them and compensate in other ways, like renting a slightly less expensive home to keep that cost down. Or, I can push myself to save more in advance of my trips to buy us more leeway. Either solution seems reasonable to me -- as long as it means getting to enjoy our vacations to the fullest.

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