My Summer Vacation Cost $3,000 More Than I Planned. Here's Why

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  • My husband and I traveled to Greece, and lost luggage and trip delays resulted in dozens of unplanned expenses.
  • Having an emergency fund really saved the day, but I wish we'd had more foresight.

Returning to real life never felt so good.

My husband and I traveled to Santorini, Greece for my sister's wedding at the end of June. Sounds fun, right? Yeah…no.

Things started going downhill when the airline lost all our luggage, including my bridesmaid's dress, for the entire trip. And they really took a turn for the worse when flight delays and cancellations forced us to rent a car, drive four hours over an international border, and hire a pilot friend to fly us home through a thunderstorm over Lake Michigan in a rickety, 60-year-old plane. I wish I was joking.

We came away with an unbeatable travel story and also about $3,000 in unexpected and unavoidable bills. Yes, it stung, but I think we handled it about as well as we could. Here's how we managed -- and the one step I really wish we'd taken before we left.

Damage control

The charges from our misadventure accumulated alarmingly fast. First, we had to buy new clothes and toiletries to get us by, then new outfits for the wedding. On the way home, we added hotel stays, taxis, way too much airport food, and an outrageously priced rental car, which happened to be the only one we could find. Then, there was gas for the drive home, plus the cost of our private flight.

From the start, we knew we'd have to rely upon our credit cards since we weren't carrying much cash on us. But we were careful about which cards we used. Since we were in foreign countries for most of our trip, we stuck to using cards that didn't charge foreign transaction fees, so we wouldn't be dinged an extra 3% on every purchase.

When we had the option to compare prices, we did so and we tried to stick to the least expensive choice whenever possible. And we reused as much of our new clothing as we could to cut down on how much we had to buy.

But ultimately, what saved us was our emergency fund. We make sure to keep several months of living expenses in a savings account so we can access it easily. I admit, I never imagined needing it for anything like this, but that's kind of the point. You never know when unexpected costs are going to arise.

Our biggest mistake

In hindsight, I really wish we'd purchased travel insurance before we left. It wouldn't have saved us from a lot of the headaches, but it would've helped soften the financial blow. While we do expect to get some compensation from the airline eventually, it could be months before we see a dime. In the meantime, we're on our own.

Travel insurance could've helped us get reimbursed for some things a lot sooner. These policies vary in terms of coverage, but most cover lost baggage. If you have to buy new clothes in the interim, the insurer will reimburse you for these costs.

Many policies also have trip delay coverage. If you find yourself unable to proceed to your destination due to flight delays or cancellations, like we did, travel insurance typically pays for food, hotel, and transportation costs incurred as a result of that delay.

There are limits on how much a travel insurer will pay and there are sometimes waiting periods on this coverage, so it's important to read the policy carefully to understand what you're getting. And if you decide to buy a policy and you later have questions, contact the travel insurer and ask before handing over any money.

I sincerely hope no one ever goes through what my husband and I went through, but these days, travel is more unpredictable than usual. So if you have any trips coming up, think about getting some travel insurance and make sure you have a plan for what you'll do if you're forced to make unexpected purchases along the way. Trust me, the time you spend planning now could be well worth it later.

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