How to Budget for a Vacation or Trip from Canada

Ah, the beauty of planning your next trip.

Picturing yourself waltzing the streets of a place you have yet to explore is always exciting.

But that excitement quickly turns into flutters of anxiety as you think about the large dent the trip is going to put in your wallet.

What if it didn’t have to be that way?

Sure, free trips won’t be coming our way anytime soon (unless you’ve gathered enough credit card points) – but by planning your trip and creating a budget, you can help prevent overspending and anxiety.

In this article, we’ll walk you through creating a budge for your trip, so you can embark on your next adventure stress-free.

1. Transportation to Destination

Transportation and lodging are arguably two of the biggest expenses of any trip and it’s therefore best to figure them out first.

The costs will depend on which destination you’ve chosen, how far it is from you and on the methods of transportation available.

Based on where you’re going, do your research and find out what your transportation options are.

Can you get there by renting a car? By bus, by train, by ferry, or do you need to take a plane?

Sometimes, more than one of these options are feasible for the trip you have planned.

In that case, check out the prices for each of the options, and see which one works best for you, pricing and comfort-wise.

Look for deals on websites like Skyscanner.ca and Google Flights or in the ViaRail deals section.

Often, when you plan your trips in advance, you can get much better deals – so get prepping, and get saving!

2. Lodging

Unless you’re staying with a friend or family member, lodging is an inevitable expense.

Start off by doing some research about the available options in the area you’ll be visiting.

Look at the prices and see what is within your budget range.

If you’re on a tighter budget, you may want to look at hostels, a shared Airbnb or even couchsurfing (if you’re really keen on saving).

Did You Know?

A great place to look for and compare lodging deals is Kayak – a popular online travel portal. It’ll even break down all the popular attractions nearby, as well as any nearby airports and train stations.

3. Daily Spending While Away

So, you’ve booked your transportation and lodging and are ready to go. Hooray!

But you’re not in the clear just yet.

With travel comes a lot of other ‘small’ expenses here and there, either planned or unplanned.

Below, we’ll walk you through how you can budget for all your other basic travel expenses.

i. Food & Drink

First off, you’ll need to look at average cost for food at your visiting destination.

For example, a meal at an inexpensive restaurant in Costa Rica would cost on average $9/person, while the similar meal in Norway would cost on average $25/person.

Based on that, you’ll need to create a budget for breakfast, lunch and dinner – and include some room for any other spontaneous snacks (like from a food truck or local market).

Also, if you plan on having an alcoholic beverage every night, make sure to count that into your budget.

Let’s run through an example.

A budget for a trip to Minneapolis might look like this: $15 for breakfast, $20 for lunch, and $35 for dinner, plus a $10 beer per night.

This brings your food and drink budget to $80/day.

This number can also easily double if you’re interested in visiting specific restaurants or enjoy drinking a few beers each night.

ii. Activities & Leisure

If you’re taking a trip somewhere, chances are you might want to see some things or do some fun activities.

Some places are free to visit, but plenty of museums, castles and National Parks charge an entrance fee, and activities like horseback riding or water-skiing can get pricey.

It’s best that you plan out all the things you might want to do and buy tickets in advance if they’re available at a discount.

TripAdvisor is a great place to find things to do, no matter where you’re travelling to, however I always try to look for blogs by locals to get a different perspective and find some of the hidden gems, like Santorini Dave if visiting Greece. 

iii. Transportation Within Destination

You’ve got places to go, and you need a way to get there.

Make sure you do your research in advance to see what the best method of transportation is for the place you’ll be visiting.

For example, in Amsterdam, it’s highly common to bike around the city.

Paris has a very sophisticated metro system which is helpful to use to get around.

Maybe everything is walkable, or maybe you’ll need an Uber or two to get to a few places.

Plan in advance and see if it’s a better deal to get a long-duration pass (perhaps for a week or so) for your preferred mode of transportation. 

iv. Shopping & Souvenirs

We’re all guilty of a little retail therapy from time to time.

If you keep an elaborate collection of mugs from all the countries you visit, you may want to make sure it’s accounted for in your budget (hey – every penny counts!).

If you’re heading to Milan to revamp your closet, you’ll definitely want to put some money aside for that shopping spree.

But sometimes, shopping happens spontaneously.

Your best bet, in this case, is to keep a few dollars on the side for anything that may catch your eye.

The amount can vary based on your preferences.

v. Miscellaneous & Contingency

If you’ve ever been on vacation before, you know the drill – miscellaneous expenses always come up.

Whether it’s lost luggage or a cool activity you found out about on your trip, good and bad expenses will pop up out of nowhere.

Make sure you have a couple of hundred dollars saved in contingency – you may not even have to touch that money, but it’s always better to have a bit of a buffer in your budget.

4. Prior to Leaving

Before travelling, do one final check to make sure you’ve got all the necessary vaccinations, travel visas and travel insurance (if you need it).

You may not need any – but you should always check, since some countries require certain visas, which can also have a fee associated with them.

Check all the rules and regulations prior to your trip.

If you’re heading on a gruelling hiking trip, make sure you’ve got all the gear you need.

If you’re going to the beach, don’t forget your swimsuit.

Make a list, and check it twice!

Budgeting for a trip to Santorini Greece

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is a 3-day vacation worth it?
  • How much should you budget for a trip?

Tara Al-Khudairi is a freelance personal finance writer who has worked in the financial services industry since 2017. She graduated from McMaster University with a degree in Finance and is pursuing her CFA.

She has worked at a major Canadian financial institution in various client-facing advisory roles, starting as a bank teller and working up to a Client Services Associate within the Asset Management division. She specializes in simplifying concepts of personal finance for people of various financial backgrounds.

When she’s not examining the markets looking for the next SHOP.TO, she’s either practicing yoga, planning her next vacation, or has her nose buried deep in a book.