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The true cost of a vacation

We reveal just how well (or badly!) we as a nation budget for our vacations...

It might not be glamorous, but budgeting for your vacation is the best way to avoid coming home to a painful dose of reality. Whether it’s a beachside cocktail or shopping for a new vacation wardrobe, it’s easy to burn through much more than you ever expect.

With this in mind, we surveyed 1,000 Americans asking how well – and how badly – they budget for their vacations.

The average American sets aside $2,242 for a vacation… but ends up overspending by $206! Let’s take a look at what’s forgotten in the budget – and how you can avoid the same financial pitfalls.

Spending Swaps

Before setting off

There’s no denying spending begins before the airport, whether it’s by splashing out on transport, purchasing travel insurance or planning sightseeing trips.

41% didn’t budget for airport parking fees

In the crazy hassle of packing suitcases and loading up the car, almost half of our respondents forgot to set aside cash for airport parking – which came to $42 on average.

Our top tip

Most airports will have short-term and long-term parking. Even if you’re taking a short trip, choosing the long-term parking lot may help you to save, as the dally costs tend to be lower.

$30 was spent on vacation research

Nobody likes asking for directions, especially when you’re trying to navigate both a foreign country and a foreign language. An average of just under $30 was budgeted for pre-vacations research, including maps and travel guides.

Our top tip

Do your vacation research online for free! Professional sites give great overviews; travel forums give the scoop from other travelers, and we have a range of travel guides to help you learn and budget before you go.

Transport is the most expensive pre-vacation cost

Transport fees – including gas and public transport tickets – were the biggest cost before the vacation, with an average spend of $63. Travel insurance was second at $58.

Our top tip

Booking your train or bus ticket online in advance often includes a discount! And if you take multiple trips per year annual travel insurance could save you a ton!

Waiting to fly

You’ve ditched your luggage and made it through security - it's time to explore the airport! Did our respondents budget for the temptations of Duty Free shopping?

Most remembered about food and drink

With an average spend of $27 only 21% failed to budget for their food and drink bill. There are ways to cut back this cost, without missing out on your pre-flight dining!

Our top tip

Booking the first-class or luxury lounge with your airline could save you money. Food and drink is usually included, alongside Wi-Fi, comfortable seating and more.

$33 was splurged on Duty Free shopping

Candy, cosmetics or alcohol… when Duty Free beckons, it’s hard to resist – but 41% of our respondents didn’t budget for any spending in Duty Free.

Our top tip

If you want something in particular, it’s worth researching prices. After all, your destination could be cheaper than the airport.

Average overspend of $152 in the airport

If there’s any proof the vaycay starts at the airport, it’s the amount our respondents overspent by while there – a huge $152 That’s a lot of airplane snacks!

Our top tip

Don’t leave essential purchase – like sunscreen,toothpaste and cosmetics – until the last minute. Summer staples might be discounted outside vacation season! Check out our travel essentials guide to help you pack.

On vacation

You’ve reached your destination! Now it’s time to start making memories, tasting the local cuisine and… paying for tourist tax?

49% forgot to budget for airport transfers

You’ve spent hours travelling, and now you just need to make it to your hotel. Seasoned travelers budget and arrange airport transfers before they arrive, at an average cost of $63, but almost half of our respondents didn’t.

Our top tip

Taxis may have a fixed fee for popular destinations, but check the price before you enter the cab. Some hotels do airport transfers if requested. Contact them to see if you can save.

53% forgot about tourist tax

Heading home, you might think your expenditure is winding down too. Unfortunately, some countries have a tourist tax. 55% of our respondents didn’t plan for this, and the average hit was $70.

Our top tip

Search online for tourist tax fees in your destination, and see how much you need to pay.

$133 spent on unexpected fees

After a hot, sticky day of exploring, there’s nothing like coming back to… a hot and sticky hotel room. 63% of people didn’t budget for air conditioning, while 56% didn’t plan for access to a security box.

Our top tip

Cheap and discounted hotels are usually priced low because they charge separately for air conditioning, Wi-Fi, and similar add-ons.

Spending stats

The nation’s best (and worst) budgeters are...

Worst Budgeters

The worst budgeters don’t overspend, but rather budget too much! We discovered those in the West budget the most in the US – a huge $2,378 – but are also the most likely to underspend on vacation, with 21% returning home with an average of $221 left over.

Best Budgeters

So – who are the best budgeters in the country? Residents in the Southeast are the most likely to stick to their budgets – which hit an average of $2,197. Only 16% ever overspend!

Your budget should be shaped around the strength of the dollar and the cost of living where you’re visiting. Checking food and drink prices online is a great way to start budgeting, and see our currency exchange rates are always up to date.