Why is setting a budget for a group trip so hard?
I love traveling with other people. Having travel buddies to share all of your crazy experiences is just plain fun. It is also a great way to get some quality time together and relax. But traveling in groups can also make planning complicated, especially when it comes to money. But as long as you plan ahead, there is no reason you can’t handle planning a group trip on a budget that everyone is happy with.
Last year I went on a tour of Italy with a very good friend of mine. I was really excited to take her to a country I love so much, but our financial situations are very different. I am a budget traveler through and through which means hostels and grocery store meals. This was her vacation for the year, though. Twenty bed dorms and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch weren’t going to cut it. We needed to find our budget balance. It isn’t always easy to do, so I have compiled a list of tips here.
When you first start formulating the plan for a trip with someone else, be honest about what you want to spend. You don’t necessarily have to give out exact numbers, just be clear if you have a limited budget that you want to stick to. If you don’t set boundaries up front, it can lead to problems later. I know it sounds obvious, but communicating well is the key to this whole process.
Decide what your priorities are.
Do you prefer the privacy of a hotel room to a fancy dinner? Would you rather fork out the money for big attractions and stay in a hostel? Decide as a team what you consider your priorities are and what you don’t mind cutting back on. It’s a holiday after all. There’s no point going if you can’t enjoy the things you love. For me, I’m always focused on the food, so I like to cut back in other areas to eat out more often.
Divide and conquer.
During the planning phase, my friend and I split up the cities we were staying in and researched several possible accommodation options for each with varying price ranges. That way we split up the workload, and we could both suggest ideas we were comfortable with and compromise well. Because we were only two people this was relatively easy, but even if there are more of you, get a couple of people with different budgets together to plan. Who knows, they may suggest something you would have never found!
For example, she suggested we stay in a B&B on the Amalfi Coast. Because we agreed to share a room, the B&B wasn’t as expensive as paying individually, but it was still a little out of my usual price range. In return, I suggested we stay in a hostel in Florence to save some money. By dividing up the responsibility of researching and booking places to stay, we were able to balance out costs. I didn’t spend more than I was comfortable with, and my travel buddy wasn’t stuck in giant dorm rooms every night.
Don’t be afraid to split the party.
Even though you are traveling with someone, that doesn’t mean you have to be together all the time. If one of you wants to do something the other doesn’t, it’s okay to have an afternoon for yourself. In fact, this could even help prevent you from getting sick of each other. Don’t want to pay to go to the museum? That’s cool. Just set up a time and place to meet at and explore on your own for a bit.
Keep an IOU list.
You will want to have a note in your phone or other easily accessible place where you can jot down IOUs. Sometimes you can’t split a bill or things are simpler if one person pays for the hotel room. Just keep a note of who owes what so that at the end of your adventure, everyone knows they got what they owed. If one person can be in charge of the main list, that is a big help in keeping things simple. And waiting until the end of your trip to transfer money means you can account for accommodation fees or other big charges. No one wants to keep sending the same money back and forth.
Have a contingency budget!
Always, always, always have a contingency budget. No matter what you are planning for, you need to have a little cushion in case you have a bigger night out than you planned or you end up having to take an expensive train last-minute. Depending on where I am going, I try to set aside an amount equal to around 20% of my overall trip budget (ex: $1000 trip, $200 contingency). This is not money you need to spend if you don’t have to, it is just there in case you are in a tight spot. Plus, if you make it to the end of your trip and haven’t used it, you can always treat yourself to something nice.
If you are ever uncomfortable with the cost of something, speak up. If there is nothing on the restaurant’s menu in your price range, suggest finding another place. This is related to Tip 1. You have to communicate before and during the trip itself. Don’t spend more than you are able because it feels weird saying you can’t afford something. The extra five minutes to find another restaurant isn’t going to starve you. On the other hand, don’t make your travel buddy feel bad because they don’t want to pay for the same things you do.
The ideas and tips I shared here can be helpful when budgeting for two or ten people. Most importantly, make sure you know what everyone’s priorities are and whether or not they are on a tight budget. It does take time and a little planning to make everyone happy, but as long as you are all determined to have a good time, then things will work out in the end. On the other hand, if trying to plan a group travel budget turns into a nightmare, then maybe taking a big vacation together isn’t the best plan.
Do you have any budgeting tricks you use to stay on track? Please leave a comment – I’d love to hear them!