Researching potential and incidental expenses prior to setting off on a vacation is vital.
Prices of food, water, and basic necessities in other cities can be much higher than you'd expect, and can quickly take a toll on a travel budget.
To avoid these pitfalls, we've gathered a checklist of expenses always worth estimating before setting off on a vacation.
Food: Everyone has to eat, so prepare to set aside a realistic budget estimate for meals according to your typical eating habits.
Tip: Search online for local fast food menus, several mid-range restaurant options, and perhaps a few fine restaurants for a special occasion. By reviewing menu prices across the spectrum in advance, you'll have a better idea about what to expect on average. To get an idea of local grocery prices, expat blogs of Americans living abroad can offer a wealth of helpful cost-related information.
Transportation: Transportation fees are often neglected, but can add up quickly between cab fees to and from airports, bus tours, and railways. Check local public transit sites to review costs, including cab fare rates, and local car services; review cost of fuel if you plan to rent a car with an online fuel calculator.
Tip: Check whether your destination offers transportation alternatives like Uber or ridesharing services like Lyft. In some cases these services can prove both more affordable and convenient than standard options.
Phone: Plan on phoning home while traveling? Make sure to adequately prepare for those roaming calls, or to budget for using pay phones and calling cards.
Tip: I'm a big fan of using Truphone with an unlocked handset while abroad.
Internet: In many countries free wi-fi isn't as plentiful as it is here in the United States.
Tip: Check daily online access rates at hotels or check if there's free access in public spaces like their lobby. Also carefully review online access charge small print: many times the fee is "per device", which can add up if you're accessing a wireless network from a laptop and a mobile device.
Activities: Pre-plan for costs of entry fees for museums and tours you know you're definitely interested in visiting. You'll be surprised by how much even small tours can add up, and planning ahead will ensure your budget will allow you to see everything you hope to visit.
Fees: ATM, debit, and credit card fees are no fun. Although your bank may claim "no ATM fees", I advise checking the small print to make sure the policy applies abroad. In addition to the fees your bank may charge you to use an ATM machine overseas, the bank running the ATM machine almost always also adds a fee on top.
Tip: Check if your bank is part of a global alliance. For example my bank, Bank of America, is part of the Global ATM Alliance (one of the primary reasons I bank there), which means while in the UK, I can use Barclays ATM machines without any fees from either Bank of America or Barclays. If your bank is not part of an alliance, make sure to include the fees of $5-$25 per ATM transaction into your budget.
Exchange Rates: Without some planning in advance, calculating exchange rates can be a significant source of stress while abroad. In some countries, particular currencies are preferred over their native currency, but yet, it could be more costly to use this preferred currency due to exchange rates. So just because it might be easier to pay in dollars or euros, doesn't mean you should. When budgeting, make sure to use local currency as well as your home currency to have a exchange/cost reference when using either option.
Miscellaneous Service Charges: I highly recommend reading travel blogs pertaining to your planned destination to learn more about any unforeseen potential expenses. For example: "Parking Attendants." I bring up this example in from recent personal experience. During a recent visit to Cape Town I was surprised about having to pay for this local fee. Had I done a bit more research ahead of time, I would have learned that these "small" payoffs are to be expected and they can add up quickly.
Tip: Tipping habits and expectations can vary greatly from country to country, so Google "country name+tipping" beforehand to prevent budgetary surprises.
Souvenirs: What's a vacation without souvenirs? By factoring a set souvenir budget before arriving at a destination, you'll better prevent yourself from purchasing something you'll regret later. Set a limit.
Want to calculate everything listed above and more without creating your own spreadsheet? Check out the Independent Traveler's Travel Budget Calculator.