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Tips for keeping your spending on track while you trek

You know you can count on TIAA for strategies and tools to help you create and stick to a smart budget. And, in one of our other articles, “Saving for that Epic Trip,” we share plenty of ideas for how you can use those budgeting strategies to turn your dream adventure into a reality.

But, what happens once that magical departure day arrives? You can’t just toss your budget in the trash once the wheels touch down abroad. We’ve got some tips to help you spend wisely and stay on track once your travel begins—so you can have the best budget travel experience without financial stress.

Your phone is your friend

The first rule of budget travel is to create a simple system for tracking everything you’re purchasing. But, when you’re traveling across the world, most of us don’t want to be updating spreadsheets every day. That feels like the opposite of a vacation. Luckily, all you really need to do is create a daily note on your phone, enter the date at the top if your phone doesn’t do it for you, and then input everything you spend money on that day—including travel costs, food, accommodations, excursions, gifts, and everything (yes, everything) else. If you can make this a habit during vacation, you can easily keep it up once you get home, and that’ll lead to even better spending habits for life.

The 15 minute rule

You don’t have to miss out on valuable vacation time to track your vacation spending. All you need to do is follow the “15 Minute Rule” and dedicate 15 (or fewer) minutes to tracking your spending each day. Ideally, you can do it during your morning coffee or during that sunrise bus ride to an exotic temple. (Pro tip: many buses overseas even have Wi-Fi these days!) During this down time, review your previous day’s spending and look for categories in which you may have overspent or underspent. You should also check your online bank and credit card accounts to make sure everything looks accurate.

“A good rule of thumb is to figure out what excites you and redirect your spending toward those areas whenever possible.”

Adjust on the fly

Staying disciplined about tracking your purchases is critical in understanding where and how you’re spending—which can also make it easier to spend wisely, prioritize, and adjust as needed.

Once you arrive in a new country, the things you thought would be important may change. Maybe you realize that you just can’t pass up an opportunity to explore the untouched beauty of a hidden waterfall, even though you hadn’t budgeted for a three-day kayak excursion. All is not lost! Looking at your daily budget notes, you can easily adjust for that leg of your journey by increasing your sightseeing allotment and decreasing in other areas, like food or museum entrance fees. A good rule of thumb is to figure out what excites you and redirect your spending toward those areas whenever possible.

Waste happens

When you’re traveling to a foreign country, there’s virtually a 100% chance you’ll overspend on something during your trip. Don’t beat yourself up about it. (Remember, you’re on vacation!) Instead, recognize those moments and learn from them.

Here are three great ways you can try to avoid wasteful spending abroad:

1. Understand tipping etiquette

Many countries don’t tip, and, if you come from a country where tipping is the norm, you may be throwing money around that isn’t necessary.

2. Chat with other travelers

Strike up a conversation to find out how much other people have spent on excursions, taxi rides or goods from local shops to avoid overpaying.

3. Practice your haggling skills

We focus entirely on this in a separate article, but, in many countries, haggling is the norm—and you’ll find local vendors quickly negotiating prices to try to sell you something. Be prepared with a price you think is fair (usually based on that info you gather from other travelers), negotiate confidently to get the best price for your budget, and, most importantly, don’t be afraid to walk away if the price isn’t right!

You’ll find that no two days are the same when you’re on your adventure abroad. And that’s ok! Just like when you’re at home, financial fluctuations happen, and they’ll actually provide a great balancing opportunity for your budget.

Just remember, if you spend high one day, then you can pull back on another day—and don’t feel like you have to dismiss an amazing opportunity during your adventure because you’re worried about sticking to a strict budget.

Finally, once your trip is over, if you ever need any helpful advice for creating or maintaining a budget back at home, you’ll find plenty at TIAA.org. Happy travels and smart spending!