Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Tracking Travel Costs

The title of this article might make you think I'll have some helpful advice about saving money when traveling, but really, this article is literally about TRACKING those costs - then, after the fact, trying to figure out how efficiently the money was spent.  At least that's how it works for me, more or less.  For our planned 27 day trip to Germany last July, here's how the costs broke down, and my comments about those costs.

Airfare.  This is always a biggie, and deciding WHEN to buy is challenging at best, nerve-wracking and time-consuming at worst.  After heeding the advice of a virtual 'friend' from the Slow Trav message board we bit the bullet and paid $1550 per person for our tickets, departing in early July and returning at the end of the month.  That was in February or March, and when I checked the prices just 2 weeks before our departure (yes, I know everyone says just buy your tickets and STOP looking at prices after that, but I just can't do that),  the price was actually $50 LESS than what we had paid!  I wasn't upset, it was just $50 and I'd had peace of mind for all those months - and I probably got better seats - at least that's what I tell myself.  Total cost for 2:  $3092

Rental Car.  Another big expense.  For this trip we'd have the car for 21 days, and would drive over 2,000 miles.  I signed up for AutoEurope's newsletter and every time I saw a new offer I would check the prices to see if I had the best deal.  I also checked their Canadian site because I often got better prices for zero deductible coverage, and in some instances zero deductible insurance has NOT been available on the U.S. site but WAS available on the Canadian site.  I called back several times and had the price reduced from $900+ to $750+ down to just under $700USD, AND we also got a free GPS unit.  There was no additional charge to drop off at a different location - in our case both the pick-up and drop-off locations were just outside of Frankfurt, so I imagine demand is pretty strong in that area.  Had we wanted to drop off in a more out-of-the-way location I'm not sure if a surcharge might have been added.  Total cost for our 21 day rental, economy class (whatever that means - we had 4 doors and a hatchback area), including a small daily road tax that's collected at the time of rental:  $716

Gas.  Art wishes he had asked for a diesel, but I'm not sure that's even possible.  We will make sure to ask next time.  This car used regular gas and our total costs for our 21 day/3400 km journey rental was:  $480

Lodging.  We paid for lodging for 21 nights.  The rest of the time we spend with family, or, on our last two nights, our airline paid for our very comfortable airport hotel.  Wherever possible and practical I booked an apartment rather than a hotel or B&B.  I made sure that a washing machine was available in certain apartments so we could catch up on laundry.  The fact that it wasn't super hot and sweaty weather helped a lot - had it been warmer, doing laundry would have become even more important.  We stayed 4 nights in an apartment, then 3 nights in a B&B, followed by 5 nights in an apartment.  After that, 2 nights in a B&B, 3 nights in an apartment followed by 3 nights in a different apartment, then our (intended) last night at a motel near the airport.  A total of  15 nights in 4 different apartments and 6 nights in B&Bs/motels.  Total cost for 21 nights:  $1700  This averages out to €81/per night.  Please note that this cost is per room/per night and NOT per person. 

Everything Else.  Yes, I could've been completely anal about this and kept track of admissions, and miscellaneous bus/lift tickets, and how much we spent in the grocery store and how much we spend in restaurants, but honestly, you're going to eat what you're going to eat.  If you have apartments like we did you can save a few bucks by taking sandwiches for your day trips, and bottles with cold water, and by fixing an occasional dinner at 'home'.  There were plenty of lunches we bought at restaurants or bars or even gelaterias, and there were times we bought dinner out as well - and times when we were still full from lunch and didn't even bother with dinner.  So, unless you splurge on really, really pricey restaurants or really expensive bottles of wine, try to figure out a realistic budget and let the chips fall where they may.  There were also museum admissions, and boat rides.  We bought a few post cards for the grandkids, and one poster for ourselves, but no other souvenirs.  Total cost for food, drink, admissions, public transportation/parking/tolls and souvenirs:  $2163

In the end, the TOTAL cost for our 29 day vacation, (including five FREE nights with relatives and TWO additional nights at the airlines' expense) was $8151.  You could also use this as a rough estimate for a trip of 3 weeks, which would exclude our free nights - airfare and car costs would remain the same, as would food and other costs for the most part.  For our trip the cost per day for two people averaged out to $281 for everything.  If you figured this as a three week trip the average cost would be $388 - proving that having friends or relatives living in cool places can really save you money!

One good thing about planning as far in advance as we do is that many items are paid in full well before we actually take the vacation:  the airfare was prepaid, as was the car rental.  The five night apartment rental in the Black Forest was prepaid.  I knew what the costs would be for our other rentals, and also made sure I knew what (if any) deposit was required.  Before we left I transferred an additional $1000 from our equity line into our checking account so it would be available for cash withdrawal if needed.  I also transferred a large chuck of cash from our vacation fund, and hoped that my guesstimates were close - and they were!  When we got home I discovered that I was able to transfer the $1000 back into our equity line - and that for only a few (tax deductible) cents we'd had extra cash available just in case.....

I now hope to use this same model to help with cost estimates for our next vacation:  Italy and Slovenia in 2014.  Maybe you'll find it helpful when planning for your next vacation too!  Good luck, and buon viaggio!

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