As I type this, it’s two minutes to midnight, A is in the shower, I’m supposed to be packing…
And we have a cab coming to take us to the airport at 4:30 a.m.
Yep, for the first time in a very long time, we are going on vacation.
Traveling in a couple is hard. Not only is there insane pressure to have fun and “make memories”, there’s often differences between what each person sees as “fun.”
And when you don’t talk about budgets or finances, every decision becomes fraught – “can they afford their half of this?” “should I offer to pay?” “Will they think I’m cheap if I say that’s too expensive for me?”
We live in this crazy culture where the size of your hotel room, the comfort of your airplane seat and the cost of your dinner actually means something, not just about your financial situation, but about you as a person.
I hear this all the time, “I only fly first class,” or “four star hotels or nicer for me.”
I’ve flown first class and I’ve stayed in four star hotels and I promise you, it’s the person beside you that makes the difference, never the thread count.
Here’s 5 things we do that I would suggest to any couple traveling together:
1. Understand Your Partner’s Definition of Fun.
When I first met A, he would tell me all these crazy stories about going to Vegas with his childhood friends – the drinking, the clubs, the fancy hotels, the $200 bar tabs.
I had been to Vegas before with my best friend. We stayed at a cheap hotel, packed our own liquor and snacks, ordered in pizza one night and a great time lying by the pool and talking together (and I won $9!)
My dream vacation involves sunshine, swimming, hiking, biking, and a comfortable bed. I don’t like fancy anything. I’m all burrito, no bling.
Up until me, A’s vacations involved drinking, drinking, and spending money. So I assumed that he liked to go big on vacations (yep, this caused several panic attacks before our first vacation…) but it turns out that what he really wanted to do was to see new cities / countries, instead of going to Vegas like his friends preferred.
The lavish spending was really a result of him just going along with someone else’s vacation plan. When I suggested an alternate spending plan, he happily agreed.
Now, when we plan a vacation, we make sure both of our “fun” ideas are included – nature and swimming for me, someplace new for A.
2. Start a Travel Fund.
This was a game-changer for us, and I suggest it for every couple, or even two friends, who are planning on traveling together.
Every month, we put $100 each into a shared travel account*. Even when we don’t have a trip planned, $100 goes in.
That money builds year round, and when it’s time to go on vacation, you already have a budget ready to go.
I don’t know about A, but once the $100 gets subtracted from my checking account, I forget about it.
So every time we start talking about our trip and check our travel account balance, it’s a nice surprise that our entire vacation is already paid for.
Planning a big vacation? Put in $300 each a month.
We also put random funds in there – like our piggy bank ($67!) and the money we got selling furniture on Craigslist ($400).
When it’s time to go on vacation, dust off the travel fund debit cards, and get started.
3. If You’re Feeling Anxious, Talk About It NOW.
The first trip I took with A was 2 months into dating. I remember standing in line to get on the plane, and asking him if he drank coffee every morning. I literally didn’t know if my (not-yet) boyfriend drank coffee! It quickly became clear we knew nothing about each other, including our spending habits.
From $100+ buffets, to a 4-star hotel, A did his best to impress me. And I was not a happy camper.
The entire trip, I was having a mini anxiety-attack about the cost of the hotel. How much was it, and was he expecting us to split the cost? (I had picked up the tickets, so wasn’t sure if he was planning on picking up the hotel bill).
“Just ask him!” my mom told me, when I called her crouched down by the ice bucket.
But I couldn’t. I didn’t want to seem cheap, and so instead, I spent my vacation stressing about our hotel bill.
Don’t make my mistake – if you’re unclear about who is paying for what, or how much something is going to cost, just bring it up.
4. Set a Financial Expectation.
You can’t control the costs of a trip, but you can realistically prepare and make sure you’re on the same page.
Flights, hotels, car rentals -> these costs don’t fluctuate that much, and can be figured out beforehand.
Drinks, dinners, $100 show tickets, zip-lining, ATV rentals, boat rentals, scuba diving -> this kind of trip add-on can get expensive pretty quickly and it’s good to know if your partner is planning on dropping some serious dough on your vacation.
For this trip, I figured hotels would be about $150 a night, car rental would be $200 for a week, and we already had our flights booked. So, we decided we were comfortable paying $400-$500 on gas, drinks, food, etc.
Sure, we might end up spending $300 more than we thought, or $300 less. But at least we’re not coming home with $1500 in expenses that we weren’t planning for.
5. Once the Plane Takes Off, Let It Go.
Vacations where I’m counting every penny don’t feel like vacations to me.
When the plane takes off, I force myself to let go of any anxiety about costs and just have fun.
Later, when I get back home, I can evaluate what I spent and make decision about future vacations.
Travel is one of the goals that keep me and A on track year-round with our frugality, and so when the plane lifts off the runway, money worries stay at home.
Alright folks, 3 hours until the cab gets here. Have an awesome week – I know we will!
*For an easy, simple no-fee checking account, I suggest USAA. It’s totally free (including checks!), easy to open online, and they offer great customer service while you’re traveling.