Planning to travel this year? Whether you’re heading out for a relaxing almost-staycation in-state or circling the globe on the trip of your dreams, you’ll need to make a financial plan for your trip. 

Budgeting is particularly important now, since Americans are spending more on travel than they did pre-pandemic. Creating a plan helps ensure you can truly afford your trip, so you can indulge your wanderlust without undermining your other financial goals. 

It’s also great for peace of mind. When you budget upfront, you can focus on the unforgettable experiences you’ll enjoy on your trip, instead of worrying about how much everything costs. 

What’s more, the research involved in creating a budget for your vacation also gives you a chance to discover restaurants, tours and other attractions you might not have found otherwise. Read on to learn how to create (and stick to) your travel budget, and lower your travel costs without sacrificing fun. 

1. Budget before you book

Already browsing destinations? Take a step back and create a budget before you start making arrangements. Your budget will influence where you can afford to travel – and for how long – and also helps keep your spending on track once you get there.

Create a tentative budget for your trip, taking into account: 

  • Travel expenses: airfare, car rental, taxi, public transportation fares 
  • Accommodations: Lodging, parking 
  • Food and drink 
  • Insurance 
  • Shopping and gifts 
  • Other travel expenses: Vaccinations, passport applications, baggage fees  

Now, compare your anticipated budget to where you are now and create a savings plan. Decide on an appropriate amount to save, and use the Auto Savings feature to automatically transfer funds from your PNC checking account into your PNC savings account.

If you’re a Virtual Wallet® customer, you can also use the Spending + Budgets tool to build vacation savings into your monthly budget to easily stay on top of your goals. 

2. Look for deals on travel and accommodations

These are the biggest expenses, and cutting costs here frees up more discretionary funds to spend on your trip. Take advantage of airline and travel apps to score the best deals on flights and hotel stays. 

If you can, stay flexible to score the best deal. Consider traveling to your dream destination in the off season for lower airfare and hotel rates. Check out lower-cost alternatives if your ideal vacation spot is out of your budget right now: for example, consider Lyon instead of Paris. Or look for last-minute deals to snag a plum vacation on a budget if you're open to different locales.

3. Choose where to trim your budget and where to splurge

Traveling on a budget does not mean depriving yourself: it means investing in what’s most important to you, while trimming costs on the rest. Before you go, decide what you want most out of your trip and create a tentative plan about how to allocate funds to make it happen. 

If you’re looking for a luxury experience, a gorgeous suite with a breathtaking view may be worth the investment. If you’re after the thrill of adventure, on the other hand, picking a budget hotel but splurging on the experiences you crave may be the better bet. 

4. Stay mindful of your day-to-day spending

Smaller day-to-day transactions, like shopping or grabbing lunch at cafes, can add up, particularly if your destination has a high cost of living. Make a plan for how to cover your expenses on your trip, especially if you're traveling internationally. Then, build your daily spending into your budget and stick to it.

Use a card that allows you to monitor your balance via online or mobile banking to stay on top of your spending. With the PNC Mobile App[1], you can check your credit and debit card balance in one place, and track your spending to stay on budget. You can also set up email or text alerts[2] to receive notifications about withdrawals or low balances for added peace of mind. 

5. Live like a local

Tourist traps tend to be pricey. If you’re on a budget, immerse yourself in your new locale to get an authentic experience and save some cash. 

Start researching before you leave, and seek out lodging in safe but off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods for cheaper lodging. Look for accommodations with a built-in kitchen or kitchenette, so you can shop at local markets and cook some meals yourself, rather than relying on restaurants for all your food. 

When you do eat out, look for local treasures. Ask locals or hotel staff for recommendations, so you can dine on authentic fare and avoid the tourist markup. 

Finally, travel like a local by walking and taking public transit when it’s safe to do so. Strolling through a new local helps you discover hidden gems, like local shops and pubs, that make for an unforgettable trip. 

6. Seek out free or cheap experiences

While it’s worth treating yourself to experiences you’ll love, look for free or inexpensive options to fill out your travel itinerary on a budget. 

Sample the local culture by seeking out small galleries or museums with free or pay-what-you-can admission, or put your research skills to use and plan your own walking tours to take in the attractions you want to see without the touring fees. Seek out local green spaces, and pack lunch for a relaxing picnic in a public park.

Ultimately, travel is about creating unforgettable experiences, and it’s easy to do that on a budget. With smart planning, you can make lasting memories with your loved ones without sacrificing your financial goals.