Give my regards to Hillary Clinton and John Kerry – the failed presidential candidates turned State Department secretaries have really sped things up in Washington. It took the department just three weeks to get my passport reapplication processed and returned to me, far sooner than I expected it, leaving me free to officially start planning my European vacation.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m going to London this summer to visit my best friend from college. As soon as I received my new passport in the mail, I began actively budgeting for the trip. My goal is to not only keep expenses at a minimum, but to have the trip completely paid for before crossing the pond (see? I’ve already started picking up on the British lingo; I jokingly asked my husband if he thought Rosetta Stone had a “British English” program I could try to master the accent and funny sayings).
Here’s my plan:
Since I’ll be staying in my friend Sarah‘s flat while in London, I don’t have to worry about hotel accommodations. That guarantees that my trans-Atlantic flight will be the single biggest expenditure of my trip.
I’ve started doing some basic research on these flights. Where I live, I can get to three different airports in under 90 minutes; of those three, two offer nonstop flights to one of London’s two main airports (Heathrow or Gatwick). While I’d love to get a nonstop flight to London, it’s becoming painfully obvious that I could end up spending 15-30% more simply for that luxury. For example, if I left from local Airport A and flew directly to Heathrow, the cheapest roundtrip ticket available today would cost $1,200; by comparison, flying from and to the same airports with one-stop in between would run me $988. That’s a gap of $212 for two flights whose only major difference is that the more expensive one is five hours shorter.
The Budget: I’ll still keep my eye out for nonstop flights, but right now, I’m holding out to find any flight priced below $950.
I’m planning to spend a full week in London, although I’m sure most of the first day will be spent overcoming the five-hour time difference between Eastern Daylight Time (I’ll be traveling in the spring, after the domestic time change marks the start of daylight saving time) and local time in London.
Thanks to Sarah’s extended time studying, working, and living in London – she’s now entering her fourth year there – she is going to be able to give me an insider’s guide to the city and its surrounding areas. Many of London’s key tourist destinations don’t cost a thing (viewing the British Royal Family’s homes, visiting city parks, many museums, etc.), while I’ll be able to get into others for free thanks to the use of Sarah’s press pass, which she has thanks to her job in the publishing industry.
I do want to spend copious amounts of time in traditional British pubs, drinking dark beer and eating fish and chips while watching “football” (aka, soccer) on the telly, which I know will cost money. I also want to buy something – anything, really! – in Harrod’s, one of the world’s best-known department stores. I’d like to ride on a red double-decker bus, one of the icons of the city, and take the official Downton Abbey tour of Highclere Castle.
The Budget: I’m budgeting $750 USD (that’s just shy of £500 in today’s conversion rates) for food, shopping, and entertainment expenses while on my European vacation. I’m debating what type of payment to use – anybody here have any advice on traveler’s checks?
I’ve already spent $118 to secure my passport for the trip. I’m allotting an additional $182 for incidental expenses I may incur along the way.
Paying In Advance
Between my $950 budget for a flight, $750 for food, shopping, and entertainment, and $300 for incidentals (including the passport, for which I’ve already paid), I’m budgeting a total of $2000 for my trip to London.
As I said at the outset, I hope to have all this money saved up before my trip even begins. My goal is to get half of that money from sources outside of my family’s regular budget. Here’s what I have so far:
- $350 in CashBack bonus from my credit card, all earned within the past 12 months
- $200 my husband and I budgeted for my Christmas gifts, which I did not spend on myself during the 2012 holiday season
- $250 from my parents, which they also gave me for Christmas gifts – again, I didn’t spend any of it
- $150 from my in-laws, again for Christmas 2012
Right there is $950, enough to pay for my flight (should I find a good deal). Depending on where I find a flight, I may be able to book it through my credit card’s web portal, which could shave 5-10% off the purchase price, or about $50-$100.
The roughly $850 yet to be saved (I’ve already paid the $118 for the passport, money which I didn’t really budget – I just sent the State Department a check) will come from our monthly budget. My trip is about 2-3 months away, depending on when I can get a good flight). Saving such a large amount – on top of our usual investments and our housing fund – in such a short amount of time will be tough, but thankfully, my birthday falls smack in the middle. Between my parents, in-laws, and grandmother, I expect to have another $250 to put towards my trip; I also expect to accrue another $50 in CashBack from my credit card. With that in mind, I’ll likely need to save another $550 between now and then, instead of the full $850; that’s a much more doable number.
What are some of the unexpected expenses you’ve incurred while on a big vacation?