Vacation Budgeting 101

by Erika Torres

I completely expected to get reamed for stating I was going on vacation, when the week prior I had just mentioned that we’re barely sticking to our budget. The truth being–I refuse to dive into our savings account, because I know if we buckle down, we can stick to our strict budget and afford to go to Costa Rica.

SO how did this whole thing start anyway? I received a TravelZoo alert claiming flights to Costa Rica were on sale for $269 roundtrip on American Airlines.  I had just looked earlier in the week, and the cheapest I could find was around $450. With the Travelzoo alert telling me that these deals go fast and sales can end at any time, I knew I had to act fast. I put in my vacation request with my boss, got approval, and booked our tickets–all in less than an hour. Then I sent Eric a text message: “Don’t be mad, but I just booked our flights to Costa Rica! EEEEE!”

By the way, flights are still on sale, but at $339, good for travel from Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Of course, besides the cost of the actual trip, there’s always those hidden costs. For example, passports. Eric needed to renew his, and I needed a name change on mine. Luggage, we only owned one carry-on size bag. Fortunately, this weekend we scored a big green roller Samsonite luggage at a garage sale for $5!  Camera, I would love to buy a new camera for our trip as my current one is old and the video recording doesn’t work. Does anyone have any suggestions for a great inexpensive point-and-shoot camera with video recording capabilities? Preferably less than $200.

Accommodations, Rental Car, activites…

I have been researching non-stop. I love reading up about everything and it makes me super excited just thinking about our trip. I’m getting a little nervous about the cost, but here is what I have so far. (Checkmarks mean it’s been bought, the rest I’m just guestimating)

Directly Related

√ Flights: $488 (I opened the airline credit card to save an extra $50)
Rental Car: $400 for 8 days
Accommodations: $800 for 9 nights (mostly budget hotels and b&b’s with a two-night stay at the Tabacon resort)
Activities: $500
Food: $500

Indirectly Related

√Passports: $220
√Luggage: $5
Photo Camera: $200 or less

Does anyone have any tips for how to save on the car rental? Costa Rica has mandatory insurance which adds about $10-20 a day. The lowest quote I’ve received is $350. Any must-visit places? Any tips for keeping the cost down?

I’m loving the b&b I found which includes breakfast in the price. And some of the activities we’re going on include lunch. But I heard food is not cheap in Costa Rica. And I have a husband who likes to eat. A LOT. So I’m bracing myself.

We want to have a fun time, and definitely want to splurge, but we are still (sorta) newlyweds and we are definitely still on a budget.

Also–any point and shoot cameras you can vouch for?


Monique December 20, 2012 - 9:58 am

Just because your thifty doesnt mean you shouldnt vacation.I run a thrifty web site and we travel blog. We do reviews for attractions so that helps keep our expenses down, plus we do own a timeshare and that also helps in the long run for expenses. Because of our timeshare own, we have gotten stays at condos for $199 for the week a few times already.

suspension trainer May 16, 2012 - 9:31 pm

For me he was part of the family of eurobloggers, and although this was just one part of what he was and what he did, I will remember him as one of the founders of the growing euroblogosphere – and I hope others will do so, too.

anita October 16, 2011 - 12:44 am

Have you tried for a rental car? we were able to get one for a two week vacation in mexico for $5 a day, with $15 a day added for insurance. We took a tour of a timeshare and were paid $300 to pay for the rental car, along with a $100 gift certificate that we used to pay for dinner for four. In the end, it cost us nothing for the car, and we got a free, delicious dinner to boot! Just don’t buy into the timeshares!

jp October 7, 2011 - 10:31 am

for the canopy tour (as someone else suggested) we did the zip-line tour through the canopy- it was amazing!! highly suggest it

City Girl October 6, 2011 - 7:55 pm

Love the information comments to this post! Great rate for the flight! Here’s hoping that you can cut some of the hotel and transportation costs, though. xoxo

margot September 29, 2011 - 3:58 am

I’m new to this blog, but you seem to be spending a whole lot of money for someone who is trying to live on a budget. First, the trip is enough of a splurge – don’t then use it as an excuse to splurge on a camera. Your current camera will be just fine. Who really watches video from vacations anyway? It’s boring once you’re back home. If you insist on a camera, get one for $25-50 on ebay that will be just fine. Or borrow one from friends or family.

Go without a rental car, or get it for half the number of days. You can get through much of Costa Rica with tourist buses or other forms of public transit.

Don’t stay in a fancy resort. My friend and I had a perfectly adequate private room in Arenal for about $20 or $30 a night total, and we just visited the Tabacon resort during on day passes. If you downgrade to “backpacker” type hotels – but with your own room, not a dorm or hostel – you’ll be comfortable enough and slash your other hotel costs as well.

prettylittlereckless September 28, 2011 - 10:31 am

Does your company offer any discounts? I know with my company, I can get discounts on hotels/cars and a ton of other things. Or check for discount codes for rentals?

Reply September 28, 2011 - 9:16 am

If you have been married under a year you can change the name on your passport. I just went to try to do mine because we moved out of the country last month and because I had been married for over a year they wanted to charge me the price of a new one. So, I just carry around my marriage licence with me to the airport which proves the name change. Your name change on a drivers licence is also official but usually youll need that marriage license.


Sonya September 27, 2011 - 5:24 pm

I have this Sony Cybershot

It has a wide angle lens which I really love! Plus great video!

Christy G. September 27, 2011 - 4:54 pm

My Husband and I totally played the Honeymoon card. We got free items tones of places (mostly desserts), an upgrade on our rental car, and the best room at the resort we were staying at. Good luck and have a wonderful time!

britt@knewlywifed September 27, 2011 - 9:28 am

Good info!

As far as car rentals, tell them your on your honeymoon and beg, beg, beg! My hub and I got $200 knocked off our price and got a convertible upgrade 🙂

kim September 27, 2011 - 9:21 am

Must visit – Arenal Volcano Nat’l Park, and the butterfly park (just google them). Take a canopy tour of the rainforest. Then on the Pacific side (a long drive but fun!), go to the beaches. Tamarindo was nice & cheap – surfing lessons are cheap…but I guess you live in San Diego so already know how!

J.Mill September 27, 2011 - 7:34 am

Sometimes if you book hotel and car together you can get a discount. I think all of the travel sites like, Travelocity and Orbitz do that.

I really want to take a group vacation with my husband and some other couples to Belize and am pretty green to the Travel Zoo site. Thanks for mentioning it. I cannot wait to see Belize flights go on sale like you did for Costa Rica! Any tips on how to use Travel Zoo to have it email you when a specific destination goes on sale?

Bronwen September 27, 2011 - 5:54 am

I recently purchased this Sony at Target, and it’s fantastic:

It has video capabilities and a panoramic setting which takes amazing shots (great for vacay in a beautiful spot!). Also, it has these advanced shooting features that automatically turn on in bad lighting (ie in a dark bar) and will take two versions of the same photo, one with flash one without.

GRANTED – this was cheap for me because I already owned a Sony memory card. That’s where they get you! But for $99, it’s an awesome camera.

Jamie September 26, 2011 - 5:44 pm

I love my canon point and shoot-it even has settings like a dslr with aperture and shutter priority.

It’s right at your budget but all Canons are great.

Teacher Girl September 26, 2011 - 5:37 pm

Canons are the best for point and shoots (yes, it pains me to say this as I am a die hard for Nikon DSLR’s). Any one you get will be good but I think this one is great:

Yay for the vacay! I think the cost is more than reasonable for a honey moon. You guys are gonna have so much fun! 😉

Miriam September 26, 2011 - 4:56 pm

I have the Kodak Easyshare and it is by far the best camera ever. You can choose photos or videos to share to your facebook or youtube accounts and when you plug in the camera it does it automatically for you. I hate doing those uploads twice which you’d have to do with any other camera. Also, it has a ginormous screen and only cost me $99!


Leave a Comment