15 Hidden Family Vacation Expenses: Budgeting Correctly for Travel Costs

Ladies hands on a lap top with several travel items- planning for a trip and bubgeting for hidden costs

Stop overspending on your next family vacation

With so many of us deferring travel in 2020 and continuing in 2021, it’s quite possible for once you are sitting in the black when it comes to your vacation budget. With airline and accommodation credits quite possibly up your sleeve, don’t go jumping for joy just yet!

When looking at budgeting out a trip, you probably think about the “big 3” – Accommodation, Food & Transport, but years of international travel – especially travelling as a family of five – has taught us there can be plenty of hidden money traps to account for on family vacation.

Most of these are avoidable or can at least be reduced if you take some careful planning steps in advance and include them in your budget to avoid surprises.

So regardless if you are a budget traveller or seek out a little extra luxury along the way, in this handy family travel advice guide, we’ll take you through hidden travel costs to avoid – and how you can make some savings along the way.

This post is part of our family travel advice series – pop on over to see everything from saving money on flights to strategically packing your suitcases for long journeys.

Hidden costs of family vacation

So airline tickets booked, reserved your rental car, and got your accommodation sorted? Let’s take a deeper look at extra costs to come before you leave and as you go on your travels.

1. Visas

Many countries will require you to have a visa in order to enter. This can be in the form of an online form for pre-approval and paying a fee for a free visa on arrival, to standing in lengthy arrival queues with a stack of documents praying they let you in (looking at you, Vietnam)!

ALWAYS check your visa status before entering a country. This will vary by the country you are visiting AND the passport you hold. And remember, it may not just be a physical fee that needs paying; you may need evidence of an address in the country you’re visiting, a pre-approval letter or a passport photo that needs attaching.

Solution: Always research well in advance. Rules may change too, from when you booked to arrival time. Allow yourself plenty of time for any documents to be approved in advance and if it’s a Visa on Arrival country, check if you will need local currency ready – the Visa office can often be before you hit an ATM in arrivals.

An extra cost to consider – Passport photos. Even if you already have passports sorted (yes, another cost!), you never know when you may need extras along your journey, we keep spare photos for all the family in our travel documents wallet.

2. Coronavirus testing

As you might imagine, a new entrant to our checklist since 2020. And don’t just think about airline or cruise ship requirements before you go. Many attractions or buildings on your itinerary may also require the presentation of a negative test result, even if you’re vaccinated (remember, a vaccine is NOT your Golden Ticket to travel wherever you want!).

Whilst some countries offer free testing, others may only offer this service when you have symptoms. DO expect to have to pay for private clinic testing when travelling for leisure. And check applicable age limits; kids may or may not be exempt.

Solution: Check your booking inclusions and policies carefully. Check in what circumstances a test might be covered or if they have a preferred provider. Understand testing facilities at your destination, fees and necessary turnaround times and factor this into your budget as well as your itinerary in a Post-COVID world.

3. Hotel or in-flight wifi

Many airlines will charge you (a lot) extra to access wifi in the air. Likewise, some resorts or hotels will charge you an extra daily fee to use the wifi or be able to multiple devices using the in-room service.

A few years ago, this never would have bothered us – but these days, as we hit the tweens – it can be a family breaking point! That, and having enough electrical charging points with converter plugs!

Solution: Make sure you download whatever you can before you leave, and access wifi only when needed. If kids are using tablets or any other device, make sure some videos and games can be accessed offline. Download your favourite Spotify playlists and definitely check you have an offline map if using your phone as a GPS! We also screenshot ticket bar codes and any other important documents we’d normally access over the internet as a back up.

4. Roaming Fees

Speaking of accessing the internet – even if unintended – turn off data on your phone/tablet/any device!! This one is a rookie error I can’t believe we’ve fallen for so many times. And it’s not just the internet. Even leaving your cell phone on will look for a signal as you’re travelling, and you’ll immediately be charged even if you’re not taking any calls – yes, even on a plane, my phone has picked up a signal on the way!

Solution: Turn your devices to flight mode and keep them there! We usually get a local SIM for at least one device to access maps on the move, book tickets, etc. Make a conscious decision about phone usage if you can’t rely just on free wifi and check your kids’ devices regularly to make sure they’re not feeding off data or your devices when they shouldn’t be.

Take care not to accidentally use roaming or data overseas – including the kids devices

5. Checked bag fees

It is common for airlines to charge for a checked bag or even sometimes a carry-on these days, even on premium airlines. If this hasn’t been selected at the time of booking, you could find yourself paying a significantly higher fee at the airport.

Watch for when you change airlines mid-trip. Whilst your international flights may have generous allowances, these may not carry over to your domestic flights and certainly not to budget airlines.

Solution: Be clear on the exact allowance you each get depending on the ticket class. It may be worth buying at least one higher ticket class within your group to secure at least some checked baggage allowance – we’ve told you how much stuff kids need, right?!

6. ATM fees and currency exchange

Not all countries give you free access to your money! Not only will your home bank charge you to withdraw in a foreign currency, but you can also be looking at some rarely hefty ATM fees in the host country too.

Be warned, the daily limit in some countries is quite low too, so you may need multiple ATM visits if you don’t want to bring a big pile of pre-exchanged cash from home.

And do bear in mind once you leave big cities, many countries are quite bereft of ATM in more rural areas. If you find a cash exchange, you may well be paying a location premium, and they may only deal in USD or Euro. Factor in an exchange commission (their fee) as well as the exchange rate they’re offering.

Solution: Research your cash situation well; Check whether exchange rates offered locally are better than changing your cash with a reputable money exchange before you go, or should you budget in a couple of ATM cash withdrawals (never exchange at the airport; you are just asking for a crappy rate and extortionate fee). We always take extra USD anywhere in the world as ATM’s can be broken or non-existent, and that’s often the only currency that will be accepted for exchange.

7. Tipping

Tipping varies hugely by location. In some places, it’s an almost certain expectation in countries such as the USA, Egypt & Morroco. For others, it’s a round-it-up situation or only if you’ve received some exceptional service. A basic faux pas we’ve fallen for is thinking that when service is added to your bill, a tip isn’t expected for staff on top of that – often it is.

Solution: You guessed it, research! Learn what the local practices are and going rates. Do factor this when working out your overall food and drinks budget particularly, but it can be levied on tours or group bookings as well, anything where a personal service element is involved.

8. Parking fees & tolls

If you are driving or renting a car, you most likely will need to pay for parking at some point. This is especially important to consider if you will be travelling in big cities, don’t just assume if a hotel has parking access, it’s free. The overnight parking fees can be insane!

If you will be travelling in an area with tolls, check with the rental company at the outset can these be paid in cash as you go. Otherwise, do they have a corporate account and you will be billed later, or can you pay an upfront sum?

Equally, be careful where you park and understand local laws. If you receive any sort of parking or speeding fine through a rental company, they will add a service charge on top of the fine; ouch!

And don’t get us started on theme park parking, do you have any idea how much it costs to park at Disney World, Orlando?

Solution: Sometimes city stops can’t be helped, but don’t assume the option the hotel is offering you is the cheapest rate. You might be able to park a block or two away from your accommodation at a cheaper rate. If you have no choice, at least budget this when comparing hotels to book in a city location.

The other important parking cost to consider is airport parking. Parking at the airport itself can be excruciatingly expensive, even for a short weekend away. Consider off-site airport parking for a cheaper and more convenient solution.

9. Car seat hire costs

Another cost for family travellers often overlooked is the cost of hiring a car seat. We used to tick this box when booking a car overseas. However, when you’ve got a several-week booking, and several kids, the end bill can come as a shock – and there’s no guarantee on the condition of these seats.

Solution: Since we travel with multiple kids and need multiple seats, we have simply copped it on the chin; we’re a travelling circus and pay for premium airline tickets that include our car seats in our luggage allowance, making sure they’re covered in a protective bag. Another solution may be to see if your arrival destination has any private baby rental companies offering a cheaper rate than the airport rental companies.

10. Travel insurance

Now surely by now, you’ve recognised the importance of having travel insurance, right?

Now READ THE FINE PRINT! I know it’s painful. The insurance company has the upper hand, full of jargon created by lawyers to confuse us. But DO try and read and understand at least the policy highlights carefully, so you know what you’re covered for; not all policies are created equal.

Whilst we don’t wish accidents or mishaps on anyone, understand that a premium policy rather than basic coverage may be required for a family. Look at the details, particularly around electronics – is there a single item limit or a total you can claim in this category? Imagine if just one bag containing phones and ipads etc was stolen?

Solution: As soon as you’re tickets are booked, this is really your number one next step. Don’t rely just on credit card insurance – check the fine print as they may only cover you if x% of your total trip cost is paid for on that card. Work out the most important factors for the trip you’re taking, such as valuables, delays, and medical expenses.

A few reputable insurers to try include World Nomads, great for travelling families as you can even purchase after your travel has commenced. We also suggest those looking at longer-term travel look at SafetyWing, designed for nomadic travellers with remote health insurance.

11. Admission and tour fees

Another that always catches us short. We may have budgeted for a day trip or driver for a day, but then you get to a venue, and if you actually want to do anything, it will cost you more (yet your driver can miraculously get you “good price”! I’m sure you’ve been there!)

Alongside tipping, DO allow for these extras. They can really be the highlight of your trip, but obviously, you need to temper those extras with a few savings; they add up very fast.

Solution: Set yourself a separate budget for treats and overspends v food and the other expenses we’ve listed here. Once the majority of your trip is booked, come up with an extras fund, be it by day/week, and as a family (if kids are old enough to make decisions) vote on what you’d like that extra money to go to – a small daily treat or save it for a huge special outing.

12. National/State Park fees

Many countries levy additional charges for park entry – call it a parking fee, day fee, permit or even insist that entry is only for pass holders requiring a monthly or annual pass. And quite often, these fees may only apply to foreigners, not local travellers, to add further layers of confusion.

Solution: You guessed it again, research! If these places are on your itinerary, seek out information from tourism boards. We’ve found especially, or fellow travel bloggers are excellent at highlighting these potential extra costs and what type of ticket/pass you may need to book.

13. Dining out

I know, an easy one to avoid, right? We like to spoil ourselves when we travel, but meal after meal, dining out very quickly chews into your travel budget and your waistline.

You can reduce the need to dine out significantly by planning your days ahead as much as you can. Look for opportunities to substitute picnics with sit-down dining or fill up on hearty meals with leftovers to last the following day. Families should keep an eye out for “kids eat free” deals, or dine early during Happy Hour, perhaps for a family discount.

Water and beverages can also be the killer cost in some countries. Reusable water bottles with a filter are your friend, and stock up on snacks to last through the day at a convenience store.

Solution: Set a weekly dining budget. If you’ve been out and about and picnic lunch wasn’t possible, where can you look to dine at ‘home’ or save later in the week? Self-catering is a huge help if you can – reheated meals or simply just the prep area help to get a packed lunch for the following day.

14. Souvenirs

Souvenirs can be a fun way to remember your travels and bring something special back for family and friends, but they can come with hidden costs!

Not only can souvenirs cost more than you’d budgeted for, but they can also possibly push you over your baggage allowance.

Solution: As above, we include souvenirs as part of our “holiday kitty” for spending on special treats. We purposefully make sure bags are lighter going out than coming back so any little extras will fit within our airline allowance. (And if you’re travelling to Australia especially – check those wood products carefully!!!)

15. Departure taxes

This is a fee charged by a country when a person is leaving a country. These will usually be added to the cost of the flight, but not always. If you are making a land border crossing, you may need to pay this in cash, which means making sure you have enough cash left in local currency to pay it!

Solution: Research costs before you go. Look at the fine print on your airline tickets and ensure taxes and charges include a line item that says departure tax. If you’re exiting by road or sea, check on the government website for the country you are visiting, what exit taxes may be applicable, and can you pay by credit card or need cash?

We hope this guide to hidden costs will help you better set your budget for your next trip. We can’t guarantee it will take all the costs away, but the better prepared you are for these hidden extras it won’t ruin your holiday when they pop up.

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