Everybody loves going on vacation. And if you can’t go on a vacation, it’s always fun to vicariously live through our friends’ Instagram posts when they’re off on a beautiful adventure that we would love to take one day! After all, isn’t that why we work long hours in the office or have our side hustles, so we can enjoy our free time in someplace far away and magical a few times a year? But the fact of the matter is that most vacations, especially ones that involve a trans-ocean flight, are not cheap. And let’s be real, we don’t all have a few thousand dollars just sitting around in our bank accounts to blow on a European adventure. It’s why you have to be smart about your money and why I followed a smart vacation spending plan for my trip to Germany last month!
The tenant of this plan? You want to get the most bang for your buck without breaking the bank, and that means making smart spending decisions for you or your group before, during, and after your vacation. But you can’t make an informed decision about when to buy what if you don’t know the industry tips and tricks! So…
Let’s create a smart vacation spending plan for your next big adventure!!
Open a travel credit card for your trip.
If you only have one credit card (like I did before January of this year), then it might be worth it to consider opening a travel credit card (or a good cash back card) to help you pay for your trip!
There are a couple things to consider when you’re opening a travel card for a specific trip, but the two main things I look for are: 1) what is their rewards program, and 2) how low and for how long is their introductory APR%?
Many travel cards will give you better rewards if you redeem them for travel-related expenses, such as flights or hotels, meaning you get even more bang for every buck you spend on it! Many even have no foreign transaction fees, meaning you could make a purchase in Germany and wouldn’t have to pay a fee just to convert it from euros to dollars on your statement. Definite win!
But the most important thing? Depending on your credit, a new credit card could have a 0% introductory APR (meaning no interest charges!) for 12-15 months! This means you could pay your travel costs (flights, accommodation, excursions) over time instead of all at once, making it more affordable without continuing to rack up interest expenses each month.
Smart Vacation Spending Plan Tip : Look for travel credit cards with no foreign transaction fees and 0% introductory APR to get the most out of your vacation without draining your savings!
Book your flight 6 months out.
It’s all over the internet that the best time to book a flight is 4-6 months in advance of your trip, but I’m telling you right now: if you’re flying to Germany, book it right at that 6 month mark (or maybe a little before).
I had been glancing around at flights 6-7 months in advance of my trip and found prices around $500. My immediate thought? Awesome. But it was Christmas time and my credit card balance was higher than I wanted, so I decided to wait. The result? I thought booking 5 months out from my trip would fit perfectly into my smart vacation spending plan, but I ended up spending $150 more than if I had booked a month earlier.
My flight, hands down, was the most expensive purchase I made for this trip. While I still got a pretty great deal, I seriously regret not booking a month earlier and saving that money!
Look into hostels or AirBnBs before you look at hotels, and book them in advance.
But make sure you know which one is right for you! If you’re traveling solo, your best bet is probably a group room at a hostel, which can be as inexpensive as 20€ a night! But if you’re traveling with a group or your significant other, an AirBnB is definitely the way to go. But if you one of these options is part of your smart vacation spending plan, you want to book them as far in advance as possible to get the best deals!
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For the vast majority of our trip, Fred and I stayed in private rooms in shared AirBnBs. And honestly? It was amazing. We used our rooms primarily as a place to sleep and shower rather than a destination in and of itself, which allowed us to choose options a little further away from the city centers that tended to be cheaper (around 30€ a night each)!
But remember: at this point, hostels and AirBnBs are incredibly well-known budget accommodations. They’re in everyone’s smart vacation spending plan. It’s why you need to book your rooms as far in advance as possible. Otherwise that hostel in the center of the city that fits perfectly into your budget? It’ll be completely booked. And that dreamy AirBnB you found? Won’t be available.
Smart Vacation Spending Plan Tip : Want $40 of travel credit (aka potentially an entire night free) with AirBnB? Then make sure to sign up using my link* and book your dream room now!
*This is a referral link, meaning that you get credit for signing up, and I get credit for referring you at no additional cost to you. Thanks for supporting Signed, Logan!
Exchange money at your bank in advance of your trip.
Those kiosks in the mall or at the airport that allow you to exchange money for any currency you need? Uh, yeah, those are a huge ripoff. Their entire purpose is to turn a profit off of you when you exchange your currency, meaning that you’ll get way fewer euros than your dollars are actually worth.
Your bank, on the other hand? While they still want to have a profit as payment for the service of exchanging your money for you, it isn’t their entire business model. So when you’re creating your smart vacation spending plan, make sure to build a trip to your local branch into it.
Depending on the size of the branch you go to, or its location, they may not always have euros on hand for you to just walk in and buy. There’s a good chance they’ll have to order it for you, which can take a few days. So make sure to call in advance! While it may not be as convenient as the mall or airport kiosks, your wallet will definitely thank your only spending $1.25 per euro instead of $1.40 per euro (when the market price is $1.19).
Don’t book your buses or trains until you get to Germany.
The German public transportation system is awesome. It’s fast, efficient, and relatively inexpensive, as well as incredibly convenient! I’ll admit, I was a little concerned when Fred and I decided not to book our intercity travel in advance, but in the end it really worked out.
By holding off until we arrived in Munich, we were able to better plan our days around the train arrival and departure times we had available. For instance, we had originally planned to leave Munich late in the afternoon and arrive to Karlsruhe just before dinner. But when the night before the train ride rolled around? We realized there wasn’t enough that we wanted to do in Europe that next day, so we booked our train for mid-morning (when it tends to be cheaper, too)!
My suggestion? As soon as you get to a main train station, look for the red OBB or DB kiosks and book the longest (and most expensive) legs of your trip first. You’ll get the best deal the further in advance that you book, and you’ll be able to reserve your seats which is a must for long train rides.
Smart Vacation Spending Plan Tip : Spend the extra 9€ to reserve your seats on long train rides. German trains will often oversell, meaning you could end up standing for 7 hours if you don’t reserve your seat or manage to snag an unreserved one before anyone else!
Shop at local bakeries for breakfast and dinner to keep your food costs low.
If you’re not planning on cooking your own food during your stay in Germany, then your best bet is to shop at the many bakeries that your city has to offer!
Bakeries are incredibly popular in Germany and you can find them on practically every corner, in every major shopping center, as well as in almost every train station. While many of the bakeries are chains, this allows them to mass produce breads, sandwiches, and pastries for incredibly cheap, and those savings are passed on to you.
Is it the most glamorous way to eat your meals? No, not particularly. But it is convenient. And when you can spend a grand total of 5€ for two coffees, a pastry, and pretzel, and a sandwich, it’s hard to justify spending more!
But if you want to have a few good, sit down meals in nicer restaurants, then I definitely recommend making lunch your big meal instead of dinner. For one thing, it’s the German way! And for another, the meals tend to be less expensive, the restaurants less crowded, and you’ll probably be somewhere cooler in the middle of the day than at the end, anyways!
Pay attention to the type of public transportation ticket you’re buying.
While German public transportation is generally pretty cheap, depending on the city, I would caution against immediately buying a 24-hour ticket as your way to get around the city unless you really need it. Take the time to calculate how many times you would have to take the bus or the metro to make it worth it!
Generally, a 24-hour ticket is the cost of 3-5 single ride tickets, depending on the city. For instance, in Munich, a 24-hour ticket was 12.00€, whereas a single ride was 2.90€. If you plan on walking around the whole day, and only using the metro to get into and out of the city, just buy two single ride tickets!
If you’re travelling with at least one other person, it is by far the cheapest to buy a “group” transportation card for your party than for each of you to buy individual tickets. Even if there’s only two of you! Group tickets are for “2 or more” people, and will save you anywhere between 0.50€ and 2.00€ each day depending on how many people you have.
Smart Vacation Spending Plan Tip : Public transportation in German cities is different from regional transportation unless specified otherwise. Just because you took a regional train that day doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay for a metro ticket! Make sure to purchase one and “activate” it with a timestamp as soon as you get on the train to avoid a 100€ fine!
Stock up on large water bottles at grocery stores instead of train stations!
The water in Germany? Well, it’s pretty amazing. Crystal clear, mostly from melting ice and snow in the mountains, and extremely clean and abundant. Which means, of course, that they charge an arm and a leg for it.
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There is no such thing as “free tap water” at a restaurant in Germany, and ordering one will immediately peg you as a tourist without actually saving you money (they’ll still charge you for it). Unfortunately, there’s no way to get around it at a restaurant, so I recommend ordering a nice beer or Radler to get some actual bang for your buck.
But you will need to drink water throughout the day, there’s no getting around that. My recommendation? Walk straight past the bakeries and food stands at the train station and find the nearest grocery store (often tucked inside a larger building) and buy your water there. We’re talking the difference between a potentially 3.00€, 0.5L bottle of still water and a 0.15€, 1.5L bottle of still water! Over the course of two weeks or longer? That definitely adds up!
Have you created a smart vacation spending plan before? Let me know in the comments below, and make sure to share this with a frugal friend!