4 Steps on How to Plan a Vacation on a Budget | Real Life Costa Rica Vacation Budget Breakdown

Hubby and I just went on the most amazing Costa Rica vacation! Eight days of pure heaven on earth. The rain forest, wild monkeys, quiet beaches, exotic wildlife, peaceful hot springs, and views that never get old.

That all sounds like an expensive vacation but we were able to make our 10 year wedding anniversary unforgettable on a limited budget. I want to show you how we did it so you can do the same thing too!

Follow these four SIMPLE STEPS on how to plan a vacation on a budget and start planning your vacation today! Your dream vacation is 100% doable when you learn how to travel on a budget. This girl shares real life numbers of exactly what her family spent on their Costa Rica dream vacation!

Did you see all my Instagram Stories when we in Costa Rica!? Follow me on Instagram to get all the extra day-to-day frugal living tips and behind the scenes looks first hand!

How to Afford a Dream Vacation

Don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel! I share extra tips over there that are not shared here. Don’t miss out! 

If you have watched any of my real life budget updates, you know that we are by no stretch, rollin’ in the dough! We have a very average income for living in San Diego.

I just wanted to preface this entire thing with that being said, to show that you don’t need to be bringing home an impressive paycheck to make your dream vacation work!

There is no secret sauce in the steps you will take in getting closer to burying your toes in the sand (or whatever your dream is). But sometimes it’s the simple things that we overlook

Use these four steps to start planning your dream vacation now so you can actually make it your reality! 

Step 1. Make sure that you are debt free. Just last October, only nine months before we left on our Costa Rica vacation, our family officially became 100% debt free! You can read more details on that adventure here.

It’s amazing how much freedom becoming debt free gives you. We have so much more control of our money and get to make fun decisions on what to do with it. Once you become debt free, you will free up so much more cash to put towards your dream vacation.


Step 2. Write down your dream destinations and make a Top 10 list. This step is going to take some research. I recently watched this amazing YouTube video all about the most affordable locations to visit all over the globe!

One of their main tips was to visit towns or countries that were close to the “touristy” destinations. Take that tip into consideration when writing out your list.

Your list should not only include the destination, but you want to write out estimates for each of the following per each location.

  • Flight
  • Lodging
  • Food
  • Transportation
  • Excursions


Step 3. Based off your rough estimate for your top 10 list, make the executive decision of where you will vacationing! Once that fun task is completed, it’s time to make a detailed budget for your trip. The objective of this step is to get a realistic (maybe even generous) number to set as your savings goal.

Try to think of every expense you might run into on your trip. Get super detailed! Here are the categories we included in our Costa Rica vacation:

  • Passports / renewals
  • Plane tickets
  • Airport parking
  • Baggage fees
  • Hotel (including fees if possible)
  • Food (travel days, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks)
  • Departure tax
  • Car rental / transportation
  • Rental car insurance
  • Gas
  • Souvenirs & misc.
  • Extra spur moment adventures
  • Excursions
  • Refundable deposits for hotels and car rental

Make sure to watch the video to see the exact number breakdown for exactly what we spent for our entire trip! That might help give you a better idea on how to set your own dream vacation budget.


Step 4. Figure out how much you can afford to put aside in savings each month and set the date for departure! Kinda work backwards on this one.

First figure out how much you are willing and are able to set aside each month into a vacation savings account. Then with your vacation budget grand total, divide that number by how much you can save each month. The number you get is how many months it will take you to save the cash. Set your vacation date for not a day earlier.

 Here is an example to hopefully help better explain this step. Let’s say your total vacation budget is estimated to be $3,000 and you are able to put aside $100 each month into savings. Take $3,000 divided by $100 and you get 30. So in order to save $3,000 for your trip it will take you 30 months.

You probably will want to give yourself at least a couple months cushion. There will be months with hiccups where you might not be able to put your entire goal savings aside.

Once you start to have cash set aside, you will be able to start shopping the sales. Remember, you don’t need the cash upfront for all expenses of your trip. Don’t misinterpret this advice, YOU WILL PAY CASH FOR EVERYTHING!

What I’m saying is, you don’t have to save your entire goal amount before you start shopping for things like plane tickets and reserving hotels. With the cash in hand, you can shop the sales!


What I would do different

The first thing I would do different is plan my own trip vs. using a travel agent. Now that we have done our first international trip, I feel a little more comfortable navigating the internet to find good deals in other countries.

The second thing I will do differently in our future dream vacation is to budget more money for excursions. I mistakenly thought we could find “free” things to do on our own all while not speaking the local language. Though I do think you CAN do that with some time and research, I would like to “splurge” a little more and spend the money to have guided excursions.


If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Don’t forget! I will be posting daily vlogs and also pictures from our trip over the next few days. So be sure to check back to see how amazing your next vacation could be!

Thanks so much for stopping in and I will talk to you later! xoxo



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