How To Determine The Perfect Vacation Cash Stash

Travel can already be stressful, but with the added pressures of determining how much money to bring, vacation planning can get tricky. On top of the flight, hotel, any visa or tourism entrance fees, and incidentals, like travel accessories and clothing or specialty items needed for the trip, the financial investment of a single vacation can run some people into the thousands.

And then there’s the last remaining variable: spending money.

In late March, a TikTok user shared a now-deleted video about how a girls’ trip to Cozumel, Mexico, had gone awry over the amount of money someone had. The video and subsequent responses and thoughts on the issue sparked a debate over how much money people should bring on vacation, particularly the “minimum” amount viewed as acceptable.

But how much is actually enough? While there’s no specific minimum, there are several factors that can help you decide what’s most appropriate for you to bring. Here are four things to consider when determining how much money you’ll need for your next vacation.

The Where

The destination is the first thing to consider when determining a realistic budget. What is deemed “a lot of money” in one place could be “very little” in another, so the cost of living or visiting is essential when considering how much you’ll need.

For example, St. Barts is considered one of the world’s most expensive places to visit. Everything from hotel accommodations to meals is relatively costly compared to other destinations. According to Budget Your Trip, the average meal cost in St. Barts is around $60. If you plan a week-long visit, a safe bet for the dining tab alone is around $1200 per person.

On the other hand, the same week in Panama City, Panama, widely considered a pretty affordable place to travel, could cost significantly less. The average meal is around $21, so the same week might require around $450 for food.

While $1,000 might not be “too little” in St. Barts, the same $1,000 in Panama could be more than enough.

The Who

The “who” of the  trip is almost as important as the “where.” And though travelers aren’t advised to rely on anyone else’s money while vacationing, there is more wiggle room for help if the travel group is made up of close friends or family than it might be with a group of strangers.

Unfortunately, unforeseen incidents do happen on vacation, and travelers should be prepared financially whenever possible. However, a costly emergency happening on a trip with siblings might look different than one with casual acquaintances.

Let’s say someone loses their phone on the trip. A close friend is more likely to share their phone than someone who doesn’t know the person well as well.

And with family or close friends, you might be okay without a phone for a few days, so the financial need to replace your phone won’t be as urgent. However, that need will likely be a more dire issue if you’re traveling with strangers or people you don’t know as well. A loved one might even gift or lend the amount to replace it while a stranger isn’t likely to get involved.

Travelers should generally always prepare for trip-related incidents, but the financial costs might be more urgent depending on who you’re traveling with.

Prepaid Versus Book-on-Arrival

In the TikTok video about the Cozumel trip, an attendee mentioned that the group had planned to book their excursions on arrival rather than settle it beforehand, ahead of the trip. This is another important factor to consider when deciding how much is needed on vacation.

Double-check your itinerary for what has been booked and paid for in advance versus what will need to be paid upon arriving at the destination. This way, there are fewer surprises about how much money the trip really requires.

If all excursions are paid for in advance, that eliminates some of the cost burden during the trip itself.

It’s Personal

Personal habits and needs on vacations are also significant factors in deciding how much money you’ll need for an upcoming trip.

For example, some people are big shoppers when on vacation. Part of an ideal trip for them includes a visit to the nearest mall or retailer with the intention of buying things. If this is important to you, it might be helpful to factor it into your budget. On the other hand, if it’s not essential, that’s one less thing to plan for.

Also, consider your eating habits. Are you likely to eat three meals a day? Or just once? Do you frequent fine dining establishments or are you okay with more casual options? And think about what you’ll want to do or how you’ll want to get around. Will you utilize public transportation or ride shares? Or do you prefer private care hires?

Clarifying what you want to do and its cost is important when deciding how much money is most appropriate for you to bring.

All in all, the amount of money that’s best to bring on vacation is purely case-by-case. There’s no magic number and no one-size-fits-all amount. It depends on the destination, what will happen on the trip, and the individual habits and connections of the person or people going.