Travelling with your friends seems like the most fun idea ever. But group trips are also riddled with potential money landmines. One friend’s idea of lunch is a three course meal at the top-rated restaurant in town. Another insists you all walk the whole way across the city to save R20 on a train fare. You offer to pay for the accommodation but know you’ll be waiting months for that one friend to pay you back (you know… that friend). Someone else announces in a hurt voice that they’ve bought every single bottle of champagne so far and that it’s someone else’s turn to buy a round, even though you’re pretty sure that same friend is the only one who’s been drinking it.
How do you make sure that the money stuff doesn’t turn your dream holiday into the vacation from hell?
Make your own plan
You don’t have to suddenly turn into Dwight Schrute and start obsessively spreadsheeting your life, but just half an hour of planning before you travel can make all the difference to your stress levels. Figure out what your major costs are going to be (usually transport, accommodation and visas). Then, work out a reasonable daily budget.
It can help to use a cost of living calculator like Numbeo to figure out what’s normal for the city you’re going to. Or better yet, ask a friend who’s been there recently.
Build in an overall contingency amount for emergencies. Like the time I accidentally got onto an express train in Paris and ended up two towns away, two hours before our international flight, and had to get a R1,000 Uber to get to the airport in time. 20% is a good contingency number.
Remember that travelling with friends means you’re more likely to get lured into doing some stuff you wouldn’t do on your own (which is half the fun!), so that contingency buffer is extra important.
Once you’ve figured out your own budget, communicate it to the people you’re going to be travelling with. What you consider a reasonable amount of money to spend on a holiday is not necessarily what your friends do.
A big group planning chat can be helpful. Tell everyone what your daily budget is, and the one or two big things you intend to splurge on. There’s no point in being skaam about this. Trying to keep up with the Joneses whilst you are literally sharing a bathroom with them is just a recipe for misery.
Figure out how you’re going to split the bills. Are you going to cook together and split all food costs equally, or all fend for yourselves? If it’s a road trip, how are you going to split petrol costs?
And most importantly, also listen to your friends, and figure out what kind of holiday they’re picturing. If you’re the one who’s a little more flush, you might need to adjust your own expectations down. Your friendships are more important than the holiday itself.
If you’re the one who needs to keep a tight rein on the budget, make sure that you get involved in the planning. Other people might not care enough about saving a few hundred rand to justify spending an extra few minutes looking for flights, but you might!
Log your spending
Don’t let yourself be surprised at the end of a trip with a whole bunch of shared expenses you didn’t know you were incurring. If you’ve agreed to share costs, log your transactions as soon as you’ve made them in a place where the rest of your crew can see them, and ask your friends to do so too.
You might not care so much about buying your friends the odd round here or there, and feel like it’s easier if you just “sort it all out later”, but chances are that at least one of your friends does care (unless you’re partying with Kardashians). Logging as you go will help your more budget-sensitive friends make sure that they’re not blowing their daily budget.
Don’t be that friend
If you owe your friends money, pay them back. ASAP. Don’t conveniently “forget” about it and hope that they will too. Don’t be that friend. No-one likes that friend.
Hold your ground
All of your conscientious budgeting and expectation-setting isn’t going to help if you’re not able to stick to your plan. If your friends keep pushing you to spend money you can’t afford, remind them of your daily budget (you diddiscuss this with them before, right?) and hold your ground.
At worst, this might mean that you have to bow out of the odd activity and go adventuring on your own for a little while, but with most things you can still participate as long as you’re disciplined with yourself. Have one drink instead of four, eat a starter meal at the restaurant and fill up with bread when you get back to the AirBnb, get creative! Friends make your holiday great, not extravagant spending. (once, on a holiday to a country with a much stronger currency than ours, a friend and I stole the leftovers from a neighbouring restaurant table after they left, and smuggled the half-empty bottle of wine out the restaurant to drink it in the park – stingy behaviour, but it was probably the most fun afternoon of our trip).
But as long as you’ve generally stuck to your daily budget, it’s worth blowing your budget to splash out on one or two special things. After all, what else are holidays for?