It's easy for spending to get out of hand on vacation. It's even easier when you're traveling with friends. But #YOLO can quickly morph into uh-oh once you check your credit card bill when you're back home. Here's how friends with different incomes can travel together, fairly split the expenses, and still have fun.
Talk numbers, then plan
Discuss the trip using actual dollar amounts, rather than vague terms such as "affordable" and "expensive," during a preplanning meeting. "Get guidelines from the get-go," says Jacqueline Gifford, editor-in-chief of Travel & Leisure. For instance, ask, "What's the maximum you want to spend on a hotel?"
If the group's idea of cheap is your idea of a splurge, tell the friend you're closest to. "You feel less vulnerable when you share it with just one person first," says Kelly Williams Brown, author of the etiquette books Gracious and Adulting. If the friend thinks the trip is out of reach for you, politely bow out, Williams Brown says. If you can make it work, tell everyone else you're sticking to a budget and may have to skip a few group meals or activities. "I wholeheartedly cosign on radical honesty with your friends about what you can afford," says Paco de Leon, author of Finance for the People: Getting a Grip on Your Finances. Yes, it may feel awkward, but "healthy friendships require a bit of discomfort now and then," she says.
Before you split for the trip, decide how to split bills
Early on in planning, discuss how the group will handle all costs: Will restaurant tabs be divided evenly, no matter what everyone orders, or does anyone not drinking alcohol pay less? Are you taking turns paying for transportation, or will you all pay a single person back after the trip? What payment apps will you use? As Williams Brown points out, "talking about money in the moment, when it is due, is tricky. If you have the discussion ahead of traveling, you don't have to yell down the table of 12, 'I only had the salad!'"
Find flexible accommodations
Within the same hotel or resort, you can choose your own (financial) adventure. "Maybe you book the room without the view, and your friends splash out on the suite with the plunge pool," says Rebecca Misner, senior editor at Condé Nast Traveler. "You just want to respect boundaries, and make sure you're not always encroaching on your friend's room with all the amenities," Misner says.
Avoid house-share turf wars
"House rental sites include 72 photos and a floorplan of a house so that you can see what you're getting ahead of time, and that is exactly when you should talk about who gets which room—and how much each room should cost," Misner says. Don't assume that because you planned the trip, or got there first, you get the best room, she adds. "That can be a real friendship-ender move." Gifford suggests kicking in extra for the nicest room, or paying less if you have to share a bathroom.
Consider an all-inclusive
If you really want to avoid end-of-vacation sticker shock, consider taking a cruise or going to an all-inclusive resort, Misner says. You can help yourself to most meals and drinks, knowing that they're all covered by the quoted booking price.
Pool spending money
"Nobody wants to do epic math at the end of every outing or meal. It really kills the vacation vibe," Misner says. A way to cover all the things is to pool cash at the beginning of the trip—maybe you kick in $300 each—and pay bills from that stash, says Aliya Padamsee, director of Financial Solutions at Fidelity. Using actual paper money for this is key, since "paying cash does not creep up on you the way credit card expenses can," Padamsee says. Since there is a clear budget—and ever-dwindling stack of cash—this approach may help everyone in the group pay attention to prices.
Pick a points person
If the group has agreed to split everything evenly, a friend might volunteer to put every. last. thing. on their credit card (racking up those miles, baby!) and then use a peer-to-peer payment or bill-splitting platform to charge each friend for their share of the trip. What you sacrifice in miles or points you could make up for in convenience and clarity: As with an all-inclusive, you know the exact total you've spent, in a single number—though it's after the fact, not ahead of time. If multiple people want to earn their own miles/points, rotate who pays for everything by day.
Check your credit card balance
If you paid for any group meals or outings on your credit card, and were paid back via a peer-to-peer payment app, Padamsee suggests transferring that money into your bank account ASAP, so it's there when you pay your credit card balance—in full, before its due date. "Credit card debt is usually the highest interest-rate debt that most people have," Padamsee says. "You don't want to dig yourself into a hole with a getaway weekend." (If you thought your friend's hurricane in that souvenir cup-slash-necklace was outrageously expensive at $25, wait until you pay 19.8% compounded interest on it.) Since some charges take a few days to post, Padamsee also says to check your credit card account every few days after you return. Opting in to text alerts for every credit card transaction can also help you keep a rough running tally in your head (or message chain) on all the activity without having to log in constantly.
Don't blow your budget on a bachelorette
Lately, bachelorette parties have become travel extravaganzas. A study by TheKnot.com found that the average cost for a 3-day trip was $773, and 1 in 5 women spends more than $1,000.* But, cautions Williams Brown, "you should not take on credit card debt to go to a bachelorette party."
Even if you are in the bridal party, she says, "a polite pass is a viable option. You can say, 'I want to celebrate you, but money is an object for me.'" Offer to take the bride out for a de-stressing dinner, or help her on wedding-related tasks, says Williams Brown, who offers her nice handwriting for addressing envelopes. Gifford recommends brides bring self-awareness to the invitation: "Think of the ask—whether it's to Austin, Tuscany, or New Orleans—as 'Are you willing to spend the equivalent of a full-blown vacation on me?' And you have to be OK when some people answer no."