Holidays are supposed to be carefree and relaxing, but happy memories can quickly turn to homecoming blues if you arrive back and realise you’ve spent too much on enjoying yourself.

The rand exchange rate and price of airfares mean overseas holidays are expensive. That’s why it’s a good idea to plan carefully before you prepare to jet off for the trip of a lifetime.

Financial services provider, DirectAxis, spoke to some travel industry insiders and compiled these tips to ensure you get the most from your holiday budget and come home to happy memories rather than financial nightmares.

No pain, no gain:

Few of us like to budget, but the pain of doing it is temporary and you’ll enjoy sipping your drink and dipping your toes in a warm ocean much more if you’re not stressing about how you’re going to pay for it all.

There aren’t any hard-and-fast rules about how to do this. The main thing is to think through all the costs and know how much you can afford to spend before you commit to booking tickets or paying a deposit for accommodation. A good place to start is to list the costs you can cover before you leave. These include things such as: accommodation, flights and travel insurance.

Then think about day-to-day expenses while you’re away. These could be: food and drinks, excursions or sight-seeing tours, transfers to and from the airport and from your hotel or AirBnB to places of interest and spending money.

You can make the process a little more fun by doing some virtual exploring. Go online and explore the places and things you want to see. When doing this you should also be able to get a reasonable idea of the costs.

Get the best deal:

When it comes to booking remember that travel products are time sensitive. An empty airplane seat or hotel room can’t be re-sold the next day. When dealing with travel agents, hotels or tour operators, it’s always worth asking if you can get a better price than what’s being advertised.

The more flexible you can be the better. Airfares tend to be more expensive during busy times such as the beginning and end of the holiday season. Even the time of day you choose to fly may save you some money. Popular early morning or evening departures are often more expensive than flights during the day. Compare fares between airlines to make sure you’re getting the best price possible. If you’re flying overseas consider indirect flights. Although less convenient, they are usually cheaper.

Be careful about price-comparison websites. Although they can save you money, the comparisons can be distorted by companies offering the cheapest headline prices by not including extras. If you are using one of these sites, make sure you know what’s included before booking.

When you’re deciding what you want to see and do on your holiday, check whether there are any discounts for pre-booking or combining two or three activities.

Avoid unexpected costs:

Few things can be more frustrating, or expensive, than arriving at the airport to find that your bag is overweight or that your carry-on bag is too large to be allowed on board. Excess baggage charges are excessive, so weigh and measure your bags to avoid any nasty surprises. If there’s no way to reduce the weight of your bag, check to see if the airline will offer a discount if you pre-pay the excess baggage. Also remember that baggage allowances can vary, so if you’re travelling on more than one carrier, you need to check the rules for each.

Avoid airport express services. Non-stop transport links that whip you from the airport to the city centre may seem convenient, but they are usually considerably more expensive. A one-way Heathrow Express ticket, for example, will cost you nearly R500 compared to the Tube which is about R200.

If you intend using public transport to get around, a one-day transport pass is usually better value than buying a single fare every time you want to go somewhere.

Be careful about car rental pricing. Many car-hire companies advertise low rates and then unexpectedly add extras. Check what the rate includes and try to compare bottom line rather than headline prices.

Tempting as it may be, avoid the minibar. The costs can be prohibitive. Rather get a drink at the bar and buy your own cooldrinks and snacks.

For more information about travelling on a budget, click here.