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Vacations are a time to let loose, live it up and, yes, even blow a little cash. But keep in mind — it’s one thing to spend $100 on a fancy dinner and another thing entirely to spend it on traffic tickets, which is exactly what happened to me and my husband on our recent trip to Italy.

After making a wrong turn onto the Autostrada, we passed through a toll booth, not realizing we were supposed to take the ticket waving discreetly from the machine. As soon as we pulled up to the next toll plaza, an irate man in blue pants stepped out and proceeded to photograph the license plate of our rental car and issue us a big, fat ticket for 57 euros, or $64.42.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, we found a parking ticket (another $30) tucked under our windshield wiper a few hours later. “It’s not a big deal,” my husband said half-joking. “Besides, it’s not like they know where we live.” But knowing the rental agency could easily turn our information over to the authorities — and that ignoring a ticket, at least in the U.S., could ultimately hamper my credit — I wasn’t about to take any chances. I resolved to suck it up and pay the fines when we got home.

What a Waste

You may argue spending money on tickets isn’t a wasted expenditure but one due to sheer negligence. To which I’d respond, “You’re totally right. But I still didn’t want to spend the money.”

After being hit with not one, but two tickets in Italy, I’m prepared to start budgeting for costs like these on future vacations. Why? Because every time I venture somewhere that the customs are different, I put myself at risk for doing something incredibly stupid. And if you’re a budget-conscious traveler like me, you might want to consider doing the same.

While there are no hard and fast rules for how much money to set aside, you should take some factors into consideration. Are you renting a car? If so, bone up on the local rules of the land and prepare for the worst. Planning to party? By all means set some money aside for wherever the night takes you. And so on it goes.

You can set aside extra cash before your vacation by cutting out unnecessary expenses like morning lattes. And you can put bonuses or unexpected cash toward your savings. Another option is putting those unused credit card rewards points to use to cover major costs, such as hotels or airfare.

Remember, no matter where you’re headed, it pays to keep your credit in tip-top shape and be careful not to rack up debt, which could ravage your credit scores. Keep an eye on your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

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Image: Leonardo Patrizi

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