Splitting Expenses on Vacation

Simplifying complicated post-vacation settlements

Posted by mh on Feb 22, 2016

I love traveling, but am not self-sufficient enough to travel on my own. As such, I often end up going on various trips with friends, often traveling for a week or more with a group of ~4+ people.


A few years ago, I took a bunch of time off to explore Latin America. I spent time in Mexico, Colombia, and Peru, before making it to Costa Rica for a friend's wedding. Since most of my friends didn't have 6 weeks to travel, I ended up with a motley crew of travel companions.

I spent my time in Baja California with my girlfriend and another couple, saw Colombia with my brother, hiked to Macchu Piccu with a college friend, and met some childhood friends in Costa Rica for the wedding (and a failed surfing adventure beforehand).

Needless to say, at the end, expenses were a complete mess. I either owed money to or was owed money from 8 different people. In an effort to solve that as easily as possible, I realized that all that mattered at the end of the day was how much each person spent, and how much they received. That saved me a ton of steps (e.g., Don owed Charles $XX, etc.). I wrote an Excel sheet that covered that bit, and inputted all the expenses for the trip, collected the money, and that was that.


A year later, a few colleagues and I were planning a ski trip, so I dug out that sheet, blanked it, and uploaded it as a Google Sheet to distribute the data entry. It was especially useful here, as various people were splitting rides from the airport (and even to the airport in SF, etc.). After it was uploaded, a colleague took the time to reformat it, so I've included his efforts here.

I've since used this sheet on a few different other vacations (ski trips, a friend's wedding weekend, etc.), and it has served me well every time. Some friends have told me they've coopted it for other trips, so I figured I'd share the most up-to-date template here.

My biggest issue is uploading expenses from mobile phones, as Google Sheets' iPhone app is a frustrating user experience. As such, I'm working through developing a Javascript/JQuery version (using Firebase as my pseudo-database) to make it easier to use on mobile. I'll keep y'all posted as that gains steam.

For now, click here to get to the template and use it for yourself.

Parting Thoughts

  • Write a mobile friendly version
  • Learn Javascript
  • Set up Firebase