9 Tips for Vacationing Well

My, oh my, this year is flying by. I swear it was just Valentine’s Day a few weeks ago. Suddenly it’s nearly the end of May and kids are finishing up with school for the year. And you know what that signals right? Summer vacations!

Very soon many of us will be jetting off to vacation destinations around the globe. Some of us will be lying around a pool or tanning ourselves aside the ocean while others prefer to see the sites in big cities like New York, Paris or Rome. No matter where your travel plans take you this summer we all want the same thing, to not come home broke from vacation!

Vacations are intended to be a break from the stresses of the real world. You want to forget all about the things that stress you out back home. That’s why it’s easy to overspend when you go on vacation. The last thing on your mind is counting pennies or sticking to a budget. However, you have to consider the consequences of returning home being in debt up to your eyeballs or not having any cash in your account. After all, you want to return from vacation with less stress, not more!

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To keep your sanity intact and debt at bay first discuss with your partner or yourself a budget for your vacation. There is a rule of thumb it says a once-a-year vacation should cost about one week’s salary, but that’s too rigid to apply to everyone. You need to talk about a number that you are both comfortable with spending, not just one of you. It won’t be a stress free trip if one of you is constantly worrying about how much money is being spent during your travels and the other is tired of hearing about it! That’s a sure fire way to ruin a vacation.

The number you come up with should be an overall amount. It will need to pay for your airfare (if applicable), hotel stay, gas, food (eating out too), activities and cash. Once you’ve decided on a budget you can then start to determine how much you can spend in each of those categories.

Of course the largest part of your budget will go to airfare and accommodations. To save money on these areas it starts with booking. Essentially you could save yourself thousands of dollars just by booking the right vacation, at the right time. Timing plays a big part in any money saving adventure. Long time readers know my What to Buy When series that I do throughout the year. Essentially there is a best (read: cheap) time to buy almost everything to get a good deal. That goes for summer vacations too. Ideally you want to book your vacation three to six months out. This is especially true if you are flying to your destination. Statistically the cheapest time to buy tickets is about three months in advance. After that point, prices rise slowly but surely until about three weeks out when prices take a nose dive. The longer in advance you book your trip, the more choices you’ll have and the more cash you’ll save.

If you’re smart enough to plan that far ahead for a vacation, then you may be able to get it even cheaper, like nearly free if you play your (credit) cards right. There are a number of credit cards available that offer free frequent flier miles if you sign up and are approved. Most offer somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 miles as a sign-up bonus, which is perfect because that’s about how many you’ll need to get a free round trip ticket. Most of these cards require applicants to have fair to good credit scores as well as meet a two to three month spending requirement. If you can accomplish both those things you could get a free ticket out of the card. The trick is to get the bonus miles, book your trip, then close the account and do the same thing next year when you’re ready to take another vacation!

Booking a trip that far in advance isn’t always possible though. Some of us reach a breaking point and need a vacation stat! We can’t wait months at that point to get some stress relief in our lives, but we still don’t want to over pay for it either. In this instance sign up for last minute vacation deals through sites like airfarewatchdog.com and kayak.com. These sites are comparison sites that search the web for all available deals and return the cheapest options that match your criteria.

Like I said earlier, timing plays a big role in getting a good deal on a vacation. Traveling to a destination during it’s off season means you’ll be paying cheaper rates and experience fewer crowds. Of course there is a tradeoff to this approach. Most likely you’ll sacrifice optimal weather. For example the Caribbean is cheap in the summer because it’s hot, humid and hurricanes are a threat. However, you’ll save a great deal of money on both airfare and hotel rooms during the summer months.

You can also save yourself money by booking packages instead of booking your travel, hotel and car separately. What started out as a marketing tool to get travelers to spend more money has turned out to be a money saving tool! If you are going to need any combination of these two or all three traveling essentials, airfare, lodging and rental car, book them together through a travel website like Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak, or Priceline.

If not having a maid or room service doesn’t bother you, then you can save big bucks by booking a privately owned property instead of a hotel. Lodging at one of these properties can range from a single family home or apartment to beach houses and luxurious mansions. Privately owned rentals usually are significantly cheaper than hotel rooms of comparable quality, and they almost always offer more space, a homier feel and a kitchen, which allows you to save on meals as well. Check out homeaway.com (the largest of the privately owned vacation rental sites), VRBO.com or airbnb.com to search their worldwide database of rentals.

Your next most costly part of your trip will be your food. Travel shows like $24 in 24 that depict eating cheaply in cities across America isn’t always as easy to do as the food networks make it seem. Since no one wants to cook on vacation travellers tend to eat out quite a bit, which can quickly erode your entire budget. Instead of eating dinner out at that fabulous, but expensive restaurant you’ve always wanted to try, go there for breakfast, brunch or lunch. The menu is often the exact same as it is for dinner, but much cheaper. Plus you can take a doggie bag home of whatever you didn’t eat earlier and eat it for dinner to save yourself even more money.

As far as entertainment goes, like visiting museums or going snorkelling, check online for coupons before you leave. Often enough simple internet searches result in deals for dollar or percentages off full price activities. Just be sure to read the fine print to find out about any exclusions.

While you’re searching online for activities to do in your destination check out their local online newspaper or city website. Check out the calendar of events during your stay to find out about free live music, festivals and other events. The bulletin board of the local library is also a good place to find information on walking tours or local events going on while you’re vacationing there.

Vacations are about leaving behind the worries that stress you out and make your real life less appealing. It’s tempting to live it up while you’re on vacation to make that week or weekend everything your real life is not. Just don’t go overboard. Find that balance between cost and quality. Staying at four star hotels and dining at five star restaurants are nice, but so are three star hotels and favourite local eateries. Splurge a bit, but smartly. Hopefully these tips help you figure out how to spend your vacation dollars wisely.

Enjoy!

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Keeping Money in Your Pocket,

Nancy Patterson


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