Our love of warm weather, the need to take a break from hectic work schedules to recharge our batteries or our children’s holiday from school are some of the valid reasons many of us give for taking vacations during summer months. However many individuals and families return from vacation completely broke and/or in debt, and therefore spend the subsequent months or even years in some cases dealing with the resulting crisis. The goal of this article is to suggest tips to help ensure that your upcoming summer vacation is a financially fun one, and that the memories will continue to create smiles and not tears afterwards.
- Save, don’t spend for the rainy day: Want to take a trip to Disney, Paris or Dubai? Why not start putting money aside at least 6 months prior to your anticipated travel date? A vacation package that costs as much as one pay check is one you need to plan and save for well in advance. You should fund vacation and leisure trips from your savings and not by increasing your debt.
- Book in advance: You can get great deals on airfares and hotels if you book your trip early.
- Shop around: Don’t take the first deal you get, shop around for ‘value’. Many of us erroneously think shopping around means we are being cheap, that is far from the truth, you have worked hard for your money and should get value for it. Several travel websites offer great deals especially if you add hotel stays or cars to your flight booking. You should also take advantage of employee, AAA, student, military, airline/hotel reward program and other types of discounts.
- The more the merrier: Instead of going on vacation by yourself or with just your family, why not go with other solo travelers, couples, friends or families? Going with a nice group can be fun especially when traveling to places you are not really familiar with, it also offers many opportunities to save money. For instance, you may be able to rent a house at a cheaper rate than a hotel or rent a van instead of taking taxi cabs. Don’t know anyone who wants to travel when you are planning to? The solution is simple, there are many good websites that organize trips for select groups like solo travelers, couples, ladies etc.
- Be true to yourself: I seriously cringe when I hear parents say ‘we are going to London this summer because everyone in our children’s school is going’, apart from this being a bad way to raise your children, you can land in unbelievable financial problems by trying to keep up with the Joneses. Be creative, vacation is about relaxation, so anything that will bring stress at a later date does not qualify to be in this category, always cut your coat according to your size. If your finances cannot accommodate options that include expensive airfares, explore local options or places that you can take long road trips to.
- Timing: You can save a lot of money by traveling off-season. For instance, since the whole world seems to visit Washington DC in May, why not consider spending your vacation in Atlanta, which is one of the cities listed by cheaptickets.com as the cheapest places to visit in May? Or instead of going to New York City in June, why not go in January, when the crowd is less and vacation packages are far cheaper?
- Set a budget: Make sure you establish a simple budget for each category of expenditure before reaching your destination. Determine how much you want to spend on food, local transportation, attractions etc. Don’t be a ‘pay as you go traveler’, spending money without a plan is like boarding a flight without a destination in mind, this will only land you in trouble. You must however be flexible and leave room for overages and unforseen expenses.
- Tune in to the purpose: Trips abroad definitely afford us the opportunity to shop for clothes, shoes and many other things we need. However, we need to really pay attention to the reason for the trip. It is okay if the original purpose of your trip is to shop, then you can spend every waking moment in the mall, but if you traveled to relax and recharge your batteries, shopping should not be number one on each day’s agenda. Budget conscious and smart travelers must remember that ‘it is not an investment if you are wearing it’, so go easy on the clothes, focus on relaxation.
- What not to pack: Try not to pack your credit card. I know many people need credit cards to check into hotels or retrieve other reservations at vacation destinations, so it may be important to take at least one credit card with you. In cases like this, credit cards should be securely kept in the same safe place your passports are kept. Taking credit cards along for shopping trips and excursions can land you in a lot of trouble. Even the most disciplined person may end of buying things that are wasteful and unnecessary. Try paying for items using cash or debit cards so as to stay within your preset budget. Remember if you don’t have it, you can’t swipe it.
- What to pack: Lots of discipline, creativity and willingness to have fun!
Hope these tips help you have a fun summer vacation this year and in the future. Bon Voyage!