Ahh! Summer vacation. Everyone looks forward to the day that school is out and vacation can begin.
Now that most COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and traveling has become less dependent on a person’s vaccine status, people are taking to the road and the sky in record numbers. As a result, prices for plane fares, hotels, and rental cars have soared.
How do you still have fun this summer but not blow your carefully planned budget for the year? Let’s look at the following smart ideas.
In the perfect world, you have summer vacation as a line item in your annual budget and have put money aside toward that goal. If that’s true, congrats! You’re ahead of the game.
However, if you are just now starting to formulate a plan for summer break, you will need to determine the following:
● Identify a why: Are you going on vacation to experience some needed relaxation, reconnect with relatives at a family reunion, or cross off a European country from your elaborate bucket list? Think about why you are traveling and what is important for you to see and do this summer.
● Figure out a dollar amount: What can you, or are you willing to, spend on vacation? That number might be in the hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on your financial situation. Look at your finances and come up with a dollar amount, with 10% wiggle room.
● Check rewards credits: If you have a credit card with rewards or points that you’ve been accumulating, now might be the summer to cash them in. Determine what travel bonuses you currently have that may knock down the price of hotels or car rental fees.
● Add up mileage points: If you belong to an airline or hotel loyalty program, you can couple these with your credit card reward programs and possibly receive a free flight, free companion fare, or an automatic upgrade. You might also have complimentary use of the airline’s airport lounge or be eligible to receive a TSA pre-check for free.
● Hit up friends and relatives: Once you have identified a location to where you will be traveling, consider contacting family or friends in the area. Perhaps they have room to host you for a night or two. If not, maybe they can point you to local economical options that travel booking sites aren’t privy to.
Now that you have a budget and an idea of what rewards are available for you to use, here comes the fun part: planning your summer vacation! Let’s look at the specific points to ponder and how to keep them on budget.
● Who’s going: Are you taking a solo trip or one with your spouse? Will your minor children, adult kids, or in-laws be traveling with you? You will need to identify who is going and determine what part of the travel expenses is your financial responsibility.
● How long: Will you be vacationing for a three-day weekend or longer? Is this the year that you choose to become a “slomad” and spend a month abroad? The length of your trip will be determined in part by your budget, but also by work and school schedules.
● Where to travel: Summer is a popular time to hit the road, so in-demand destinations will have higher prices and more crowds. If a vacation spot is sold out or overbooked, that means somewhere else is going to be quieter and nearly empty. For example, a popular U.S. national park like Yosemite will almost always be packed in the summer months, while the equally beautiful Olympic National Park is not nearly as busy. Look for alternatives.
● When to go: The height of summer, June and July, is the most popular and also the most expensive time to travel. If schedules allow, think about traveling during the cheaper timeframes of mid-May to early June or August to mid-September. It is still warm but the prices are lower and the crowds aren’t as prevalent.
● How to get there: Is flying the best option? If you are going to another continent, then probably yes. But if you are traveling domestically, does it make more sense to drive to your destination? Don’t forget to factor in the cost of fuel, lodgings, and food.
● Look for special packages: Travel groups, tour companies, and even warehouse stores bundle air, hotel, and rental car packages for a lower price than if you purchased them separately. Keep an eye out for special deals on combo packages for couples or larger groups.
● Be flexible: Flying mid-week, avoiding major holidays, utilizing smaller airports, using rideshares, and staying in lodgings that have a kitchen are some ways to shave off some expenses if you are willing to be flexible.
● Include paid and free activities: There is no getting around certain entrance fees or admission tickets for popular attractions. But balance those costly activities with some that don’t cost a dime. Every city and small town has museums, children’s events, and community festivals that are free and provide a fun taste of local flavor.
● Don’t forget food: Food and drink can eat up a large chunk of your vacation budget. Consider staying in a place with a kitchen so you can cook some meals with supplies from a local grocery store instead of eating out in a restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Or choose a hotel where breakfast or happy hour snacks are included. Packing a reusable water bottle and non-perishable snacks is also a good way to save a few bucks.
Summer vacation is a great time to take a break from your normal routine, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. Take time to put together a budget and plan in advance, so you can enjoy the months ahead.