When it comes to spending their hard-earned money on a vacation, most people make the same big mistake: they charge the vacation on a credit card and don’t have the money to pay it off when they return home. In order to avoid stressing out your pocketbook, it’s worthwhile to listen to the money-saving advice from NPR’s financial expert Alvin Hall and other knowledgeable travelers.
“That decision can turn the most relaxing vacation into a long nightmare of unpaid debt, says Hall. “I have no problem with people charging the hotel, the airline tickets, but they should have the money in the bank.”
Many tools that made saving for time off work a no-brainer, such as holiday gift accounts and vacation clubs, have unfortunately fallen by the wayside. “Most people feel that they can just charge it now rather than save up for it in advance,” he notes. “But the same principles can apply. People can open their own savings accounts. They can put money away for vacation throughout the year and then select a vacation that sticks within that budget.”
What are some tips for families and singles desiring stress-free getaways that won’t break their budgets? Experts assert that you can have a quality vacation – if you choose locations where the currency exchange rate is favorable, use a travel agent for fool-proof international travel and track your monthly spending to get a handle on your money situation.
Frequent travelers offer wide-ranging ideas to keep on track for a memorable trip.
- Be aware of what you want. Whether your idea of a great vacation is relaxing on an exotic beach or experiencing adventurous thrills like ziplines and spelunking, know what you are after on your time off.
- You can only spend a dollar once. “What a dreadful realization,” a solotravelerworld.com blogger laments. “But also, an important one, as it has caused me to pause and think about how each dollar, or at least more of them, are spent.” Furthermore, your budget is meaningless if you don’t know your expenses. You likely won’t be able to save for the unexpected, either.
- Be frugal. “Research shows that paying when you can afford it, whether by cash or credit cards, contributes to happiness,” the writer added. “The process of saving for something such as a trip elongates the joy of that trip. Your pleasure is in the anticipation as well as the travel and afterglow.”
- Don’t waste your money. “Before I spend any amount of money, on anything, I ask myself, ‘Is this worth more to me than my next trip?’” notes Jillian, a member of the Solo Traveler Society. “Adjust your entire financial outlook down to the core: rent, transportation, monthly bills, all of it.” You may find you want less and experience so much more.
- Do it yourself. Doing your own gardening, housekeeping, laundry and simple repairs can save a bundle, which can then be spent for travel, suggests Louise, another society member. It saves “thousands and thousands annually…(It) keeps me in shape, and I’m able to travel every year.”
- Out of sight, out of mind. Setting up a direct-deposit account at your credit union or bank allows you to save painlessly.
- Think out of the box. According to the Recreational Vehicle Association, more than 380,000 motor homes and trailers will be sold this year. While some getaways are pricey, the association says, RV experiences can be very affordable.
- Consider off-season destinations. Parents can save a bundle by choosing alternative destinations in the so-called “shoulder seasons” of spring and fall, like New Orleans in the fall or San Diego in the spring.
- Extend your thinking. Expanded-stay hotels provide affordable suites and complimentary amenities, such as free breakfasts, refrigerators and microwaves, washing machines and free Wi-Fi. Services like Airbnb and VRBO offer many different types of accommodations, including longer-term rentals. If you’re going to Europe, consider renting an apartment rather than footing the bill for an expensive hotel room.
- Bring snacks from home. If you’re headed to a pricey cruise or beach resort, consider bringing snacks such as protein bars, crackers, peanut butter, trail mix and beef jerky.
The importance of summer vacation is clear even if many of us choose to forgo time off. In the midst of our busy lives, even financial experts agree that getting away from the day-to-day grind is vital.
“As I’ve grown over the years, I’ve sort of become aware that you need that psychological break from life in order to renew yourself, in order to feel fresh when you come back to work,” NPR’s Hall declares. “So, I choose to go off into some place totally different.”