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Let's talk about saving on vacations

How to save on your next vacation 

If I wasn’t planning finances, I’d be planning vacations!  Many of my clients know that about me, and we share a love of travel.  I love to discover new places and particularly enjoy the thrill of putting together the perfect itinerary that pleases all members of my family (or so I like to think).    It’s so much like financial planning… I start out with just a vague notion of where I want to go, start my web search, visit my favorite travel sites and initially I am totally overwhelmed.  I start figuring out all the things we want to do with little knowledge of the distance between cities, the costs of accommodations, or the number of days required.  With more and more time and research, somehow it comes together.  For me, that’s part of the fun.  I also like to balance splurges with some money saving ideas. 

My very favorite money saving tip is to rent a house through a vacation rental site (I like VRBO).  I discovered this when my boys were preteens and I so wish I’d thought if it earlier.  I was the mom with the diaper bag full of toys and games (we didn’t actually have smart phones when my kids were really small – imagine!) that I lugged to every restaurant to keep them quiet and entertained during a meal.  Eating out two or three meals a day wasn’t always a relaxing experience.  Then there were the preteen and teen years and believe me those boys could eat.  So, enter the vacation home experience and it was a game changer.  At first, I thought I’d miss the maid making up the room each day, but I really don’t.  I hate to grocery shop at home, but somehow going to a store on vacation is different.  We try to visit a local market and buy food that’s specific to the region if we can, but we also just buy bread and peanut butter and make lunches to bring with us each day.  We have found that, for the most part, we enjoy a picnic at roadside scenic point much more than another fast food hamburger.  To top it all off, we often get a second bathroom, separate beds for the kids, and, wait for it – a washer and dryer.   

Here are some other ideas to save on your next trip. 

               Travel Off-season:

Most vacation locales have an expensive, busy season—the Caribbean is popular during the winter, when Northerners travel to escape the cold. You don’t necessarily want to travel at the cheapest times of year, or you could be stuck in a hurricane. Instead, look at prices for “shoulder seasons,” just before and after peak seasons. Airfare, hotel accommodations and other travel expenses are likely to be discounted to attract tourists during these parts of the year.  This can be hard to do for families with school aged children, but it’s worth looking closely at the school calendars. 

               Be Flexible About Flying:

If you can be flexible about when you fly, you can save a lot of money. Sometimes, flying out a day earlier or later can be significantly cheaper. Flights that have layovers are also usually cheaper. If there are several airports near your home compare prices to see if you can save money by driving a little farther out of the way.  I like to use the Hopper app on my phone to set price alerts.  Look for flights on Tuesday or Wednesday for lower fares. 

               Plan Ahead:

Booking airfare, hotels, all-inclusive packages and cruises is often cheaper if you plan your trip far in advance. Sometimes, however, the reverse can be true. If you’d like to attend a Broadway show, for instance, you can usually get discounted tickets by buying the morning of the show.  I like to try to book my car rental far in advance… you can always cancel it and rebook if there’s a better price.  It’s one of the first items I book when I’m planning a trip. 

               Buy a Vacation Package:

You probably have already learned that it’s often cheaper to buy a value meal than to order à la carte. The same logic applies to vacations. You can save a significant amount of money by booking your airfare, hotel and rental car as a package deal.

               Skip the Souvenirs:

Studies on happiness show that consumers experience more joy when paying for experiences, not things. Focus your vacation budget on trying local food, sightseeing and experiencing the culture. This way, you won’t have tacky shot glasses and magnets cluttering your house when you return.  True confessions – we have some tacky shot glasses and magnets, and one of our favorite things to buy is an ornament for our Christmas tree.  I think those are low budget items that bring me pleasure in remembering a trip.  Don’t forget pressed pennies for great collectibles at an affordable price for kids. 

Avoid Restaurants:

Instead of going to expensive restaurants for every meal during your trip, check out grocery stores and try your hand at cooking the local fare. Street food vendors are another inexpensive way to sample local delicacies. If you have your heart set on trying a restaurant, see if they have a more affordable lunch menu.

               Save on Transportation:

Taxis are an expensive convenience—depending on where you’re headed, a cab fare can cost as much as a weeklong bus or subway pass. To save money, learn the public transportation system and travel like the locals do.  We like to do this. I think I’ve been on the DC Metro more than I’ve been on our very own Chicago L trains.  It’s kind of fun to figure it out and feel like a local.  If you are vacationing in a city, try to skip the car which of course, isn’t too hard to do with ride share apps now. 

               Sightsee on a Budget:

You may already subscribe to local daily deals sites. You can do the same for your vacation destination and receive notifications on cheap activities to do. There are also numerous free activities to do in every city, including free walking tours. (the free walking tours are great – the guides work for tips so do plan on paying your way) If you do decide to visit museums and other landmarks, see if your chosen city has a city pass available, which can save you money if you hit up several tourist spots during your trip.  If you have an annual pass to a local zoo, museum, or botanical garden, check for a reciprocal agreement with the attractions in the city that you are visiting. 

I’m all about balance in my financial life.  I like to limit every day indulgences (you will never see me frequenting a certain coffee shop) and spend money on memories and experiences.  I try to work with my clients to find their own balance as well and to feel in control of their financial lives.  If you put thought into how you spend your money, how you save your money, and learn how to prioritize and balance your wants and needs, you can have a more secure financial life both today and in the future.