- Some simple budgeting for your summer vacation trip can keep financial stress at bay.
- Let priorities on preferred attractions and activities guide your budgeting.
- Think outside the box for creative ways to stretch the budget.
Summer vacation is a time-honored tradition for most Americans. Sunny days, long evenings, barbecues, and often, a trip. But before you get packing, stop, think and do some planning. A little budgeting can go a long way in ensuring a fun trip that won’t leave you financially strapped and stressed.
Start by referring to your regular household budget – which means you need to have one. The idea is to determine how much you can realistically devote from your monthly budget to a vacation trip.
Ideally, your budget will be helping you save a set amount (or percentage of income) every month, part of which is designated to vacations. If that’s not the case, now is the time to get that regular household budget tuned up (or in place), and see how much you can save for vacation between now and your planned vacation dates. That amount will need to be the max you can spend – your total vacation budget amount.
Make a detailed list
Then, make a list of everything you plan to spend money on during your vacation. For most people, this includes a combination of:
- Transportation to destination, including to and from airport if flying
- Transportation once there (rental car, trains, public transportation)
- Activities, attractions
- Souvenirs or other shopping
- Pet sitting or housesitting
- Any upfront costs, such as the purchase of luggage, required vaccinations, etc.
Prepare to modify, with the commitment to avoid going into debt to take a vacation trip. If you find you have to go into debt to do so, stop and consider different options. Are different locations, dates, days of the week, accommodations or activities possible? Some people opt for a fall trip to lower both costs and crowds. Your budget should guide your choice and type of vacation.
If it’s really important to see a certain show or visit a particular theme park, make sure you research those costs accurately and get them into the budget. Then, as needed, cut back on other items in the budget (meals out, using public transportation instead of a cab, etc.) to make sure you can cover those priority items.
To help stay within your budget, search online for advance tickets and deals. You might find savings on attractions and activities at sites like Groupon, or find coupons you can use in your destination. Just be careful to read the fine print regarding extra fees, blackout dates, expirations and other terms.
Websites of places and attractions you want to visit may offer free or reduced-cost admission on certain days or times. Sometimes, local libraries offer discounted or free tickets to local attractions, too, although they may limit them to residents of their local area.
To stretch your budget for accommodations, think outside the box – or house. Most people know they can save significantly on meals by renting a house or condo. But many hotels now offer in-room refrigerators and microwaves, which may provide what you need while saving on the cost of an entire house. And if you live in an area someone may want to visit (which doesn’t necessarily have to be in a major tourist destination), consider home exchange sites.
If you’re thinking of camping, know that most areas that take reservations are now filled. However, there are plenty of local campgrounds, and Bureau of Land Management areas, that operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Do your research before you go!
Stretch your budget even further
You can still get away from it all in your own town. In fact, sometimes, devoting a few days or a week to true rest and relaxation, without the hassles of travel, can be the best vacation. Check local websites or tourism guides for local places to experience, from amusement parks to festivals. Seek out discount tickets at grocery stores, visitor centers or libraries. Challenge yourself to do something fun on a daily basis. It might be finding the best salsa in town, hiking to every waterfall within 50 miles, visiting new farmers’ markets or taste testing at all the ice cream shops in your area.
Making the effort to create a budget and understand what you can realistically afford can result in the best vacation yet: one without debt or stress and filled with fun.
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