Planning a vacation is so much fun, but the aftermath, usually in the form of credit card bills - yeesh! Well, it can be a real nightmare. Did you know - the average family of four spends about $4,700 on vacation? Yikes! But, avoiding vacation debt happens way before you ever pack your suitcase. So, here are a few ideas for having an awesome vacation without all the financial baggage!
Figure Out Your Budget:
You’ve heard it before - before you plan your vacation, plan your vacation budget. No need to plan a champagne vacation, when you’ve got a beer budget. That said, just because you’ve got a beer budget doesn’t mean you can’t go on vacation. It’s all about expectations. I’ve had fantastic day trips to places near my home that cost almost nothing!
Have a Piggy Bank:
I mean start a vacation fund: A separate bank account, a change jar, whatever. Create a place to contribute to your vacation fund on a regular basis.
Credit Card Rewards/Airline Miles:
I’ve used credit card rewards to pay for a number of travel related expenses, including scuba diving. Yup! I have a credit card that allows me to pay for travel-related expenses with points. Since the credit card company categorized diving as a travel-related expense, I was able to pay for it with points! I’ve also used airline miles, a combination of credit card rewards, and variety of loyalty programs to pay for a long weekend to Portland, Oregon.
Get with the Program:
Hotel Loyalty Programs: I like staying at a certain brand of hotels which just happens to have a lot of properties. I have their co-branded credit card, so every time I use the card, I get points that I can put towards a free room. If you're like me and haven't made it on to the Airbnb bandwagon yet, you know that hotel costs are a big travel expense and being able to offset at least part of your hotel costs is a huge help.
Parking Loyalty Programs: Wh-what? Yup, don’t forget to look for parking deals and programs. I belong to a parking loyalty program through Parking Spot. Each time I park at one of their locations, I accumulate points which I can then put towards free parking. The nice thing is, the Parking Spot has a number of sites at different airports. They also have coupons on their website. When I’ve had to contact them on one or two occasions they’ve been really easy to deal with.
Get a Part-Time Job:
Okay, so not always doable, but it’s a great way to pay for a trip without dipping into your full time paycheck. If a long-term side gig isn't possible, consider working only during the holidays. And remember, if you’re working, you’re probably not spending, so there’s a side benefit to having that part-time job. Are you exhausted and don’t know if you can keep up the pace required for both a full-time AND a part-time job, even on a short-term basis? Keep motivated by reminding yourself that you’re working a side gig to pay for a fabulous vacay!
Look for a Deal!
Always, always, always look for a deal! For example:
Is that one lift ticket or two? Right now, it’s ski season, and one of the best deals I get is buying a bundled pack of tickets at a favorite ski resort. A one-day lift ticket at the resort cost $107 (ouch!), but I bought a four pack of tickets for $229 (plus tax). That brought the cost of the lift ticket down significantly.
AAA, AARP, etc. Yeah, I know, I sound like a broken record, but AAA and AARP offer great deals, like 10% off on hotels, coupons for airport parking, discounted movie tickets, etc.
Pay Up Front:
Sometimes paying in advance, or in cash, will get you a bit of a discount… not just for travel-related expenses either. My dry cleaners used to offer a 10% discount if you paid in advance. You can put that savings towards your vacation!
Eat at Home:
I’m not saying don’t ever eat out. I’m saying $50 for dinner three times a week sure adds up and wouldn’t you rather go on a vacation? In the end, it’s a choice you make about what’s important to you. If you’re going to eat out though, look for a coupon! While we do most of our cooking at home to cut costs, there are one or two restaurants in our area that we really like. Those restaurants also happen to offer deals on Local Flavor (it’s a more local version of Groupon). It offers deals like, $30 worth of food for $15. Sometimes, Local Flavor even offers an extra 25% off, so we end up paying $11.25 for the same $30. Nice!
Package It Up!
Package deals are also a great way to save since the travel company is buying in volume resulting in lower costs for rooms, airfare, etc. The downside of a package deal is that you don’t always get to pick where you stay or when you go, and upgrades can increase costs. Still, packages are really good options to consider.
I’m a fan of Time Out. It’s an online guide to, “art and entertainment, food and drink, film, travel and more”. And, while Time Out doesn’t have recommendations for every city (I wish it did), I’ve used it to find awesome restaurants and for sightseeing in cities including Philadelphia, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Hong Kong and Reyjavik!
Free/Discount Museum Days:
If you love museums, entry fees can really add up. You may be able to buy a museum pass that allows you access to a number of museums for the price of the pass.
Another option is to visit on free days or on discount days. If you're a Bank of America account holder, BoA has a program called Museums on Us. On the first full week end of every month, account holders present their cards to one of a list of museums for a free entry.
Finally, visit a free museum. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit.
I am a huge fan of coupons – paper coupons, digital coupons, discount codes, whatever. I find every possible coupon I can, whether if it’s for travel or for my everyday life.
Hey, if all else fails, it never hurts to ask. I always go to the same place to service my car, and I always ask if they have any deals. Sometimes, the shop has a coupon or a special, other times, it’s a AAA discount (see above). Hey, every little bit helps.
Do you have other tips? I’d love to hear about them on Facebook or in the comment section below!