Planning a vacation? If you’re anything like us, you’re probably looking for ways to have a great time without spending a fortune. If you’ve booked a summer vacation, we hope you planned carefully, saved up enough money to pay for the whole trip and are now looking forward to leaving your cares behind. But what happens when you’re actually away, and your brain enters vacation mode? It’s so easy to upgrade, add excursions and room-charge your way to a huge credit card bill that you weren’t planning for, and that sum can end up on your credit card for the next year (or longer).
So here’s your guide to keeping vacation spending in check so that you can still enjoy yourself without paying for it (with interest!) in the months that follow.
Book early. If your destination requires air travel, book in advance and purchase round-trip tickets when possible. Flying in and out of the same airport typically saves you money, too. Try to be flexible with travel dates since some days are much less expensive than others. Keep in mind that domestic airlines typically offer the best deals at six to eight weeks out.
Home sweet home. Depending on how long you plan to stay, consider renting a house rather than staying in a hotel. Houses offer greater comforts, and you may be surprised at how cost-effective the rent can be if you’re staying more than a couple days. Homeaway.com or Airbnb.com is a good site for searching homes for rent at lower prices. More room for less money is a deal. If you are traveling by car, take a supply of snacks, drinks and basic cooking supplies with you. Resort and beach destinations often put a higher price on these items, so plan ahead.
Book late. Book your reservations for lodging at the last minute if you can take the chance. Last-minute bookings are often less expensive than booking in advance. And don’t be shy about asking for discounts: You may be surprised at what you get.
Get a bookie. Consider using an online booking system like Priceline.com and Tingo.com to save money. Tingo will automatically rebook your room if rates go down after you make your reservation, and you are refunded the difference in price. Booking early in the week will often get you the best deal if weekend sales were sluggish. Book through Travel Zoo or similar sites that offer deals at lower prices. You can find some great package deals for island resorts and many other places.
Start stocking up on toiletries a little at a time as you see sales. Whether you visit the dollar store or get a bonus trial size item when you purchase a regular-sized one, start putting those items aside for vacation. And keep a checklist of what you may need. Forgetting personal care items can mean shelling out ridiculous resort prices.
Eat at local cafés and small restaurants. Ask your hotel staff or a local where to find great food in the area. Meals at local haunts are usually a little less expensive. An added bonus? You’ll meet some of the locals. And speaking of eating, avoid eating at the hotel if possible. Hotels typically have higher-priced meals and the quality is not nearly as good as other places you’ll find around town. Unless…
See if you can order groceries to your room. Last year on a Disney trip, we used an online grocery delivery service to ship items on the day we arrived. While we paid more than a normal grocery trip, it was still way cheaper to prep some breakfasts in the morning and snacks for the day than it would have been to eat out every day. We also ordered a couple of cases of water, and threw bottles in the freezer to carry along each day (they also served as an ice pack for our fresh fruit, yogurt and other portable snacks). That meant we didn’t have to shell out for $5 bottles of water once the hot Florida sun beat down on us. Eat breakfast and lunch in your hotel room or at a rental house and save the dining-out dollars for dinner. Cooking some of your own meals saves you money and you can also better manage the calories you consume each day.
Pack a snack stash. There’s nothing that irks me more than paying quadruple for a bag of pretzels at the airport, or while waiting in line for an attraction, etc. Bring along things like granola bars so that you don’t cave to convenience costs when hunger strikes. Don’t think that only kids need snacks, either. Make sure you have enough snacks for yourself. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are comfort food for kids, so include familiar things to eat.
Drink at home. Have a beer or glass of wine before heading out to dinner. Restaurants charge a premium for a glass of alcohol, so if you have cocktails in your room before or after you go to the restaurant, you can save a lot of cash.
Get the rewards. Sign up for FREE reward/loyalty programs and get points for future travel. You might also get something free for this trip. Hotels, restaurants and lots of places offer free rewards programs.
Have a phone call plan. If you’re going on a cruise or leaving the country and you want to call home, you can get hit with horrifying fees. Call your provider before you go to see if you can pay for extended coverage up front, or if there is an extra charge for texting or using other data when you’re at your destination.
Purchase online deals. Living Social and Groupon are great sites where you can find discounts and deals on hotels, travel packages, restaurants, entertainment and more. Read the fine print on deals to make sure there are no exclusions to consider.
Bundle the museums. Save up to 50% or more on the cost of admission to multiple attractions such as museums, amusement parks, theme parks including Disney World and other attractions in select cities. Use CityPass, Go City Card, or other online sites to find these deals.
Skip the souvenirs. Sure, they’re fun, but you can spend a lot of unnecessary money on them and when you get home, they usually end up in the trash. Take pictures with your phone or camera to capture memories, instead. Or, if you like to take something home, plan ahead for it. Add a certain amount to your budget, and look for things that can be used in your daily routine at home, like a colorful bowl or a scarf.
Earn points. If you are disciplined enough to pay off credit cards within 30 days, use them for all purchases during your trip. This helps you earn points for your future purchases. But don’t let the balance roll over to the next month or you may end up spending more in interest than you earn in points.
Collect cash in advance. Avoid using ATMs that charge you fees for using them. Plan ahead with enough cash to be safe, and use debit cards or credit cards when possible to earn points.
Ask for discounts. If you or someone traveling with you is a veteran or active military, you may automatically be eligible for discounts. And if you are 50 years of age or older, always ask about a senior discount. Take advantage of AARP, AAA and other organizations to snag discounts. Some hotels will also offer deals for seniors or disabled travelers, so if a member of your party fits the bill, be sure to ask.
Anticipate costs in advance and set a daily budget amount. If you know you want to enjoy one nice sit-down meal a day, then plan for it. The same goes if you want to go swim with dolphins, get a massage, or hit the casino. You deserve to enjoy the finer things, just don’t make impulsive decisions that you’ll regret.
By saving money on all of those little extras and saving up for splurges, you can get ahead of vacation spending and have a great trip, worry-free.