Summer’s here! That means picnics, fireworks, and, for many, a vacation. A survey by American Express shows the average vacation in 2016 will cost $941 per person. Whether you’re heading to the beach, the mountains, or abroad, you’ll want to find the best bang for your vacation buck. Experts from the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA) have some tips.
Ten Tips for Budget-Friendly Trips
As you plan your next trip, here are 10 money- and time-saving ideas to get you going:
Create a budget.
Before you do anything else, decide how much money you have to spend on a trip. How much will you spend on airfare, hotel, food, rental car, gas, and souvenirs? Determine how much money you need to set aside each month to comfortably afford your trip. If you need extra time to save for a dream vacation, create a savings plan. If it’s a quick weekend getaway, you might have enough saved to go now. If you’re planning a European extravaganza, you may need significantly more time to save.
Start your research.
The planning and anticipation of a trip can sometimes be as much fun as the trip itself. Get started in the planning process as early as possible. Research the area and attractions you’d like to see. Develop a rough itinerary so you can start looking for bargains and deals.
This is the portion of your research efforts that may take the most time – and be the most confusing. Review multiple websites and compare offers. You may find a package deal for airfare and a hotel through an airline. You may find a tour package that includes hotel, food, and admission to tourist sites, but that doesn’t include airfare. Read the fine print and make sure you’re making an apples-to-apples comparison when looking at prices. If you’re on the fence as to flying versus driving, check out this "Fly or Drive Calculator" to compare driving costs against the price of an airline ticket.
Major tourist attractions will be more expensive and crowded during the summer. Can you travel in the shoulder season – October through May? There may be great bargains on everything from airfare to accommodations if you consider alternative dates. The same may apply to traveling weekdays versus weekends.
Food expenses add up quickly. Look for hotels that include breakfast in your overnight stay. Many hotels also offer microwave ovens and refrigerators, or even small kitchens. Preparing your own meals part of the time can help your budget. Carry your own snacks and water to avoid overpriced tourist-location food.
Be a coupon clipper.
Get online and look for coupons and special offers in the areas you’ll be visiting. Ask about discounts through your hotel. Membership in many associations, such as AAA or AARP, will earn you a discount on everything from hotels to meals to rental cars.
Look for freebies.
Hotels catering to families frequently offer stay-and-eat-free programs for kids. The same applies to restaurants, which may have special kids-eat-free deals with the purchase of an adult entrée.
Understand the fee frenzy.
Flying the friendly skies? While some airlines let your luggage fly free, most charge a fee. You may also pay more to check your bag at the gate versus paying online before you leave home, so check in online before heading to the airport. Escalating baggage fees are a good incentive to pack light.
Rack up points.
Regardless of whether you fly or drive or where you stay, if a company offers travel reward points, sign up for its program. You can redeem points for future travel, gift cards, merchandise, and more.
Stick to your budget.
You created a budget, now stick to it. You don’t want to come home from your trip with a big credit card bill hanging over your head.
Stay Home on the Range
If you don’t have the time or money to travel this year, be a tourist in your own town and enjoy a “staycation.” Create a small budget to visit some local attractions the tourists come to town to see, but you rarely take time to visit yourself. You can stay in your own home while enjoying a few days out with minimal impact on your budget.
A CPA Can Help
Remember, you don’t have to spend a huge amount of money to make lasting memories. Some of the best trips are the least expensive. Decide what scenario fits your budget this year and make the most of it.
Original publication date: July 15, 2013
Contact your CPA for more help developing your personal financial plan. To find a CPA in Pennsylvania by location or area of expertise, ask your friends or family for recommendations or use the PICPA CPA Locator.