For some of us, taking a vacation may not sound like a “milestone”, but it can be, especially if that vacation is a life-altering trip to Africa or Europe. Or your first official “family” vacation that you hope will become a yearly tradition. Or your much anticipated and long awaited honeymoon. Or better yet, maybe it’s an elopement to Vegas or some desolate island. Whether it’s a momentous occasion or just a weekend jaunt, money is always involved. Don’t go into debt planning your next vacation. Consider us your financial travel guide. We’ve outlined for you travel smart tips and savings ideas for you to use on your next vacation.
Have Money, Will Travel
The first step to reaching your dream destination is establishing a vacation fund or including “vacation” in your budget. By giving yourself time to save and making it part of your monthly budget, you are guaranteed a better time and are able to take the kind of vacation you really want. When saving for vacation, don’t just save enough to cover your accommodations (hotel). Instead, factor in travel expenses both to and from and while you’re there (flight, gas, bus, taxi, etc.). Also add in expenses for your food and other little things you may want to splurge on like a spa experience, souvenirs or even a new camera to capture the memories. Try to imagine each day and what it holds for you financially. If you plan on taking in a baseball game or visiting the local amusement park or zoo, add the costs into your savings goals before you even book your room. You may find as you start saving there are some things you can live without and some you can’t in order to make your trip worthwhile. And if you’re taking a family vacation, ask each family member what they expect from the trip. Figure in any costs they may incur and develop a family savings plan. Get everyone involved in the saving process, including the kids. The cost of the vacation shouldn’t rely on just one person. If it does, that person, which may be you, will probably worry more about the costs than actually enjoying the vacation itself.
Shameless Plug: For many of us, saving money is a challenge. With our U Name It Savings Account Program, you can set up individual savings accounts and personalize them to your specific savings goals. So, if it’s a beach trip you long for, set up a “Beach Bound” account and feel good knowing the money going in and out of this account is for your beach trip.
Travel Tip: If you’re traveling outside the United States, remember in your early planning stages to consider the exchange rate. In some places you may live like a king or queen with very little savings in your vacation fund. In other places, you may find yourself coming up short midway through your vacation. Checking the exchange rates early on also gives you an advantage. You may even decide to change your destination. For example, Italy and Greece are both beautiful and offer a Mediterranean experience, but Italy is less expensive, affording you the opportunity to either take a longer vacation, save less than originally planned or indulge in other vacation luxuries like a first class seat or a more expensive hotel.
Friendly Reminder: If you’re traveling outside the United States, let your credit union know, especially if you are using your debit card. Your debit card usage is monitored as a protective measure against fraudulent activity. If a transaction happens in an area uncharacteristic of your shopping patterns, it will raise a red flag.
No matter how much you have in your vacation fund, there are always ways to find what you want for less, especially when it comes to traveling. It never hurts to bargain shop. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Check airfares regularly. In today’s economy, price cutting is becoming more the “norm”. There are specials announced daily. Plus, look into different routes. Enduring a layover may be worth it in the long run. Plus, you might even have time to catch a sight or two you didn’t plan for originally.
Cool Hookup: Bookmark these sites that compare prices and alert you via e-mail if a selected fare has changed: farecompare.com, farecast.com, yapta.com, travelocity.com.
Rent a house or a condo if traveling with a large group or family. Renting can be a lot cheaper than paying for the same number of beds in a hotel.
Choose a bargain destination. Like we mentioned before, check foreign exchange rates. Countries with lower currencies than the U.S. or with faltering currencies are a steal at any time of the year.
Cool Hookup: To check out the latest rates and convert currency via an online conversion calculator, visit www.x-rates.com/.
Travel outside of “peak times”. Go to the beach in early May or in September and go to the mountains in February or March. This will ensure you get the off-season rate for your accommodations. During these times it's still warm at the beach, and in February or March, it's still cold in the mountains. By simply waiting a month, for example when school starts, you may be able to enjoy the same great trip but at a much lower cost.
Research “secondary” destinations. Pick a popular resort or city on a map, and then move your finger a bit. Nearby towns may offer the same experience for less. And if you’re interested in taking a cruise, look into some of the less popular island trips. You may find you still enjoy the island experience but with less tourists.
Book fixed-cost trips. All-inclusive programs that lump meals and activities with the room price keep costs down. With all-inclusive resorts, you have everything at your fingertips. There is no need to venture out unless you just want to and even then, the resort may have popular excursions incorporated in your package.
Cook Hookup: Disney World is probably one of the most popular vacation hot spots in the United States. Click here for ways you can save when planning a trip to Disney World.
The Thrifty Traveler’s Itinerary
It’s always good to have a game plan when planning a trip, especially if you are traveling with friends and family. That way you won’t waste valuable time discussing what you should do and when you should do it. And, it’s better for your wallet too! In fact, you can actually start saving money on your trip prior to even stepping out your front door. Here are some tips for thrifty travelers:
Find deals when dining out. Eating out is a must while on vacation. Search restaurant.com by zip code to purchase discounted certificates for thousands of places. Then map out where you want to go and plan on how much you want to spend.
Steer clear of the minibar. You may be surprised by the “not-so-mini” tab when it’s time to check out. It’s usually a $2.50 to $6 flat fee per day. Bring your own drinks instead.
Go sight-seeing at home. Look up the cost of museums and public transport in case you can buy daily, weekly, or combination passes ahead of time for a discounted price. Use the internet or a guidebook to find free and inexpensive attractions.
Plan a grocery trip. Bring groceries from home with you or visit the local grocery store once you reach your destination. Plan on dining in a few times while you’re on vacation. If you’re driving, pack soft drinks, water and juice. This way you are not purchasing drinks from the room or a restaurant. Keep the drinks cold with either a cooler or a water bottle.
Pack light. If you know you are one of those travelers who must buy a souvenir at every stop, then pack light. Leave room in your suitcase to carry those items back with you instead of paying shipping charges to have it sent to your home.
Fun Fact: 26% of people avoid the hotel bellman so they don’t have to tip him.
Manage Your Money
Decide what is the best way to pay for expenses while on your vacation. For example, if you’re traveling overseas, you probably don’t want to carry large amounts of cash with you. Instead, determine if you need to take travelers’ checks or an “accepted-anywhere” credit card. In addition, check with your credit card company for any hidden overseas usage fees. Also be aware of the costs of ATMs. There are some places, like Las Vegas, where they may charge an ATM usage fee as high as $10.
Shameless Plug: If you sign up for our Choice Checking account, you will enjoy great benefits and bonus features for you to choose from to add to your account. One of our most popular features is FREE ATMs Nationwide. That’s right, use any ATM, and we will refund up to a total of $4 per transaction fee directly into your checking account, including Telco’s fee. Simply save your ATM receipts from other financial institutions and return them to us within 90 days of your transaction date. (Transactions include inquiries, transfers and withdrawals from savings or checking. Refer to Choice Checking designation form for ATM fee refund rules.)
When making reservations, you will need to use your credit card to hold your room. Make sure you use the best card for you. Check to see how long they will hold the room on your credit card without actually charging your card. And if you need to cancel for any reason, ask how much notice you need to give in order to avoid charges or to lose any money, such as a deposit. Also ask when they will charge your card, so if you want to change your payment method once you arrive, you may do so.
Shameless Plug: When traveling, use your Alabama Telco Visa Credit Card. Depending on your card type, you can enjoy cash back or rewards on your purchases, including travel rewards like free airfare and discounts on hotels and cruises. In addition, you will enjoy a great low rate and Visa’s Zero Liability feature protecting you from fraudulent activity!
If you’re using your debit card, be sure you’re protecting yourself by signing every time for a purchase and by informing your credit union about your trip so it doesn’t show up as suspicious activity. For security, carry a money belt with you. (A money belt wraps around you and is skinny enough to be worn underneath your clothes.) It’s one of the safest ways to carry your money and other important items such as your debit card, credit card, passport or I.D.
Travel Tip: Unfortunately, when you go on vacation, life doesn’t come to a stop. You still have to pay your bills and manage your money. While on vacation, you may also want to check your account from time to time. Whether it’s internet banking, online bill payment or mobile banking, Alabama Telco Credit Union gives you the capability of doing all these things while on the go.
All Work Should Add Up To All Play
Once you’ve done your homework on your vacation, relax and have fun. If you can’t afford your dream vacation right now, plan on a “staycation”, meaning find something locally to do that is fun and inexpensive. You may be surprised at what you are missing that is right in your backyard. And start saving now to afford your dream vacation next year.
Cool Hookup: For travel guides, hotel reviews, vacation ideas and travel-planning tools, check out www.concierge.com.