Travel: Strategies for Smart Vacation Spending

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Planning a vacation? It’s easy for travel expenses to get out of control without setting up a few ground rules for how and where you’ll spend your cash before you take off. Here are seven smart strategies to help keep your spending on track:

 How to Budget and Save for Vacation

1. Start a Vacation Fund

No matter where you are in the planning process, you should start a vacation fund. To get started, ask yourself what you can give up in order to add a little extra money to the vacation coffers. Can you skip your weekly manicure or bring lunch to work instead of eating out? Keep your vacation money separate from the accounts that you use to pay your monthly expenses, so that you’re not tempted to use it for other things.

2. Set a Budget

Set a budget to give yourself a plan for your vacation. Figure out how much money you want to spend to help you make better choices about what you purchase while traveling. One Women & Co. community member told us that without a budget, it was way too easy for her to purchase big ticket items simply because she was “on vacation," and in the end, it added up to a lot of money. When you’re figuring out your vacation budget, make sure to factor in local transportation costs, pet care (if you’ll be traveling with a pet or kenneling an animal while you’re gone), and an emergency fund that’s at least 20% of your entire vacation budget.

3. Be Realistic

Be realistic about how much you can accomplish. It won’t be much of a vacation if you’re exhausted from trying to pack too much in every day. If you’re traveling with small children, don’t plan on more than one major activity each day, which will also cut down on entertainment costs!

4. Review the Travel Benefits Offered by Your Credit Card

Do this before you book. The Citi Thank You® Premier card, for example, has no foreign transaction fees and gives you access to one free domestic companion ticket each year. The Citi® Aadvantage® card lets you redeem points for travel on over 20 different airlines and 35 different hotel chains. Your card might also earn you points that you can redeem for discounts at merchants to help you prepare for your trip.

5. Save on Airfare

Book your flights at least six weeks in advance, and search for departures on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Saturdays to get the best fares. When pricing out flight options, don’t forget to consider alternate airports that might be within close proximity to the main airline hub in your vacation destination. If you’re traveling to NY, for instance, you’ll want to look at Newark, LaGuardia, and JFK to see which airport will give you the best rate. Connecting flights and early-morning departures can also help you save, but make sure that you factor in the costs of your trade-offs. If leaving on a 6 a.m. flight means you’ll have to take a cab to the airport instead of public transportation, you may end up spending more in the long run going with a later flight.

6. Travel with a Group

Travel with friends or family to cut down costs on everything from accommodations (renting a house instead of individual hotel rooms) to meals (cooking family-style meals at your rental house or suite instead of dining out). To ensure that splitting costs goes smoothly, make sure that you get on the same page with your group before you start planning the trip; talk about the level of accommodations and activities that everyone expects. Plan your expense-sharing strategy ahead of time, since going into debt with credit cards often means that even the most most aggressive credit repair company won't be able to bail you out. Will you chip in equal amounts for a pre-paid credit card and use that for all of the expenses, or will one person pay for everything, and you’ll settle up after the trip is over? Have everyone contribute to the vacation fund, regardless of age; it’s a great way to teach children how to save.

7. Walk the Walk

Once you’ve arrived at your destination, don’t always rely on taxis to take you around. Walking is a great way to see the sites and experience the culture, and burn off some of the extra calories that you’ll consume while savoring the local cuisine!

Last but not least, be flexible. Unexpected costs or opportunities might come up along the way, but don’t be so rigid in your planning that you don’t take advantage of unique experiences that could provide you with a wonderful vacation memory, which will last a lot longer than the temporary dip in your bank account.

 What tricks do you use to save money on family vacations?

Featured image courtesy of Flickr.

Linda is President and CEO of Women & Co., a service of Citi that brings women relevant financial content and thoughtful commentary to get them thinking and talking about money. To read more from Linda, click here or follow her @LindaDescano.

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