The arrival of summer inevitably inspires wanderlust.
Hitting the road, jetting off to explore sights unseen around the globe, or basking on an exotic tropical beach and sipping margaritas – all of it can sound pretty fabulous. But at what cost?
Racking up debt on a credit card in order to go on a summer vacation is never a good idea.
The good news is that it looks like most Americans understand that. A recent survey from TD Ameritrade found that 69% of Americans plan to pay for their vacation with savings, while 26% intend to put it on a credit card.
No matter which group you happen to be in, here are some of the best ways to have a debt-free summer vacation, as well as the best times to pull out that credit card.
Begin with A Budget and Plan Smartly
Planning a budget may sound obvious, but don’t tune out just yet.
Your vacation budget should be both detailed and realistic and by sitting down ahead of time and planning such a budget on paper, you’ll be able to determine whether the experience will require incurring debt, says David Bakke, travel contributor for Money Crashers.
“To be safe, you should break it down as far as how much you can spend on airfare, car rental, hotel, entertainment, food, restaurants and souvenirs, among a few other categories,” says Bakke.
And when compiling that budget do some research ahead of time regarding the costs of the things you’re most interested in doing while on vacation.
“Arriving at your destination and learning that the activities you want to do are far more than you thought they would be can send you into credit card debt,” says Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Phoenix operations with Freedom Debt Relief. “Instead, plan ahead to ensure you spend smartly.”
Identify Ways to Reduce Expenses
Once you’ve got a detailed budget outlined, it’s time to start searching for ways to cut those costs, in all categories.
“You can book your flight earlier in the week, when sales tend to run,” continues Bakke. “And traveling on Mondays and Tuesdays may result in decreased airfares as well.”
Still more money can be saved by booking a hotel room that includes basic cooking amenities, allowing you to prepare a few meals cheaply on your own rather than relying entirely on restaurants.
Gallegos suggests also searching online for any coupons that may be available for the activities or attractions on your agenda. Search using the name of the activity or attraction and the word ‘coupon,’ recommends Gallegos. Many places post two-for-one or percentage-off deals online.
In addition, check out an attraction’s website for free days, or reduced cost entry days. Zoos, museums and botanic gardens are all known for doing this.
Look for Money Saving Apps and Websites
There are countless money saving apps and websites in the travel world. The HotelTonight app, for instance, is a great resource for saving on lodging.
To score savings on entertainment, sign up for website such as Living Social or Groupon, which provide daily deals. Often, you can purchase vouchers worth as much as 50% off (or more) for eateries and entertainment venues in your destination city, says Bakke.
The website AirfareWatchDog meanwhile provides alerts regarding low airline fares.
Think Beyond Hotels
While hotels and motels can offer great deals that include breakfast and other conveniences, there may also be even more cost effective options.
Gallegos recommends checking out home rental listing sites, home exchange services and even camping.
“Many state and national parks also have cabins for rent at prices much lower than hotels,” said Gallegos.
Create a Vacation Savings Account
One of the best ways to ensure your summer vacation will be debt free is to create a vacation savings account long in advance of your departure day. It’s a step suggested by financial advisors far and wide.
“Plan a trip and its cost and determine how much you can save per month to make it happen,” says Gallegos.
Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses
There are a few reasons to opt for credit cards when considering a vacation.
Signing-up for a travel related credit card for instance, may come with significant bonus points that you can apply toward your vacation if you meeting spending requirements.
“This could allow you to fund a good portion of your trip for free,” said Bakke.
In addition, if you are making any online purchases while on vacation, you may want to do that with a credit card, says Gallegos.
“Credit cards offer greater protection against fraud,” said Gallegos. “If you need to dispute a transaction, you can report it to the card issuer and you’re not liable for the charge until the dispute is resolved.”
If you’re concerned about your credit, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get a free credit score updated every 14 days.
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