Can't Afford a Summer Getaway?

Everyone looks forward to a summertime vacation. With the stress and grind of everyday life, working late hours to ensure your projects are completed on time, dealing with clients, family matters and mounting debt, that scheduled period of "R and R" in the summer can't come soon enough.

A great summer vacation can range anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, depending upon your finances. But if you carefully research the many companies that offer special discounts to specific locations, you may be able to stretch your 'time away' a little further.

Whether it's lying on a beach, sightseeing in a country you've always wanted to visit, taking the kids to Disneyworld because they've been hounding you for months, or just relaxing and being catered to on a Caribbean cruise, a vacation is one of those things that you not only deserve but count on during those times when everything seems to be spiraling out of control.

But, there is one slight hitch: what if you can't afford the vacation of your dreams? Not to worry. Any amount of time that you can devote to getting away is achievable. It just takes some judicious planning, sticking to a specially-prepared budget, and making a few minor sacrifices along the way. It's not an impossible task. Let's take a look at some ways that you can prepare for and take that much needed vacation, without breaking the bank in the process.

Research and planning

The first thing you need to do is to research several destinations. Look specifically for all-inclusive vacations; in other words, those packages that include airfare, accommodations, meals, tips, taxes and, perhaps, sightseeing expenses for one fare. The Internet is bursting with this type of information, but your local library can be invaluable, too. And don't forget your friendly, neighborhood travel agent.

Make a list of each destination and its prices, from lowest to highest. Next, choose a destination that gives you as much time on location as possible. That is to say, if you're flying to Europe, you'll lose one day of your time off getting there and one day getting back. This will reduce your one-week trip to 5 days.

Also, compare each company and determine which offers the most for the price. While some may say that they're all-inclusive, there could be hidden costs you'll want to know about ahead of time. Compare the prices online to the ones available through your travel agent. One good thing about travel agents: they're usually the first to be informed of discounted packages, as well as low airfares and hotel accommodations.

Of course, you don't have to go the 'all-inclusive' route. You can certainly mix-and-match hotels, transportation and activities, or simply take them as they come. The problem with not opting for an all-inclusive vacation, however, is that you may wind up spending more than you can afford. So, an all-inclusive package is certainly recommended if you at all entertain thoughts about how you'll continue to pay the bills after the vacation is over.

Now, select a destination from your list that you can afford. Determine how much it will cost for the all-inclusive package plus add-on expenses such as incidentals, public transportation, shopping, and side excursions. It should be noted that although you may have your heart set on one destination, you should remain open to alternative locations because you'll be able to stretch your dollar further. Just remember, be flexible.

Check the rules and regulations of the airline (if you'll be using one). Due to security concerns, there are many items that you can no longer take onboard the flight with you. The more prepared you are, the less likely it is that you'll be detained at the airport gate.

Slash those costs

Once you've chosen your destination, it's now time to start saving for it. Here are a few (well, more than a few) tips and suggestions that can apply not only to saving for your trip, but to the trip itself, as well.

  • Check for online coupons that are applicable to the destination you have chosen. For example, there are coupons for Walt Disney World and numerous other attractions that you can print out and take with you.
  • Go to the library and photocopy maps of the location you've chosen. In this way you can determine the best form of transportation to use when you're there.
  • If you're going to visit Europe, obtain a Euro rail pass ahead of time, which can be used for both bus and rail services.
  • Purchase any foreign currency in your home city before traveling. You won't have to stand in line in order to exchange currencies when you get there, and that will give you more time to spend actually enjoying yourself.
  • Buy telephone cards that can be used either domestically or internationally.
  • Try not to use the telephone in your hotel room, because the charges may be exorbitant. Use a public phone or have the hotel's concierge make arrangements for you.
  • Upon arrival at your destination, go to a local market and buy some snacks for your room.
  • Limit baggage; the more you take, the more you'll be subject to overweight fees. Bring clothing that you can wear in layers. Roll up the clothing and place them in your suitcase to conserve space.
  • Open up a 'vacation account' at your bank. Putting away $25 or $50 a week will yield a substantial amount by the time you book your trip.
  • And speaking of bookings, booking your vacation well in advance can save you quite a bit of money. Additionally, traveling during the week is also recommended as the savings is substantial. Most online travel agencies give you the opportunity to choose your days of travel quite easily.
  • Bring a digital camera. If you don't own one, borrow one from a relative or friend. This will allow you to upload your pictures and print them out on a computer, or email them to everyone you know.
  • Did someone say computers? Use both sides of computer paper when you're printing at home. Saving on paper is not only environmentally sound, but the extra money can be applied to your vacation account.
  • Start curbing your spending habits. Set up a budget that will allow for household expenses and financial necessities such as insurance and retirement, but put aside the rest toward your vacation.
  • Lower your grocery bill by buying in bulk and using online coupons and those from Sunday newspapers.
  • For clothing, go to consignment- or thrift stores. The items in these stores are typically of the highest quality, but very affordable.
  • Call your credit card companies and ask to have the interest rate lowered.
  • Cut up (or at least put away) all of your credit cards except one. Then, use that one only for emergencies.
  • Call your telephone company and remove any services that you don't use or need, and examine your other services for any charges that can be eliminated.
  • Consider switching your Internet Service Provider to your telephone company (most have combined internet and phone service deals).
  • Turn off the lights when you leave a room.
  • Unplug all appliances when not in use.
  • Use a microwave instead of the oven whenever you can.
  • Set the temperature of your refrigerator to 37 degrees. This appliance utilizes the most energy in your home.
  • Insulate your water heater and winterize your home to conserve energy and reduce the costs of your utility bills.
  • Drink water instead of sodas (on top of being cheaper, it's healthier besides).
  • Try to pay off one small debt before you travel.
  • Buy fruits and vegetables at a farmer's market in lieu of supermarkets.
  • "Brown-bag-it" at work. You can save as much as $50 or more per week in lunch expenses.
  • Bring a thermos of coffee to work instead of buying it at a local coffee shop.
  • If you have any items at home that you really don't need or use, think about selling them on eBay.
  • Devote one Saturday to prepare a month's worth of meals. This can be a cost-effective strategy that can reduce the amount of groceries you buy each week.
  • Turn the thermostat up to 78 degrees in the summer. This will consume less energy.
  • If you have any pocket change at the end of the day, put it into a large jar. It can add up quickly.
  • With gas prices exploding, consider carpooling or using public transportation to get to and from work.
  • Change the light bulbs you currently have to incandescent bulbs. They last for years and burn considerably less electricity.
  • If you have a washer, use the cold cycle. This will also reduce your energy bill.
  • Lastly, start an exercise regimen. You want to be healthy and strong to enjoy your trip.

Many of these suggestions will help you to continue to save money long after you've returned from your dream vacation and are savoring the wonderful memories of it. So, get to it. Work hard, start saving, and enjoy the best vacation that any family has ever had!


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