Traveling on a budget: Find ways to save now for a vacation later

Published 6:54 am Tuesday, June 6, 2023

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By Rita Lebleu

American Press

School’s out. Temperatures are on the rise. This is the time of the year when thoughts turn to getting away, if only for a day. But with airfares at record highs, an increase in lodging costs, crazier-than-ever car rental prices and food and restaurant pricing going up, up and away, a little adventure can cost a lot. It’s important to find ways to save now for a vacation later, to make a budget and stick to it.

Taking time off can be vital. Vacations or extended breaks from work aren’t just an indulgence, they may be critical to long-term health and wellbeing, according to the American Psychological Association.

The first tip for traveling on a budget is to plan ahead for the best chance to find discounted hotel rooms, cheaper flights and less expensive activities. Better yet, allow a travel agent to find the best pricing.

“We can do that and more,” said Lenore Carroll of Time to Travel, “and best of all, there is no fee involved.”

Some travel agents make their money from commissions. Others may charge fees, so it’s important to ask up front. A travel agent often has more information available at their fingertips and they’re also travelers with invaluable personal experience.

Unlike an online booking company, a travel agent is ready to assist the client at any point before, during or after travel and not be supplying an 800 number. Carroll’s phone rings at all hours, she says, and she always answers. Her clients aren’t the ones waiting at an airline terminal waiting to get a new booking. They just get Carroll on the phone.

“Travel demand is up, despite inflation,” she said. “It’s my opinion that people are ready to get out of the house, and they saved the money they would have ordinarily spent on travel and didn’t because of Hurricane Laura and other severe weather events and COVID-19 mandates.”

She said flight prices have definitely increased. “Last year, if we purchased an airline ticket to Cancun during the summer, the cost was $300 to $400 for a round trip. Now it’s $500 to $600. Occasionally we find a little better deal.”

Carroll’s second tip for saving money is to be flexible with dates.

“Changing a day or two one way or the other can make a difference. For instance, travel on a Saturday is typically higher than Sunday.”

Recently, she was able to save a client $350 by finessing days and airports. For another client she booked a hotel and flight for $50 less than the client would have paid for the hotel if she hadn’t sought Carroll’s help.

“Originally, she was going to use her credit card and air travel points,” Carroll said. “Now, because my client is flying into Athens and out of Rome, instead of into and out of a single airport, she’s saved $350 and looks forward to using her airline credits next time.”

Travel during the “shoulder season” to save, Carroll said. The definition of shoulder season varies by destination, but generally it means the period between a region’s peak season and off season.

For example, lodging pricing in beach communities goes up the Friday before Memorial Day and doesn’t come down again until after Labor Day. November and December are peak travel times, never part of the “shoulder season.”

Instead of using a charge card for travel expenses, put down a deposit and pay it out — interest free — before the trip. Here are a few extra ways to save gleaned from several sources: Book lodging that allows a full refund if cancellation is within 24 hours, just in case. Shop at local grocery stores and/or pack snacks, including bottled water from home. Dine out at lunch, not dinner. Look for special discounts for seniors and students. Travel with a friend. Stay off the beaten path. Negotiate room rates directly. Take the night train, bus or plane, get shut-eye on the trip. That’s money saved on one night of lodging and a full day to enjoy the destination. Embrace the free breakfast. Use cash-back tools and rewards credit. Check community calendars for free and low-cost entertainment and events.

Stay at home, or nearby

Save money by rediscovering treasures close to home or planning a relaxing staycation. The only thing worse than the stress of work burnout is dealing with the burnout by spending money that’s not there — and with interest.

Dave Ramsey, an eight-time national best selling author, personal finance expert and host of “The Ramsey Show,”recommends that individuals and families saving for an emergency fund or working hard to pay off debt should put the vacation on the backburner and consider a staycation. “Not only do you still get a break from the everyday routine,” he says, “but your wallet does, too.”

To get the most out of a staycation, plan it and set a budget. Put away devices — no checking emails. Limit binge watching. Instead, make a big deal of viewing a movie chosen around the theme of the vacation with favorite snacks and beverages. Families can choose a theme to plan around or set an itinerary. The living space can be spruced up to reflect the theme. Try an art or craft project. Consider a cooking or baking project that’s out of the ordinary, or fits the staycation’s theme.

Be present and engaged without feeling pressured to “do.” And remember, it’s OK to plan to do absolutely nothing, either for a day or during a nap time.

One website suggested a “yes” day, a day where mom and dad say “yes” to whatever children ask (within reason), for instance candy at any time of the day, staying up late, jumping on the bed or doing those messy projects that are generally discouraged.

Consider a spa day. If the money saved staying at home and not paying for lodging doesn’t cover a massage, facial or pedicure, then plan an at-home spa day by starting with lemon water, doing some stretching and then indulging in a long, hot Espson salt bath and face mask.

Set up a hammock and unwind with a good book. Get outside for a walk somewhere new with interesting scenery or a waterscape.  Rent a canoe or kayak to enjoy the relaxing power of water. In Southwest Louisiana, there are many places to choose.

If expenses allow, spend the money to stay one night in a closeby hotel that has a free breakfast and swimming pool. Pack the family’s favorite snacks. Have dinner delivered to the room.

Finally, build a day of relaxation into vacations and staycations — whether alone, with a friend or during a family vacation. The cost of a trip can place pressure to make the most of it. De-stressing won’t happen magically. Begin by creating the mindset while planning for the vacation. Take slower, deeper breaths. Don’t be in a hurry to get there. Take time to enjoy natural surroundings. Practice gratitude. Like life, prepare for what can be controlled. Foster a mindset to allow rolling with the unexpected