Taking a Break Without Going Broke

As the weather warms up and events like spring break and summer vacation approach, you might be thinking about vacation destinations and getaways that allow for fun and relaxation. Whether you’re going alone or with family and friends, these vacations are a great way to let off steam…but planning and paying for them can be tough. Gas prices remain high and so does the cost of airline tickets and rentals.

Before you call off the road trip or unpack your flip-flops, take a second and look at your options. We’ll walk you through a few key questions that will help you figure out what kind of vacation you can take and how to live it up for less.

Question 1: “Where are you going?“

Vacations, savings, real estate: what do they have in common? “Location, location, location.” If you’re not too far from your final destination, start figuring out the costs involved in taking a road trip. Should you rent a van so you can carry more of your friends at once? How far will your vacation stop be from a local store? Would buying groceries close to home and taking them to the vacation spot in a cooler be cheaper? Advanced research helps smooth a lot of those bumps and helps you and your vacation group look for ways to save.

If you have to take a flight, now is a great time to figure out which airlines fly to your destination and how you can build up travel miles using an airline miles card. And once you’re there, how much effort will it take to get from the airport to the place you’re staying? Will you be able to get groceries or will you be eating out the whole time? Remember: saving in any one part of your plan translates to more spending elsewhere in your plan. Write it down, look it over, evaluate, plan, and pivot when you have to…that’s how experienced travelers make it happen.

Question 2: “What discounts can I get?”

Once you have a plan on paper, start looking for discounts anywhere and everywhere you can find them. Are you a member of AARP? “Impossible,” you say, “I’m not a senior!” FACT: AARP has no minimum age requirement to join. Joining AARP means you can leverage deals on hotels, flights, car rentals, and much more. Better still, if you’re going on a road trip, why not take this opportunity to join AAA? If you have a flat tire, a breakdown, or just need a cheap lunch, AAA can help.

If you’re not interested in joining a new club, good news: you may already be a member of a savings club and not even know it. Check with your bank, your insurance provider, your credit card company…any one of these may offer their customers cost-cutting discounts on everyday expenses.

You may want to consider any number of great apps that provide cash back on gasoline, such as Upside, or any number of grocery store apps that give you discounts on groceries and gas. If your nearest grocery store offers gas, sign up for a discount card right away and start pooling your savings into cheaper fill-ups.

Question 3: “Have I checked my email?”

Ah, email: it might not be as fun as social media apps and video sites, but one thing’s for sure, it’s reliable. Visit airline websites, travel websites, websites for major tourist spots, and daily deal websites and sign up for any “special offers” emails they have. Organize your incoming messages so that they don’t bury your important emails, and check on them every once in a while to see if they have deals that could benefit you specifically. Once you see them in your inbox, snap them up! Work these discounts into your larger travel plan and watch the savings stack up for you one message at a time.

Question 4: “Early or Late?”

When booking air travel, don’t get “stuck in the middle” – not just the middle seat, mind you, but the middle of the buying window. Buying tickets early can afford you significant price breaks, especially when flying internationally, as demand is typically lower and supply is much higher. Buying tickets late can be tricky, but if there are still seats to be had, airlines might start offering a discount to make sure the plane is full. Booking at the next to last minute might also mean more flexibility, so if you’re not particular about when you travel, this might be the solution for you. Check out sites like Hopper and Travelzoo to keep track of when the best deals are happening and strike when the iron is hot.

Question 5: “So, what’s new?”

As you consider your destination, take a look at popular travel sites like SmarterTravel or TripAdvisor. These sites are always on the lookout for good travel deals to destinations you may not have visited before or even considered. Say you want to visit a fun beach – instead of a beach you’ve already visited, see if there’s a new option where you’ve never been, one that might be a fairly well-kept secret to travelers and, therefore, less likely to be a pocket-drainer.

Question 6: “Is this a good time?”

Sure, spring break and summer vacation are coming soon, but would you be better off waiting? Many leading travel sites will tell you, one of the best ways to save money on a vacation is to go during “off-peak” season. If you can postpone your trip until after the high-volume vacation season, you could potentially save hundreds of dollars on your rentals, flights, and even your fuel expenses.

Yes, you deserve a break, and taking that break should never break your budget. Even though travel and vacation can be pricey, there are ways to rack up significant savings. By following these tips, you can keep more money in your pocket so that you can not only enjoy this travel season but many more to come. And remember: sunscreen has an expiration date, so check it before you pack!

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