Vacation on a tight budget

PHOENIX—Are you ready for another sizzling summer? Whether your goal is to beat the heat or dive right in, your summer getaway doesn’t have to burn your budget.

Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America, a nonprofit credit counseling company, said even if you’re stretched for cash, you can still indulge in some much-needed rest and relaxation.

“A vacation doesn’t have to break the bank,” Sullivan said. “With some careful planning and budgeting, you can take that summer getaway and still have cash left over.”

A recent survey from the travel Web site showed 31 percent of employees didn’t use all of their vacation days in 2005. Now, it looks as if many are trying to make up for it. Thirty-two percent of employees surveyed are planning to travel more this year.

“Everyone needs a break from the daily grind once in a while,” said Sullivan. “Money doesn’t have to be a barrier between you and a vacation.”

Sullivan offered the following six tips for finding affordable and fun summer getaways:

1. Do your research—Start researching possible destinations in advance. Compare a variety of hotels and travel options, and keep in mind these aren’t the only major costs associated with a vacation. You need to look into the prices of meals, where you will be eating, entertainment expenses and souvenirs. You may also want to consider an all-inclusive vacation, so you can pin down exactly how much you will be spending.

2. Start budgeting now—If you budget for vacations throughout the year, you won’t feel the pinch when it comes time to take off. Set aside a small amount of money each week or month to use for vacations. When you are on the trip, create a maximum-dollar-per-day spending limit, and stick to it. You should resist the temptation to “charge it.” Credit card bills can add up quickly while on vacation, and falling deeper into debt can make life on the homefront much more stressful.

3. Plan ahead…or procrastinate—If you plan to fly, purchase your tickets either far in advance or at the last minute to find discounted prices. This also applies to all-inclusive vacations and cruises. For last-minute deals, visit

4. Be flexible—It is easier to find discounted flight and hotel packages if you are flexible with dates and times. Consider taking a red-eye flight or book your flights on off days. Flying on Friday or Sunday is often more expensive than flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Rates are also higher on holiday weekends.

5. “Coupon clip” your vacation—Go where the deals are. You can get discounts on hotels and flights if you book them together. Search for hotels that offer perks, such as complimentary breakfasts or free long-distance and Internet. If you need a rental car, select a small economy vehicle to save on gas. Another money-saver: pack your own snacks.

6. Jump on the bandwagon—Travel in a large group with friends or family. Many vacation destinations offer group discounts. You can also split the cost of gas, food and entertainment. If you can’t afford to pay for lodging, visit friends or family in another part of the country and stay with them (offering reciprocal accommodations in your hometown). They should also have tips about tourist and local hot spots.

From the May 24-30, 2006, issue

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