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Summer’s just around the corner, which means you might be thinking about one of my favorite things ever: vacation! In fact, I always joke that vacation planning is basically one of my spiritual gifts. But we all know vacations can get expensive real fast, which makes them a lot less fun than they should be. So, here are a few tips that will help you plan an amazing vacation without hurting your budget:
- Base your plans on the Baby Steps
No matter what Baby Step you’re on, you don’t have to deprive yourself of having fun this summer. But it is important to plan in a way that makes sense for your finances. If you’re on Baby Step 1 or 2 (saving a $1,000 emergency fund and getting out of debt), you’ll want to find some creative ways to have a great time without spending money. You could do a staycation and use a couple days of your paid time off to relax with your family and explore free events in your own city. You could also go camping—even if it’s just in your backyard—or stay with close friends or family. Don’t lose sight of your financial goals right now, because if you stay gazelle intense, you’ll be able to take your dream vacation a lot sooner than you might think!
If you’re on Baby Step 3 (saving 3 to 6 months of expenses in a fully funded emergency fund), you could do a smaller-scale trip like a couple nights or a long weekend away. This still isn’t the time to splurge, so take a look at some less popular (but fun) destinations like a cabin in the mountains. There can be more vacation flexibility on Baby Steps 4, 5, 6 and 7, but you should still plan to cash flow something that works with your budget and other financial goals.
- Shop around
Doing your research to find the best rates on hotels, flights, attractions, etc. will seriously pay off. Always compare airfare rates on sites like Google Flights, Skyscanner and Scott’s Cheap Flights, and book your tickets as far in advance as you can. And check out Groupon for deals on attractions and events. Rumor has it that if you call a hotel and ask them to price match a rate you found at a similar hotel, you could knock some money off your total bill.
Speaking of price matching, when you’re shopping around for the best deals, don’t be afraid to use the power of negotiation. I know it can feel uncomfortable in the moment, but simply asking for a discount, family rate or any promotions they might be offering can save you a ton of money. I’ve done this myself. One time, my husband and I were planning an end-of-summer trip a few weeks before the fall rates were supposed to kick in, so I asked if we could have the off-season rates a little early. And they let us! We ended up saving a lot on that trip, so I’d recommend asking. The worst they can say is no, right?
- Don’t fall for the points and rewards
You might be tempted to get a credit card just for those airline miles and reward points, but trust me: It’s not worth it! By the time you’ve put enough stuff on a credit card to maybe rack up enough miles for a one-way flight, you’ll be deeper in debt and further away from actually being able to cash flow a vacation.
And if you’re worried about not being able to use a debit card on your trip, I promise you can do everything with a debit card that you can with a credit card—renting a car, booking a hotel, you name it. Depending on the location, you might have to ask around at a few different places to find one that accepts debit cards (my husband and I have had to do this with rental car companies), but you’ll find one. And it will be worth it to know you steered clear of debt in the process!
- Don’t compare your vacation to anyone else’s
We’ve all heard the famous quote about comparison being the thief of joy, but you guys, it’s so true—especially when it comes to vacations. You might even want to take a break from social media for a while if you know you won’t be able to scroll without feeling jealous of your neighbors’ tropical vacation and comparing it to the trip you took (or weren’t able to take). And when you spend less time comparing, you’ll be less tempted to overspend on your own vacation.
Remember, social media doesn’t give you the full picture of reality. And at the end of the day, no matter what kind of vacation or staycation you do, you still get to take a break and spend time with the people you love. That’s something worth celebrating!
For more tips and travel hacks that will help you save on your next vacation, check out this article.