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Planning to Save: How to Take an Affordable Vacation

Written by Adrienne Wolter, Community Blogger | Apr 15, 2014 9:17 AM

Be honest. You've been day dreaming about an extended vacation since the day after Christmas. Instead of visions of sugar plums, it's visions of coconuts, crystal clear waters and hot, white sand. Add a chaise lounge, drink in hand and miles from any point of contact. Voilà! A vacation paradise.

Living in central Pennsylvania is not easy, especially during the frigid winter months and April's unpredictable spring showers. And now that it’s finally getting warmer, we have another kind of frustration in store: construction season! It’s enough to make anyone want to jump ship for a while. Or jump on board a luxury cruise liner, more like.

Maybe beaches and heat is not your thing. Instead, you prefer traversing through the world's largest museums, acting as a curator or an expert critic. Maybe you're an adventurer; you will take on the most adrenaline-fueled excursions you can find. Maybe you enjoy the finer things in life like the best wine in France or in our neck of the woods, the Finger Lakes.

Whatever your dream vacation may be, it takes time to plan and save money. Therefore, instead of living vicariously through your day dreams, make your vacation a reality with these seven tips for an unforgettable and affordable vacation.

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Photo by Dafne Cholet

Being flexible about when you take your trip and even where you go can save you a lot of money.

1. Be Open-Minded

Narrowing your focus to one specific destination and set schedule can cause stress and unrealistic expectations for what you perceive your "perfect" vacation will look like. Keep a couple of options in mind for possible vacation hotspots and times.

What is the easiest way to be open-minded? Plan well in advance! Don’t get stuck planning your vacation a single week or two before hand. Plan far enough ahead that you have the luxury of planning the days you take off work around the days that work best for your wallet.

That said, beyond your basic travel details it is not necessary to have your itinerary planned minute by minute. That way, you don't invest so much of your heart and time planning on a trip that doesn't follow-through and get disappointed. As the old saying goes, "don't put all of your eggs in one basket." You will feel less "boxed-in" to a price and time when you have numerous options.

2. Make a Realistic Budget

Commonly, we hear the idiom, "you can do anything if you put your mind to it." While that may be true, you don't have to go broke trying to achieve the vacation of a lifetime. However, for any vacation, money is definitely a large factor in making a trip happen. Be proactive and make a budget that won't break the bank. Plan for all expenses (don’t forget gas, food, and try to leave a little wiggle room for a spontaneous purchase or two), plus set aside some emergency money, just in case. Utilize a travel calculator and set a goal for yourself or your family. Then, your vacation will be within your reach.

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Photo by Ken Teegardin

Opening a dedicated bank account can be a motivating way to quickly save up money for a specific goal.

3. Open a Savings Account

Alongside making a budget, open a savings account to store away your hard-earned cash. Make a vow to yourself to not touch the money unless it is towards your vacation. Many banks have what is called a "Christmas Account," traditionally used for saving for Christmas gifts. Instead, use this to save your trip money. If you're looking for an easy online bank at which to open a new savings account, I recommend GE Capital Bank - I'm saving up for my own vacation (to Maine!) there, and the interest rate of 0.9% is one of the best out there.

If possible, try to open an account that comes with a debit card; you can use the card to make purchases like flights and hotel accommodations. Sometimes, using your debit card can actually get you cash back with each swipe, called a swipe rebate. Who doesn't want free money? Check with your bank to see if they offer any rebates like this.

4. Consider Vacationing Off-Season

Don't fall into the tourist trap. Typically, in-season hotels, flights and excursion prices skyrocket due to the number of people that want to vacation during this time. Plus, it's an excellent way for these franchises to make a lot of return on their services. Consider vacationing off-season and experience your vacation hotspot in a different light. Instead of waiting in long lines and fighting crowds, you may have the perfect opportunity to see all of the attractions up close and personal. Just remember to add a little travel insurance to your budget just in case Mother Nature decides not to cooperate.

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Photo by Kevin Dooley

Airfare can be one of the most expensive parts of a trip - but if you're flexible about when you fly out and come home, there's room to save a lot of money here.

5. Fly on a Weekday

While the reasoning behind it still remains a mystery, the Tuesday afternoon special for flights is no myth. Traditionally, there is a large money-saving window for flights during 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays. Look into using Travelzoo or Kayak for the best prices. Also, depending on your location, Allegiant Air has flights as low as $50 for one-way tickets. As a bonus, you'll typically have a less-crowded flight on weeknights.

6. Avoid Dining Out

Unfortunately, most of our "fun money" ends up getting spent paying for food and tipping your servers. Avoid this money pit by booking a house or hotel that has a dine-in kitchen, complete with refrigerator, stove and microwave. Then, you can go to the local grocery store and pick up food for the week. You'll probably end up saving over half of what you'd pay at each restaurant stop. Also, you'll be able to choose what works for your routine and eat at your convenience, instead of taking a buzzer and waiting your turn to be served. This way, you'll have more time to spend exploring or relaxing.

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Photo by Kris Williams

Do you have to go to a beach, or would you really just like a romantic getaway to go stargazing with your beau? Thinking outside the box can lead to good deals.

7. Think Outside of the Box

Who says you have to travel to a popular beach resort or most sought-after travel destination? If you're really tight with your money or are trying to be frugal, consider a different kind of vacation. Venture out and explore your own backyard with a simple staycation. Try a new restaurant or discover the history of your hometown.

On the other hand, you can get further away by staying in a national park and avoiding high hotel costs. Maybe you have a friend in a city you've always wanted to visit. Try venturing on a day excursion like taking San Francisco's croisières sur la baie, and see if you can stay with a friend or even couch surf. Offer to cook dinner or compensate for your stay in some way. You'll be surprised how much fun and catching up you can do!

Whatever vacation you wish to have, make the most of it. Value every moment spent on your days off and know that relaxing should be stress-free. Don't sweat the small stuff and leave your work at home. Take pictures and capture your memories, but don't be too glued to your phone. You may miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or experience and your vacation would have been in vain. Drink it in and come back feeling refreshed and ready to seize the day!

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