Vacation season is here, and with an improved national health forecast, there are plenty of reasons this year not to skip your trip. Hotels are open, airplanes are flying, and the big tourist destinations all have measures in place to keep you and your family healthy and safe.
But all that travel risk comes at a cost, and for folks who usually take their extended family to someplace luxurious and scenic, right now the price of an all-expenses vacation might induce sticker shock.
So for some vacation sticker shock therapy, DECU is here with tips and tricks for members who are itching to kick back, relax and save some money on their next family vacation.
Don’t Go On Vacation Without A Budget
Actually, two budgets.
First, figure out how much you CAN spend on a generic vacation, based on your income and savings, by answering these four questions:
How many people?
Solo flyers can clean up in the discount department, and two people on a road trip are only slightly more expensive than one. But add in kids and extended kin, figure on rental cars and flights and all of a sudden the price doesn’t just double: IT QUAZILLIONATES.
There’s a Goldilocks Zone for American sentiment on just how many vacation days feels right. Not too many, so that work piles up. Not too few, so that stress doesn’t ease. The lucky number of Perfect American Vacation Days is 13.
You can get just about anywhere by plane in a day. You’ll see the inside of at least two airports, lots of people wearing headphones, more than a few angry faces, and even your least favorite food and beverage options will cost an astonishing amount of money.
In that same day you can drive through the second-largest city in your state before lunch, cross a river bridge, visit a microbrewery and petting zoo, try on kids’ sunglasses at a pit stop and eat sandwiches you made or snacks you bought on the way out.
Finally, your first budget can be considered complete when you ask yourself the question: When? When are we going?
A successful family vacation on a budget begins by planning ahead. A good rule of thumb is 12 to 18 months for the best result, and keep in mind that vacations typically cost more than you think they will.
Which is why you will need a 2nd budget. For the extras.
Why? Sure, you can pay in advance and get a discount, but remember that while you’re actually on vacation, you’ll want to eat in restaurants and get the kids some sunglasses. Use frequent flyer miles or credit card points to book hotels and flights, but set aside money for day-to-day spending. Using cash instead of credit cards helps prevent impulse purchases.
Once you’ve got all these figures and settled on your budgets, you’ll be able to match what you can spend to what you want to purchase.
With your budget firmed up and fixed, now it’s time to look at some tricks of the trade-in, maximizing the leisure and minimizing the cost.
First, strive for maximum flexibility in your choice of vacation destinations. Chances are there’s a less-explored area of your home state where you could stay during the week at a lower cost. Ask out-of-state friends what your region is most famous for and go check it out.
Next, find the same flexibility in your choice of dates, especially if you explore last-minute deals. Use price alerts on flights and travel off-season or seek out mid-week deals that get you where you want to go when crowds are lighter.
Just keep in mind that a four-hour layover because it was cheaper to fly through a hub city might not be the best way to spend your family’s precious vacation time, and driving might prove more amicable in the long run.
Historical landmarks in your neck of the woods abound, and road trips to visit them exist. Your AAA membership, service or veteran status, age, business affinity, or alumni ring may qualify you for discounts at hotels and car rental agencies during your visit. Check out the fine print of your membership benefits at the organizations you patronize.
Cities promote themselves to tourists. Look for published local city guides and perk passes or local coupon books that allow you multiple family discount entries to museums, zoos, movies, aquariums, and transport options. Your price upfront may seem uniquely high, but if you’re committed to discovering new attractions and visiting extraordinary places, the savings more than works in your family budget’s favor.
Road Trip The Right Way
If you are lucky enough to be able to take advantage of last-minute deals without work interruption or concern, that’s terrific. But for most folks who are planning to take time off this summer, the best use of vacation resources is going to be a good old-fashioned road trip.
In any case, if you are not entirely convinced that right now vacation is what you need, consider this: Not taking vacation can lead to increased stress, and taking a break is important for your mental health. Vacations can improve mood and reduce stress by removing people from the activities and environment they associate with stress and anxiety.
But an honest-to-goodness road trip to a National Park or beachside destination, even car camping at free and paid sites along the way, is, for some folks, the ideal type of family budget vacation.
And why not? A family’s 2nd vacation budget goes much further on local grocery store items that get placed in a cooler and even cooked on a grill, saving money and providing familiar food choices. Money saved that can then help rent a pop-up trailer and buy cheap amenities or cover tent site fees, including modern shower facilities and even laundry.
If a quick getaway is what you seek, how about leaving town for a week? It’s probably not as ideal as a 13-day journey. But it’s also not as expensive. Maybe your 1st budget is enough for a weekend getaway that surprises you with its affordability.
Automate Your Savings
Finally, the budget for your break from labor is a goal you can work on year-round. Start saving before you even have travel plans, and set aside money every month in a travel savings account that lets you allocate funds as soon as they are deposited.
DECU offers Best-In-Market loan rates and higher returns on deposits. In addition, when you choose to save with a credit union, you’re not just saving money, you’re participating with a membership share account.
Because we are a member-owned institution, we are able to pay higher returns on deposits, charge lower rates on loans and even offer members a unique opportunity to share in the financial success of their credit union.
Learn more about DECU savings accounts here, and see how you can automate your deposits easily online with our secure digital banking.
While you visit our Savings Benefits page, why not also check out the online DECU Goal-Setting Calculator right here. Quickly visualize graphs and charts showing time, money, and rate of return that let you see just how much and just how long you can save for your next family vacation.
And remember, one of the great benefits of a family vacation is coming back with sharper focus. Too much work and too few breaks can fog your brain. You might find it hard to concentrate or remember things. Time away can recharge you mentally and physically, so you return more focused and energized.