By Karen Telleen-Lawton
I live in a popular tourist destination: the California coastal town of Santa Barbara. When I walk along the waterfront, I enjoy seeing folks of all ages enjoying themselves. But sometimes I wonder how they afford to vacation here! Flying into Santa Barbara costs a little extra. Hotels and B&B’s are priced for the wealthy. Eating out is almost as expensive as in a big city.
Travel is costly. But to many it is a major reason for living. As a financial advisor, I’d like to briefly address how can you best fit travel into your budget, and how to squeeze the most our of your travel dollar.
Budgeting for Travel
If travel is important to you, it is important to make travel a part of your budget. This serves two purposes. Most importantly, it forces you to determine how much you can afford to spend on vacation travel. If there’s not much left after budgeting for necessities, then you can start figuring out how to trim your “needs” or how to make incorporate travel into your (next) job.
Budgeting for travel also saves you from the post-travel downer of scrimping to pay off trip credit cards long after you’re home. Budgeting each year for the amount of travel that will comfortably fit is a positive alternative.
Once you’ve determined your budget, divide it by 12 and set aside that amount from each monthly paycheck. If it helps, you can set up a savings account dedicated for your travel funds. Then make sure you keep track of your costs so that you understand how much you’re spending.
Think of budgeting not as a punishment but as a way to afford more travel for your money!
The Internet abounds in good money-saving travel tips. These are among my favorites:
1. Discounts, discounts, discounts. The Internet was made for them. Visit discount websites for air travel (Travelocity, frequent flyer programs) as well as for age, student, and membership discounts (AARP, AAA). Find coupon codes for travel costs such as auto rental, and hotels.
2. Travel Light – Airlines charge for everything now. Keep to one outfit for each type of activity and you’ll save your back and your pocketbook.
3. Two Meals a day – Eating out three times a day wreaks havoc on your wallet, your belly, and your schedule. Eat a mid-morning breakfast and early dinner, and you’ll be able to squeeze in more activities.
4. Cook for Yourself – We usually make our own breakfast in our room, partly for cost and partly because we like our routine breakfast. Nowadays, you can also find ready-made meals at the grocery store.
5. Car Rental Coverage – Pick the smallest size that will do the job. Check your credit card company for car rental insurance that may be more cost effective than the rental company. Also check your auto insurance policy – you may not need extra coverage. Some insurance and many credit cards have car rental coverage so take advantage of those when you rent a car. Finally, choose the “fill your own gas tank” option.
6. Transportation – Are you traveling for the journey or the destination? Consider driving instead of flying; public transportation instead of driving; biking or walking instead of public transportation. Enjoy the journey!
7. Getting Cash – Check the Internet to find the best places in your destination for exchanging and getting cash. Sometimes it’s the airport.
8. Overnights – do you like unique experiences of a reliable standard? Stay in a smaller town instead of the big city. Stay away from tourist spots. Try a home exchange or vacation home by owner. Try Airbnb.com and vacationrentals.com.
9. Flex your Travel Days – Hotel and airlines vary their pricing depending on supply and demand. It may be cheaper far ahead (you’re making an early promise). Then the prices rise until a couple weeks before the date. At that point, they often start reducing prices to fill to capacity. If you’re flexible, you may be able to save big by adjusting your plans. (Going off-season also helps.)
10. Talk to the Locals – Chat up the locals. You’ll have a fuller experience, you may find the best local place to eat, and it may even be their place!
Karen Telleen-Lawton is a writer, a traveler, and a financial advisor. She serves seniors and pre-seniors as the Principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara, California. You can reach her with your financial planning questions at ktl@DecisivePath.com.