When the calendar says it’s winter, many of us can’t help but dream of a spring break or summer excursion. Your travel dreams shouldn't break the bank, though, say personal financial planning experts at the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA). There are ways to both save and have an adventure that creates a lifetime of memories. Here are some ideas to make travel planning easier on your hard-earned dollars.
- Budget basics. After your monthly expenses are paid, what can you put toward your vacation dreams? Can you book now, or will you need to save longer and go next year? Jump start a travel fund by skipping gourmet coffee and meals out. Once you know where you’re going, create a spending plan for your trip. How much will you need per person, per day? Factor in food, lodging, transportation, tips, and souvenirs.
- Don’t forget discounts. You may already belong to an organization that offers discounts on airfare, rental cars, accommodations, or admission to museums and other sites. AARP, AAA, and various frequent-flier memberships are just a few examples.
- Lighten up. Your fashion consciousness may entice you to bring seven pairs of shoes, but if you over-pack for a flight, you may encounter overweight baggage charges or fees for an additional bag. Know the weight restrictions and baggage allowances before you head to the airport.
- Consider driving. Driving will often save you money on transportation, especially when traveling with a family. Driving may also negate the necessity of a car rental and eliminate overweight luggage charges. You may be surprised about how many wonderful destinations are close at hand. For longer trips, you may be able to experience more of the country scenery than if you were to fly.
- To tour or not to tour? Some people like to travel in a group; others like to plan their own trip. If you think you’d like to join a tour, find out what’s included and what isn’t, such as airfare, ground transportation, tipping, and meals. You’ll need to budget for non-inclusive items.
- Power up. Pack extra batteries you might need, especially if you’re heading overseas. Buying batteries in a foreign country is shockingly expensive.
- Stop the sniffles. Bring your own over-the-counter medicines for a cold or headache so you won’t be gouged for medicine you’re unfamiliar with. Of course, don’t forget any prescription meds you’ll need. Even if you are able to get a prescription filled, it might be very expensive at an out-of-network pharmacy.
- Be watchful. Guard your valuables and money carefully. Consider using a money belt or wearing a neck pouch. Also, know how to cancel your credit cards in case they’re stolen or the numbers are compromised.
- Money matters. For international trips, understand exchange rates and tipping customs for each country on your itinerary. ATMs may offer a better exchange rate over booths or even banks. Compare before you change money.
The U.S. is one of the few countries where leaving a restaurant tip is customary, so don’t over-tip if it’s not necessary. Also, research any fees your credit card company may charge for foreign transactions. Also, particularly for overseas trips, notify your bank and your credit card company, so they do not flag overseas charges and lock down your accounts while on vacation.
- Be flexible. You may have your heart set on leaving for your trip on Friday right after work, but you may find better airfares on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday. Booking a flight that makes a stop may not materially increase your travel time and may offer savings as well. Departing from a different airport an hour away could save hundreds on your airfare. Also, consider traveling during the shoulder season – a location’s off-peak time.
- Travel insurance. Whether or not you purchase travel insurance comes down to your level of risk aversion. Put your mind at ease by doing some research and determining what makes sense for you. The good news is that making online reservations with a credit card may entitle you to some basic insurance, covering the cost of a canceled flight or car rental. Check into what your credit card offers.
Once you’ve finished planning, the only thing left on your trip agenda is having the time of your life. You’ve saved, budgeted, and planned; now it’s time to relax and enjoy. Take lots of pictures.
A CPA can help you create a financial plan that can make your travel dreams a reality. To find a CPA in Pennsylvania by location or area of expertise, visit www.IneedaCPA.org.
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