If you’re heading off for vacation this summer, leave the office behind — and your credit cards, too. You don’t want “debt lag” — bills that linger months after you return home. But if you find it unrealistic to travel without your plastic or too risky to carry cash, beware of the traps.
Roughly 80 percent of those polled by CreditCards.com who plan to take a vacation this summer will pay for some of it with savings. The average amount of credit card debt accumulated by Americans on vacation is $1,518, according to Finder.com research. Many people do a good job of saving money by getting great deals on airfare and accommodations, but once they get to their dream destination, the motivation to spend wisely can deteriorate amid the magic and excitement of the vacation “cloud.”
Here are six other ways to control spending on your vacation:
Create a trip budget. “Prioritize what’s most important. Do you want a hotel with a view, sightseeing expeditions, fine dining?” asks John Jordan, a Bank of America executive whose team works to help the company understand client’s priorities and financial goals.
Then make a budget. Break down categories like food, shopping, transportation and the like. “Download an app that will track your expenses, like Mint, and give you a visual representation of how much of your budget you have spent,” says Tae Lee, CEO of event based trip planning tool TRAVO.
When you see you’re veering off track, rein yourself in.
Be smart about transportation. Think about how much driving you plan on doing at your destination. For some travelers, even a good deal on a rental car won’t be as cheap as using Uber or Lyft. “Not only is the daily cost most likely less, but you’re also saving on the ancillary expenses like gas and parking” says Mike Catania, co-founder of PromotionCode.org. He adds that both Uber and Lyft offer credits for a free first ride when you use a promotion code.
Before you leave home, research and plan an inexpensive way to get from the airport to your hotel, especially abroad. Try to arrive in the daytime. “Airports are often 45 minutes outside the city,” Catania says, and “the best alternative for daylight arrivals may be a local train, subway or airport bus/van. In the south of
Search for deals. Check sites like Groupon for great values on activities and attractions where you’ll be visiting. “Be sure to read the fine print regarding extra fees, blackout dates, expirations and other terms,” says Kevin Gallegos, a vice president with the Freedom Financial Network.
Pull up the calendars on of zoos, museums, botanical gardens and other places to find out if they offer days with free or discounted admission. The town’s website likely has an events page where you can get information about local festivals, concerts, kids’ workshops and yoga classes that may be free, points out Kendal Perez, a savings expert with CouponSherpa.com. Contact the local visitor’s bureau, as they often have coupons to special attractions, shops and restaurants.
If you’re traveling abroad, download XE Currency, and app that helps you compare conversion rates and will give you the skinny about whether you’re getting a good deal or not.
“Your credit card issuer might even offer coupons and discounts that could save you a few dollars through sites like AmExOffers.com,” says Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com.
Eat and drink smart. Hit up the grocery store when you arrive. Buy fruits, granola bars, snacks and water to keep from buying them at pricier outlets. Have your “special” meal at lunch instead of dinner. You’ll likely save 20 percent.
Enjoy a picnic. Barbecue in a park or on the beach. “Even a simple sandwich is better if you have a great beach or park view,” says Carrie Peters, travel editor at Hotwire.
Use apps like HappyHourFinder to save on booze. Hit the local liquor store to make your own cocktails to cut down on what you spend in restaurants and bars.
Pack light. Be discriminating about what you bring. Shoot to have just a carry-on and save the $50 fee for checking a bag round trip. Do be mindful not to forget anything, though. You don’t want to pay $15 for sunscreen at the hotel’s boutique.
Limit the kitsch. The kids will want everything they see, and you might too. Put sentimentality aside when it comes to “souvenirs.” To keep impulse spending in check, set a limit. “While that tropical sarong or overpriced hoodie bearing the name of your destination seems like a must-have at the time, these items are often the first things we toss into the donate pile,” says Perez. “Instead, rely on your smartphone and camera to capture the best souvenirs — your family’s memories.”