By Jason Alderman
To paraphrase Yogi Berra, when it comes to gas prices, this is like déjà vu all over again. Instability in Africa and the Middle East, among other factors, has driven up pump prices to levels we haven’t seen since the summer of 2008.
Unfortunately for those planning their summer vacations, higher fuel prices are impacting many travel-related costs:
- If you’re driving, the cost to fill the tank has increased exponentially since last summer.
- Airfares, which are largely driven by fuel costs, are way up.
- Food is generally more expensive to account for increased shipping costs.
- Hotels and other businesses are also passing along their increased energy costs to consumers.
Because the last few years have been stressful on everyone, you probably need to recharge your batteries now more than ever. Here are a few tips for planning a vacation that won’t break the bank:
First, be realistic about what you can afford. Racking up debt can be almost as stressful as no vacation at all, so examine how vacation spending will affect your overall budget. Create a trip budget and try to anticipate all potential expenses. It’s amazing how quickly unanticipated expenses can torpedo your budget. Consider things like:
- Airfare – include taxes, fees for extra or overweight baggage, transportation to and from the airport, in-flight meals and entertainment, etc.
- Car rentals – factor in taxes, gas, fill-up penalties and insurance (although check your auto insurance and credit card policies to ensure you don’t pay for duplicate coverage).
- Hotel/lodging – don’t forget taxes and other local fees, charges for phone/internet, room service, tips, etc.
- Entertainment – include meals, event admission and ticket-ordering charges, transit passes or taxis, sporting equipment rental, babysitters and special clothing or accessory requirements (sunscreen, etc.)
- Cell phone roaming charges, especially in foreign countries, remote locations and at sea. Ask your carrier ahead of time to avoid nasty surprises.
Practical Money Skills for Life, a free personal financial management program run by Visa Inc., has a handy web-based travel calculator that can help you estimate travel costs and rejigger them to meet your budget needs (www.practicalmoneyskills.com/travel). It’s also available as a free iPhone app, which you can download from iTunes.
Search for deals on flights, hotels and rental cars at popular sites such as Orbitz, Travelocity, Kayak, Expedia, Priceline and Travelzoo. But beware: Before clicking “confirm,” make sure the final price matches the initial quote and that your seat is still available.
Consider a “staycation,” where you become a tourist in your own area and save on travel and lodging costs. Make sure you treat it like a true vacation, however, and don’t get trapped doing routine chores. If you’re at a loss for what to do, here are a few suggestions:
- Read reviews of local restaurants, museums, spas and more at www.yelp.com.
- Search for local attractions you’ve never visited at www.roadsideamerica.com or www.usatourist.com.
- Browse upcoming local events at www.eventful.com.
- If gardening relaxes you, dedicate time to sprucing up your yard. If you hate it, splurge on a gardener.
- Use money you save by not traveling to hire a housecleaner after your staycation so you won’t have to think about cleaning.
Don’t pass up a vacation – you’ve earned it. Just be cautious about how expenses can add up.
Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. To participate in a free, online Financial Literacy and Education Summit on April 4, 2011, go to www.practicalmoneyskills.com/summit2011.
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