5 Secrets to Planning your Budget Vacation
It seems as though every time I sit down at my computer to start planning a vacation there are even more websites and articles designed to make budget vacations easier for everyone; except for me. Log-ins, pop-ups, and “do you want to share every decision with your friends" requests, encumber each click. Our ideology at MyVacationPages completely turns the vacation search upside down, and today I want to share with you the 5 Secrets to Planning your Budget Getaway.
These secrets are strategies that will not only save you money, but precious time too. Searching starts out fun, but after days (even weeks in some cases), planning a vacation can become tedious and stressful. One of my favorite quotes is 'you can always make more money, but you will never make more time'. With this in mind, I want to show you how to choose, save, and budget, as well as outside-the-box ideas, to spend less time searching and wishing, in order to efficiently decide and plan your getaway.
#1 Set Your Vacation Goal
Decide where you want to go first. This article is one of a four part series all about effectively and efficiently planning a vacation, from beginning to end. I explain how to determine the right destination in The Best Destination for your Vacation, and how to easily find and pick the right accommodation in Understanding Accommodation Choices. After finishing this article you should continue on to these.
Deciding where to go is the first of five secrets to stretching that small budget, because by knowing where you are heading and the relative amount you would need, you are setting a goal. (Take cheap out of your vocabulary. Just because you have a small budget for your vacation, doesn't mean you have to settle!) Like everything in life when you set a goal, you then set the steps to achieve this goal. This goes hand in hand with the secrets below. By combining a tangible vacation goal and integrating the strategies in this article, your vacation planning will be as smooth as butter.
NOTE: You should know that last minute deals aren't what they used to be. Many wait until the last minute to book, but the sweet spot for cheap vacations is now about 40 days before departure. It is very hard to find a 'book today, go tomorrow' getaway that is suitable to your tastes and interests. So just be careful if you think this is still the way to go. You could sacrifice a great vacation and lots of money.
#2 Save Up for your Perfect Vacation
Sounds obvious that you need to save, but how do you trick yourself into setting aside extra funds? I may not be a financial planner, but there are easy things you can do that will help your vacation budget flourish; without sacrificing lifestyle, or bill payments. If you and yours stick to this advice for 1 year, you are sipping daiquiris on a beach in Cancun. (You're welcome.)
Cut out a daily or weekly 'habitual' purchase. Do you have any idea how much a cup of coffee and a bagel on the way to work every day adds up to at the end of the year? Are you ready for this? $1100.00!!! Don't believe me? $4.50 a day, 5 days a week, all year long … I'll wait a minute while you grab a calculator and add that one up.
Cut back spending without sacrificing expenditures. Walking, instead of driving, to the store, finding a cheaper hairdresser, stocking up on toothpaste while its on sale ... there are quite literally hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to save every year. The more creative you get, the nicer a vacation you'll book.
Start treating a vacation as a expense that has to be covered every month. Like groceries or your mortgage; you can really start socking away a substantial amount of money. Setting aside $50 a month is an additional $600 to put toward your vacation.
Remember though, you actually have to put that money aside, so it can take you on that vacation. Something as simple as throwing your pocket change in a jar at the end of the day will work fine. A better bet though, open a separate bank account that is inaccessible to your debit card withdraws. Replace your old morning coffee habit by throwing two bucks into the account every time you skip it, or put in an extra dollar when you walk to the store. Check the account after two weeks (not before). The surprise is worth the wait! Now, you are excited and motivated to continue your vacation saving endeavor.
#3 Making the Most of your Budget
There are so many factors to consider that will impact how much money you are going to be shelling out. So, let's make sure your budget vacation has you spending the least and doing the most. After having saved for a few weeks with the advice above, realistically count up how much you will have for vacation. This can include your vacation pay at work, what you expect to save, and whatever else you have squandered to make your vacation dream come true.
First and foremost are flight and hotel costs. These two are going to take a big bite out of that budget. As a general rule, you will want to make any bookings as far in advance as possible. It's hard to say what percent of your total budget should be dedicated to just these two items, but an average of 65 to 70% is the top end.
Resorts have early bird discounts when you book direct and a few months in advance. My investigation saw 20 to 65% off when booking an average of three months ahead, and direct at the source. If you know where you are going check out the deals page on the hotel's website routinely, and contact them to let them know you want to come. Don't be shy, as it could get you an upgrade or extra discount. You never know. When booking direct you can also make a reservation in advance without having to put up all the funds.
Flights can be tricky, but again, try to book ahead (especially if you are booking the hotel). Use a site such as FlightNetwork that has a price drop guarantee and bookmark your search so you can check it quickly. Consider choosing stop over flights, as you don't only save more money, but can rack up more points, too.
Your left over funds are going to have to be divided between insurance, airport shuttle (if not included in your booking), tours & attractions, dining (if not an all inclusive), and shopping.
A rookie mistake on vacation is spending your money within the first few days. You have to split what you can take between the number of days you are going, plus two, as a precaution.
NOTE: Don't skip out on the insurance to save $100, I could get into lot's of horror stories about others doing the same, but just take my word for it, be safe, not sorry.
You know yourself best so make a priority list of what you want to do and check out Finding the Right Vacation Activity to help you choose the best tours and attractions.
#4 Free Stuff ... Sort Of
Of course, we all know about reward programs (which you should always take advantage of Air Miles as it doesn't cost anything to participate), but often we get a credit card and never think to upgrade to a better plan or an entirely different credit card company all together.
As credit cards are a huge money maker for financial institutions they often change up the benefits of rewards programs to entice new customers, banking on the fact that their existing clientele might never know what a great deal that new guy got on his Air Miles program. Take a few minutes every now and then to check out what different credit card companies are offering, then call yours and ask for a better plan.
Yes, these cards often come with annual fees, but if you can accrue major points for your next vacation by paying a $100 annual fee isn't that worth it? The key here is not to be passive with building up your points and rewards. As an example, gas stations often offer double or even triple points when you buy gas at their chain. If you are going to fill that tank anyway you might as well go to the station that offers the most bang for your buck.
#5 Get the Most on your Group Getaway
Traveling on vacation with large groups can be major leverage when booking your trip. If you are a small group, ask around and see if anyone else is interested in joining your getaway because most resorts and airlines give great discounts to bookings of 10 or more guests.
Another option is pooling your resources and renting a villa. It sounds like a luxurious way to go, but it can actually make a lot of sense. Think about it for a minute. If your group of ten is ready to book five rooms at a 3.5 star resort, all of a sudden $700 per night for a stunning villa isn't expensive.
Now, you do have to take into consideration that you will likely have to buy and make your own food, but if everyone takes turns with a meal you still get to relax while someone serves you poolside! I personally love the dynamic of a big group of like minded people taking the run of the house; the planning, eating, swimming and just hanging out is what I live for. On one trip to Cabo San Lucas with about a dozen people we just sort of naturally formed into two groups, team active and team lazy. If some people want to visit local attractions, go on tours, or try out local restaurants…great. And if others just want to lounge around and read a book on the terrace they can do so without feeling guilty.
Food For Though: Should I Stay or Should I Go
Sometimes knowing when to skip that expensive trip is just the thing you need. The last thing I am going to mention in this post is 'staycations'. These can be an awesome way to getaway without really going anywhere. Your day could look like this: Book a night at a beautiful hotel, spend the day pampering yourself at the spa, then try out that local restaurant that's been getting rave reviews. If you have been taking “just ok” vacations every year, try skipping a year every now and then. The money you save one year might just be enough to justify that trip to Fiji you have been dying to go on.
A relaxing trip to the backyard. Another option you might not have thought about is using some savings to upgrade the spaces around your home. For the price of just one family vacation you could install a small pool or build a private space in your backyard. A stunning new deck with a fireplace and private seating areas might not save you money, but might just buy you peace of mind.
These strategies to planning a vacation are the foundation to your getaway. As mentioned above, your first step is to pick the destination you want to go to. Don't settle for just anywhere. Vacations spend your hard earned money, so it is better to save up for an extra month instead of abandoning your dream destination. To help you get started I put together a list of my top recommended Caribbean destinations by interest in my article - The Best Destination for your Vacation.
If you already know where you want to go you should review Choosing your hotel, Picking your Tour and Guide, and Finding Restaurants.