The temperatures in much of the country are higher than tween hormones at a Justin Bieber concert, and at this point in the summer, my mind is at the beach whether the rest of me is or not. Along with the heat coming off the pavement, though, most of us are also feeling the pressures of a tighter budget. So, when it comes to planning a getaway, how can you order your guilt-free margarita and drink it, too? Not to worry, with the following tips from Debi Hayes, Master Cruise Counselor with Vacation Planning of Atlanta, you can blow town without blowing the budget faster than you can say “on the rocks!”
- Remember that “budget” isn’t a bad word. Setting a specific amount of money you can responsibly spend on your trip – and sticking to it – doesn’t mean your vacation can’t be awesome. What it does mean is that by making smart choices before and during your trip, you can have a great time and come home ready to start saving for your next vacation – not paying off the last one.
- Do your homework. Don’t pack your new tankini until you’ve packed plenty of time behind the computer. “There are great values year-round for those who book early and do their research,” says Hayes. Deciding where you want to go well ahead of time will allow you to lock in the best deals. “I usually suggest a four to six month advance for any summer travel.” While this is great advice for next year, don’t give up on summer 2010 yet – if you’re willing to be flexible. “Often there are last-minute deals. I just wouldn’t suggest this if you have your heart set on a particular destination.”
- Prioritize. If it’s important to you to stay at a hotel within walking distance of local attractions, you may need to budget less for things like dinners out or shopping. “I just want to stay in the center of the action,” says Hayes. “Some people are comfortable staying in a hotel more on the outskirts, but I would rather sacrifice a fancy dinner or two.” Decide which expenses are the most important to you, and be willing to cut costs on the others. It’s all about choices.
- Consider an all-inclusive. An all-inclusive trip can be a great value for your money, says Hayes. “There is no better value than cruising if that catches your interest,” she says. “There are cruises in every area of the world now.” However, bear in mind that the, ahem, size of the package counts. Hayes recommends weighing whether you’ll really use all the included items. There’s no point paying for all-you-can-drink liquor if you’re gonna stick to lemonade.
- Know when to call a pro. You wouldn’t wax your own Brazilian (I hope). There are times when you need to hire someone who knows the travel biz. “Self-planning is fine for some trips, but the more complicated and research-intense should be left to a professional,” cautions Hayes. Hiring an agent may actually save you money in the long run. “Travel agents often have access to deals you can’t find online,” says Hayes. “Most agencies don’t charge booking fees except for airline tickets and extensive travel planning. Plus, it’s nice to have that human touch … especially if you run into problems along the way.”
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