For most families, summer is the ideal time for a vacation; schools are out, the weather is warm, and most venues are open for business. But when we spend the whole year eagerly waiting for summer vacation to come ‘round, it can be all too easy to get swept up in making the most of it — leaving our budgets behind.
But you don’t have to break the bank to have an awesome summer vacation, and there are a number of simple ways to minimize (or even eliminate) summer vacation debt.
Save Money — & Credit Card Rewards — All Year Long
The easiest way to ensure you aren’t dealing with summer vacation debt long after your suntan has faded is to start saving for your trip as early as possible. After all, if you have the money to pay for your trip outright, you won’t need to take on any debt to do so.
For some people, this may mean making a little room in the budget for monthly contributions to a separate vacation fund. You can also set aside extra money, such as bonuses and tax refunds, to go toward your vacation instead of making splurge purchases like upgrading your entertainment system.
Another simple way to save for summer throughout the rest of the year is to use a rewards credit card. For example, there are a ton of options for travel rewards credit cards that earn points or miles on everyday purchases, with many offering bonus rewards for purchases in popular categories like fuel and dining.
By the time summer rolls around, you could have enough rewards saved up from your everyday purchases to pay for flights, hotels, and a whole host of other vacation-related travel expenses. And save up your cash back rewards year-round to build a stockpile of statement credit that can cover everything else, from meals to souvenirs.
Be Flexible About the When & Where
One method for keeping your summer vacation costs at an affordable level is to be flexible about your travel plans, including both where and when you’re willing to travel. Taking a summer vacation to a destination that’s more sought-after during the winter, for instance, can score you fantastic off-peak deals and ensure you’re not fighting crowds your whole trip.
You may even want to consider some off-the-beaten-path destinations instead of planning a trip to one of the more popular tourist hotspots. For example, there are plenty of smaller beachside towns that offer the same white sand and blue water as their big-time competition, but they often do it at a fraction of the cost.
And you’ll also want to avoid planning a trip during the more popular travel times, such as Memorial Day weekend or the week around the Fourth of July. Airlines and hotels know they’ll have few vacancies during these peak travel times and tend to price their products accordingly.
Book Your Flights Early — Or Really Late
If you don’t have a lot of flexibility in your travel timetable, often your best bet for finding savings on your flights and hotels is to book early. Many hotels, for instance, will offer early-bird booking specials that can potentially save you hundreds over the course of a multi-day stay.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on your itineraries, however, as prices can fluctuate on a weekly basis, potentially offering the opportunity to snag an even lower rate down the line. Most airlines and hotels will allow you to make changes to your reservation up to seven days before your trip, but make sure you’re aware of any fees for changing your reservations.
At the other end of the spectrum, you can also typically score a deal if you have the flexibility — and constitution — to wait until the (nearly) last minute to book your travel. Airlines and hotels hate having empty seats and rooms, so they will frequently drop their prices on last-minute vacancies to ensure a full booking.
Obviously, this method is hardly without risk, as there’s certainly no guarantee you’ll find cheaper rates at the last minute — or any availabilities at all. If you’re going to try this method, you may want to have a backup vacation plan… just in case.
Skip the Travel for a Staycation
While traveling is all well and good, there’s no actual rule that says you must go somewhere to have an awesome summer vacation. Instead, you can enjoy the warm summer weather and time as a family at home having a fun, affordable staycation.
Of course, that doesn’t have to mean you’re stuck in the house all summer long. Most cities and towns offer a variety of free or inexpensive activities and events, particularly in the sociable summer months, giving an adventurous family plenty to keep them busy from May well into September.