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Vacationing on a budget

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Travel doesn't have to break the bank. There are ways to save while having an adventure and creating memories.

Here are some ideas to make travel planning easier and to ensure spending your hard-earned dollars right where you want them.


Budget basics

What can you afford? And when can you afford it? After your monthly expenses are paid, what can you put toward your vacation dreams? Can you book now or do you need to save and go next year?

Jumpstart a travel fund by skipping gourmet coffee and meals out. Once you know where you're going, create a spending plan for your trip. How much will you need per person, per day? Factor in food, lodging, transportation, tips and souvenirs.

Don't forget discounts

An organization you already belong to may offer discounts on airfare, rental cars, accommodations, or admission to museums and other sites. AARP, AAA or various frequent flier memberships are just a few examples.

Lighten up.

Your fashion-conscious self may want to bring seven pairs of shoes, but if you over-pack for an airline flight, you may encounter overweight baggage charges or fees for an additional bag. Know the weight restrictions and baggage allowances before you head to the airport.

Consider driving to your destination.

Often, driving saves you money on transportation (especially when traveling with a family). Driving may also negate the necessity of a car rental and eliminates worries about overweight luggage charges.

You may be surprised about how many magical destinations are close at hand.

For longer trips, you may be able to experience more of the country scenery that you miss when you fly. And, as an added advantage, driving from home saves you from extended waiting time at the airports.

To tour or not to tour?

Some people like to travel in a group; others like to plan their own trip. If you think you'd like to join a tour, find out what's included and what isn't. Airfare? Ground transportation? Tipping? Meals? You'll need to budget for non-inclusive items.

Power up

Pack any extra batteries you might need, especially if you're heading overseas. Buying batteries in a foreign country is shockingly expensive.

Stop the sniffles

Bring your own over-the-counter medicines for a cold or headache so you won't be gouged in the wallet for medicine you're unfamiliar with.

And, of course, don't forget any prescription meds you'll need. If you are even able to get your prescription filled, it might be very expensive at an out-of-network pharmacy.

Be watchful

Guard your valuables and money carefully. Consider using a money belt or wearing a neck pouch. Know how to cancel your credit cards in case they're stolen or the numbers are compromised.

Money matters

For international trips, understand exchange rates and tipping customs for each country on your itinerary. ATMs may offer a better exchange rate over booths or even banks. Compare before you change money.

The U.S. is one of the few countries where leaving a restaurant tip is customary. Don't over-tip if it's not necessary. Also, research any fees your credit card company may charge for foreign transactions.

Be flexible

You may have your heart set on leaving for your trip on Friday right after work, but you may find lower airfares on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday.

Booking a flight that makes a stop may not materially increase your travel time and may offer savings as well.

Departing from a different airport an hour away could save hundreds on your airfare. Also consider traveling during the shoulder season - a location's off-peak travel time.

Consider travel insurance

Should you get it? Basically it comes down to your level of risk aversion. Put your mind at ease by doing some research and determining what makes sense for you.

The good news is that making online reservations with a credit card may entitle you to some basic insurance, covering the cost of a canceled flight or car rental. Check into what your credit card offers.