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How to Save Money While Vacationing

Friends playing in waves on beach

Need to get away? You should! NerdWallet to the rescue to tell us how to cut a few costs so it doesn’t hurt as bad when we get back home to the budget.

Vacation is your time to kick back, relax and enjoy life, right? Unfortunately, too often this attitude leads to out-of-control spending by those who aren’t careful. Thankfully, there are easy, relatively painless ways to cut vacation costs without sacrificing any of the fun. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Create a budget and stick to it

First, figure out what you can afford to spend. Creating a budget for the trip can help you keep expenses from spiraling way beyond your means.

It starts with cataloging estimated costs for getting to your destination, lodging, moving around the area, eating and entertainment. If the grand total is way out of line with what you can afford for the trip, you can look for ways to cut back.

Once you’ve worked out a reasonable budget, print it out and bring it along. During your holiday, pack a pocket-size notebook to record what you spend each day. This will help you track expenses, compare them to your daily plan and stick with it.

Save on lodging

Instead of staying at a brand-name hotel, try finding an less expensive alternative. In many areas, you can rent private accommodations for short-term stays through websites such as Airbnb and HomeAway. Finding a place to stay with kitchen facilities can help you avoid too many pricey restaurant meals

Travelers saved about 21% on average by renting an apartment or home on Airbnb compared to the nightly cost of a hotel in the U.S., according to a study last year by Priceonomics. Those that rented a room in an occupied home or apartment saved more than 49%. Other less-costly alternatives include hostels and home exchanges.

Cutting food costs

Eating expenses can be one of the costliest parts of a vacation. Having a few meals at nice restaurants for fun – after all, it’s a vacation – doesn’t mean you need to do that three times a day to enjoy the trip.

Bringing along snacks and beverages purchased from a low-cost market near home is one way to cut your food costs. Stock up on snacks that won’t spoil, such as microwavable popcorn, granola and dried fruit. Instead of buying bottled water or other drinks, get a re-useable water bottle with a purification filter.

Try to book a hotel room or other accommodation that has access to kitchen facilities so you can prepare your own meals. A room with just a microwave and a mini-refrigerator can save you a bundle.

When you do plan to eat out, check sites like Groupon and LivingSocial for potential deals in the area where you’re staying. Ask people you meet or encounter about reputable food trucks, inexpensive sandwich shops, cafes or restaurants that are nearby. You can also find low-cost options by looking at online review sites.

Transportation savings

If you’re flying to your destination, plan to travel light – some airlines charge extra for carry-on bags. Even if you check your luggage, if a bag is over a certain weight, you can face an additional fee.

With high fuel prices, you may save a lot by using public transportation, walking or bicycling to get around once you’re at your vacation destination. If you absolutely have to rent a car, try to get a small hybrid that gets high mileage per gallon.

Credit card benefits

It’s always smart to have a decent amount of cash on hand when you travel for incidental expenses or times when a merchant won’t take plastic. However, using a credit card can help protect you from theft and fraud while rewarding your spending with points or cash rebates.

Lots of cards offer these benefits, and some let you transfer points you earn on your transactions to airline frequent-flier or other rewards programs run by hotel and rental-car chains. Some issuers, including Great Basin Credit Union with its Visa Platinum card, provide 24-hour fraud protection to insulate you from unauthorized charges and supply travel accident insurance.

Just remember that you need to pay off your full balance each month to avoid paying interest on what you’ve charged and raising the final cost of your trip.

Simple steps like those mentioned here can go a long way toward making sure your sweet vacation memories don’t go sour when the bills arrive months later.

Steve Nicastro, NerdWallet

We’ll leave it up to you how much planning you do before your vacation, but hopefully one of these tips can help for a care-free trip and a happy, relaxed return. Bon voyage!

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