How to plan a debt-free vacation (yes, it is possible!)

Whether close to home or across the ocean, planning a getaway can get expensive fast. Many vacation-goers opt for putting charges on credit cards, only to return home to a mound of bills and stress in the months ahead. But the truth is that you can plan a debt-free vacation that actually lets you relax and reset. Here’s how.

How do I save for a debt-free vacation?

The first thing to remember about vacations is that they are occasions that fall outside of your daily financial management. A vacation is not a reason to dip into an emergency fund or take out a personal loan. Debt-free living is all about responsible financial management, and that means living within your means.

While it might be tempting to book that dream trip to Hawaii this year––especially after a year-plus spent watching the world through your window––a long weekend in Florida might be able to provide the same benefits at a fraction of the price. You’ll need to save the amount required before you travel so you can enjoy the bliss of vacationing without financial strain.

Here are three easy steps to get your savings plan in order.

1. Define the parameters of your trip.

Where you want to travel will obviously influence how much money you’ll need. Decide where you want to go, for how long, and how you’re going to get there.

2. Get to know your destination.

The internet is bursting with travel blogs and reviews from people who have visited every destination under the sun. Dive in, get to know the best spots, places to stay, and can’t-miss restaurants––and get a feel for how much you expect to spend. You should also research local deals on everything from accommodations to shows.

3. Set a monthly savings goal.

Based on the particulars of your destination, come up with a ballpark number to start saving toward. Then, take your lump sum and divide it by the number of months you have to save. Once you have a workable number, like $500 per month, you can plan to spend less or earn more to make sure you meet the goal.

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How do I plan a debt-free vacation?

With an established savings goal in mind, use these travel planning tips and tricks to get the most bang for your buck.

1. Use your community.

Ask around to see if friends know anyone who lives at your destination or owns property there. You might be able to stay in a guest house or rent a vacation home for less than the sticker price, thanks to the friends and family discount.

2. Ask for the deal.

Often, the prices you see online are set in stone. But if you call a hotel directly and speak with a representative, they may be able to offer you a discount or find booking specials that aren’t promoted online. You’ll also want to see if there are any discounts for groups you identify with, like AAA members, military, or first responders.

3. Book in advance.

Set reminders for when you’ll need to book travel. Around three months before the travel date is typically the best time to reserve airfare and lodging.

4. Get smart about food.

Food expenses can add up fast on vacation, where you’re mostly eating out. Simple swaps like keeping granola bars in your bag for airport snacks, splitting plates at dinner, or keeping dinner leftovers for lunch the next day can really make an impact on your overall expenses.

The bottom line

Thoughtful planning is the difference between a debt-free vacation and a stressful return home. Be smart about expenses, stick with your savings plan, and forego extra amenities you can’t afford to ensure your vacation relaxation follows you home.

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