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Saturday, January 29, 2011

School’s Out For Summer 1.29.11

When you start humming Alice Cooper’s catchy song and thinking of sunshine, beaches and sprinklers, it’s time for Summer Vacation. Unfortunately, you need to start thinking about your plans long before the leaves start turning green and flowers start to bloom. In fact, if you haven’t been making plans for June, July or August already, you need to start doing it now! It’s very hard to save on trips in these months, unless you can do so at the very beginning of June or the very end of August. Of course, this is also when kids are still in school, which is why they make it so unattainable. If you can’t afford to spend twice as much on a vacation just because you have to do it during Summer Break, let me show you some ways to lower your costs and try to get the budget under control. Nothing ruins a trip more than knowing you’ve had to max out your credit cards to do it and will probably have to eat ramen for two months when you get back to make up for it. You’re not a college student with a paper route, so let’s look at some ways that you can be an adult and not go into too much debt with this family vacation you’ve been looking forward to all year.

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Airfare deals are plentiful right now! Many of them are good through Summer, so pick a week (or two) you want to travel and snatch them up ASAP. Airfare is generally going to be your biggest expense, so if you can book right now, do it. I’ve seen airfare drop as low as $29 each way, but you can find affordable deals to Europe, Mexico, Canada and the U.S. right now, so better to buy it now when you see a low rate than wait until they drop. Here’s a piece of advice: the closer you get to Summer months, the higher rates will go. You aren’t the only one who wants to travel at this time, the whole travel industry knows it, so rates steadily climb from February on. Also, that great deal you just found may not be there in the morning, so don’t hesitate to book when you see it.

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Double your chances of getting reasonable plane fare by booking flights that travel on Wednesday, Thursday or Saturday. Also, look for airfare on Tuesdays and Wednesday, as those are the days the new prices are posted and, therefore, the cheapest. If you happen to see a rockin’ deal for an airline that either doesn’t fly our of your airport (i.e. AirTran or JetBlue) or will give you no benefit for your current frequent flyer account, chances are the bigger airlines will jump on that sale and offer the same prices, but usually for a limited time with only a handful of seats per flight, so watch for those and then book right away in order to take advantage of those sales.

It’s summer, which means you don’t need to take much with you. Getting everything in a carry-on will save you checked bag fees and also get you on your vacation as soon as possible after your plane lands. Keep your travel wardrobe to a minimum by taking one nice outfit and then several tops and bottoms that mix and match. This way, even if you took only 3 tops and 3 bottoms, they could make two week’s worth of different outfits. I then suggest taking two pair of shoes that will work with your outfits as well. Normally, I take a nice pair of sandals that can also work with dress clothes and a good pair of walking shoes. This way, you will be prepared for anything. Throw in a pair of flip flops (which I don’t count as shoes, since they take up almost no space) and you’re set for bumming around on the beach or at the pool.

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Look for an apartment/condo/house rental instead of a hotel. I keep saying this, but it really can save you a lot of money. Many times you can find something for $300-400 per week, when most hotels you find are going to be well over $75/night, and that’s only for two people. On top of the savings per night and per person, you’ll also be able to shop for your own food and make as many meals as you like. I tend to like to buy breakfast fixings, because I don’t usually like to go out for breakfast and I don’t like to rush in the morning. I can eat a bowl of cereal or a bagel while I’m getting ready for the day and I’ve saved at least $8/day just for me alone. A lot of restaurants charge more than that. Heck, you could easily spend that much at Starbucks for a muffin and a coffee. And if you come back in the middle of the day for a nap or to rest your feet, you can make yourself a sandwich for lunch, too!

How else can you save by renting an apartment/condo/house instead of getting a hotel room? Well, there’s always the free parking that’s sure to be included. Then, there’s your sanity. You’re not confined to one room with two beds and a TV with four feet of space to walk around in, where the only privacy you get is when you use the bathroom. Most vacation rental properties have a sitting area, a dining area and bedrooms, so if you’re sick of looking at other people, grab your book or handheld gaming device and go in another room. Being with people 24/7 can really make you cranky sometimes. Even if you’re just hanging out at the kitchen table playing on your computer while someone else is watching TV fifteen feet away, it can really make you feel like you have breathing room. It helps you relax, which is what vacation should be about. (Below are some useful sites to find vacation rentals)

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Going to the beach? You know you’re not the only one that thinks this is a good idea, right? No, you and millions of other people want to pack their swimming suits and sunscreen and lie on the beach and play in the water. Fake them out! Trade in the ocean for a nice lakeside location. Not only will it be a fraction of the price of an oceanfront property (or even an ocean“view” one), but you can do almost the same things you can otherwise. You can lay out on the beach, make sandcastles, go snorkeling, fishing, swimming, jet skiing and almost everything else you can do at the beach by the ocean.

Travel to cold-weather locations. While it may still be popular, it will be a little less crowded there. When the Northern Hemisphere is in Summer, the Southern Hemisphere is in Winter. This can work in your favor if you aren’t set on catching some rays in your bikini.

Skip flying and take a road trip. I love a road trip, but if you don’t have unlimited time to get to your destination, it may be inconvenient, and it may not save you money if it takes you 3 days to make it there. Between gas and lodging, you’ll have to weigh your options. Don’t forget to take into account any family feuds that happen anytime you’re in the car for more than 20 minutes. If you all can get along and get with the spirit of road travel, this can save considerably…plus, the journey can be part of your vacation if you plan many fun stops along the way, which is half the fun of road tripping! Sure, Trees of Mystery of the World’s Largest Thermometer may seem hokey, but they can actually be really fun if you have a good attitude and count them among “attractions” to see on your way to Disneyland, or wherever you happen to be traveling to.

Take a cruise out of your home port. Of course, this only applies to those people who live near a cruise port, like Los Angeles, Seattle, Orlando and Miami. Of course, there are a lot of port locations, and if you can take advantage of just driving across town, or, even better, being dropped off, you can save hundreds of dollars per person by not requiring a plane ride. It also means your cruise vacation can start right away! Many people don’t really take advantage of the travel and sightseeing opportunities in their own area. My family likes to be tourists in our own community, so we travel all over just to see what cool stuff we have around us. This has saved us money many times when wanting to get away for a few days or even for the afternoon. If we could cruise out of our own town, we would have done it many times already.

So, now that you have some ideas how to get the best deal on your Summer Vacation, start making your plans right away. Talk to your family and nail down a few destination choices. If you can find a deal to any of them, seize them right away and then you can sit back and relax while you fill in the rest of your itinerary. Then, use TripIt to organize all your confirmations, addresses and phone numbers and share with all your travel companions and friends who might want to see what you’ll be doing each day. Keep all your info at your fingertips by printing out your schedule and/or accessing it via your smart phone, so you’re always on time and have everything necessary to keep your trip going smoothly. (And don’t forget to call and confirm any lodging reservations a week or two before you travel. You may have a confirmation number and email, but it’s better to just be safe since computer systems can glitch.)

One last idea: Portland, Oregon has been named as the #1 Summer Vacation destination by Travel + Leisure. Now, I may be biased because I live here, but with all the festivals, day trips, shopping opportunities and awesome residents, I would have to say I agree and that everyone should visit the Northwest at least once. Our summers aren’t too hot and you’re sure to have a very relaxed and fun stay. Check out what you can do in the summer months here with What's On When.


Coming soon: Tax Day is coming! Put that money to good use by earmarking it for travel! It’s like an instant vacation fund! Let me show you some of the best deals of the moment that can get you the most bang for your tax refund.

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