How To Get The Most Bang For Your Buck On Vacation

High gas prices and other expenses could put a damper on vacation plans as household budgets get stretched thin, but with a little advanced planning, those vacation dollars can be squeezed to get the most bang out of them.

If you are questioning your vacation plans because of high gas prices, you’re not alone. A recent survey by industry trade group U.S. Travel Association showed that of the 1.2 million households surveyed, 57% of those planning to travel by car would would change their travel plans if gas prices went up 26 cents or more. 

When asked how the travel plans would change, people said they would spend less on entertainment, shopping and at restaurants — even choosing to vacation closer to home to save money.

Take heart would-be vacationer, because there are frugal ways to trim vacation costs that won’t put a crimp in travel plans. Let’s take a look at some easy ways to save money and get the most out of vacation dollars.

1. Save up and make a budget. See if the local bank or credit union offers a vacation account and open one months before the intended vacation. These accounts as basically savings accounts, and money can be sent directly from a paycheck into these accounts on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis. The account will give a realistic budget for the vacation and allow for the planned spending.

When planning the vacation budget, be sure to include anything that could cost money including hotel, car, tolls, parking, food, entertainment and souvenirs. There will be less of a chance of sticker shock if you know ahead of time the expense is coming.

 2. Shop around for the best price. In that same U.S. Travel Association survey, those planning on traveling by air were 39% more likely to shop around for cheaper airfare because of higher oil prices.

Travel agents and sites like Kayak.com, Priceline.com and Travelocity.com — to name a few — can help you hunt down deals. Depending on your comfort level waiting for booking travel plans, you could take advantage of last-minute deals to save money. However, keep in mind that those deals could include less-than-friendly flight times at off-peak travel hours.

3. Schedule the vacation on the off-season. Instead of traveling to Disney World in the prime winter months, as an example, try traveling to Florida in April or May when the hotels are cheaper. 

4. Team up with family or friends. Split the cost of renting a house at the beach or the mountains with family and friends to cut costs. Especially if traveling with young children, teaming up with other families with children will give the kids playmates and keep them occupied.

5. Look for self-guided tours and activities. Instead of paying to take a tour of a historic area, look for the self-guided tours. Many of the national parks — Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia, for example, have audio tours. The one in Philadelphia is available for free via cell phone and costs only the air time on the phone.

6. Pack your own snacks. Don’t stop at fast-food restaurants and convenience stores for goodies between meals. Hit the local grocery for far cheaper and typically healthier non-perishable snack foods as well as plastic bags to keep them in while traveling.

With a little planning, a vacation can be a relaxing time without having to worry about breaking the household budget.