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Trim your vacation costs

By Carla Hindman, Director of Financial Education, Visa Canada

To paraphrase Yogi Berra, when it comes to gas prices, this is like déjà vu all over again. Instability in Africa and the Middle East, among other factors, has continued to drive up pump prices to levels that make us all cringe a little.

Unfortunately for those planning their summer vacations, higher fuel prices are impacting many travel-related costs:

  • If you're driving, the cost to fill the tank has increased exponentially since last summer.
  • Airfares, which are largely driven by fuel costs, are way up.
  • Food is generally more expensive to account for increased shipping costs.
  • Hotels and other businesses are also passing along their increased energy costs to consumers.

Because the last few years have been stressful on everyone, you probably need to recharge your batteries now more than ever. Here are a few tips for planning a vacation that won't break the bank:

First, be realistic about what you can afford. Racking up debt can be almost as stressful as no vacation at all, so examine how vacation spending will affect your overall budget. Create a trip budget and try to anticipate all potential expenses. It's amazing how quickly unanticipated expenses can torpedo your budget. Consider things like:

  • Airfare – include taxes, fees for extra or overweight baggage, transportation to and from the airport, in-flight meals and entertainment, etc.
  • Car rentals – factor in taxes, gas, fill-up penalties and insurance (although check your auto insurance and credit card policies to ensure you don't pay for duplicate coverage).
  • Hotel/lodging – don't forget taxes and other local fees, charges for phone/internet, room service, tips, etc.
  • Entertainment – include meals, event admission and ticket-ordering charges, transit passes or taxis, sporting equipment rental, babysitters and special clothing or accessory requirements (sunscreen, etc.)
  • Cell phone roaming charges, especially in foreign countries, remote locations and at sea. Check with your carrier ahead of time to avoid nasty surprises.

Practical Money Skills, a free personal financial management program run by Visa Canada, has a handy web-based travel calculator that can help you estimate travel costs and rejig them to meet your budget needs.

Search for deals on flights, hotels and rental cars at popular sites such as Orbitz, Travelocity, Kayak, Expedia, Priceline and Travelzoo. But beware: Before clicking "confirm," make sure the final price matches the initial quote and that your seat is still available.

Consider a "staycation," where you become a tourist in your own area and save on travel and lodging costs. Make sure you treat it like a true vacation, however, and don't get trapped doing routine chores. If you're at a loss for what to do, here are a few suggestions:

  • Search online for reviews of local restaurants, museums, spas and more.
  • Look up your local tourism board to see your hometown with new eyes.
  • If gardening relaxes you, dedicate time to sprucing up your yard. If you hate it, splurge on a gardener.
  • Use money you save by not traveling to hire a housecleaner after your staycation so you won't have to think about cleaning.

Don't pass up a vacation – you've earned it. Just be cautious about how expenses can add up.

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.

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