Five Money-Smart Vacation Tips

By Mike Peterson
In May 17, 2013

Summer is right around the corner – and for many folks, that means that it’s time to start planning a vacation.  But remember:  Just because you’re taking a holiday from your day-to-day life, you shouldn’t abandon your financial responsibilities.   


Want to make sure that your finances don’t get away from you during your getaway?  Here are five tips to help you preserve your credit score (and your savings, and your emergency fund) while you plan your next vacation.


  1. Set a budget.  I know.  You’re going on vacation.  The last thing you want to do is think about something as mundane as your budget – but trust me on this one.  Making a budget is the only way to ensure that your trip doesn’t turn into a spending free-for-all.  Give yourself a daily spending allowance that includes meals, activities, and any extra transportation expenses (like cab fare) – and don’t forget to budget a little “fun” money for souvenirs.  Then, stick to that budget – no exceptions.


Stretch Your Vacation Dollars Farther

Want to make the most of your vacation money?  Here are a few things you can do to make your money last:

  • Look for lodgings that offer free breakfast.  Lots of mid-priced hotel chains offer free breakfast – and in most cases, the food is pretty good.  This is a great option if you’re trying to feed kids on a budget.
  • Search for deals on tours and activities.  Do your travel plans include theme parks, museums, or guided tours?  Sometimes, you can find coupons or special deals on area attractions at a hotel’s front desk or online. 
  • Walk or use public transportation.  Rental cars can get pricy.  Check out the subway or bus system in your destination city and you may be able to get from point “A” to point “B” for a few dollars instead of a few hundred dollars.  Depending on where you’re staying, you may even be able to walk from place to place (just be sure to pack comfortable shoes!).


And don’t forget to budget in some extra cash for unexpected emergencies, too — that way, you don’t have to max out your credit card to deal with lost luggage, an illness, or a last-minute flight or hotel change.


2.  Do a last-minute money check.  A day before you go on vacation, it’s a good idea to review your finances one last time.  Make sure to take care of any bills that will be due while you’re gone (nothing spoils a vacation like racking up late fees because you forgot to make a payment), and make sure you know how much money you have in your checking and savings accounts.  And if you plan on using a debit or credit card, be sure to call your bank or credit card company and give them a heads-up about your trip (otherwise, a string of purchases in another state or country might trigger a fraud alert).

3.  Protect your identity.  Don’t leave your driver’s license, passport, or credit/debit cards unattended – ever.  If your hotel room has a safe, use it.  If not, carry them with you or lock them in your suitcase (and take the keys with you!).  Identity thieves only need one or two pieces of information in order to rip you off – and they only need a few seconds to swipe a stray ID off of, say, your hotel nightstand.  It’s also a good idea to have phone numbers of your bank and your credit card company handy, just in case (store the info on your phone or write the numbers down and keep them in a safe place).

4.  Be careful with your cash.  If you plan on a cash-only vacation (which I highly recommend – unless, of course, you can pay your credit card off in full when you return), make sure you’re not an easy target for opportunistic pickpockets:  split up your cash, and only take what you need for the day.  Leave the rest in your hotel safe.  Another option?  If your bank has branches in your destination city, visit the ATM and pull out what you need for the day.  Or, consider a prepaid debit card and forego cash altogether.

5.  Be even more careful with credit cards.  If you read this blog regularly, you probably already know how I feel about credit cards:  When used responsibly, they can be useful tools.  But the key word is “responsible.”  If you can pay off your credit card – in full! – the moment you come home from your big vacation, there’s no reason to leave it behind.  In fact, some credit card companies offer unique services – like discounts, emergency assistance, and fraud protection – that are useful to travelers.  Just be careful, though:  It’s pretty darn easy to overspend on vacation, and it’s especially easy if you’re paying with credit.

Mike is the author of “Reality Millionaire: Proven Tips to Retire Rich” and he has been published in a variety of local and national publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, Deseret Morning News, LDS Living Magazine, and Physicians Money Digest. He holds a B.S. in business administration from the University of Phoenix.

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