Between Mother Earth and human foibles, vacation planning can be a big gamble.
There are several things you can control, however, when planning your summer vacation.
1. Travel Off-Season
Hotel room prices skyrocket during the height of vacation season. Travel just before or just after the beaches are packed, and you’ll avoid lines and higher costs. The weather may not always be ideal, but some possible payoffs will make it worthwhile. For example, I scheduled a five-country, five-week European trip in mid-September. Total cost was $450 (without airfare), and I received more personal attention from service staff.
2. Go Off the Grid
Try the un-touristy places. Travelers flock to popular places like Paris and Rome, but there are many equally fascinating and cheaper destinations. For example, visit Laos instead of the more popular Vietnam and Thailand, and you’ll experience a country that is less expensive and still wild and undeveloped.
Volunteering may not sound very relaxing, but it may prove to be the best experience of your life. Involve the whole family for a vacation your children will never forget. CharityGuide.org can connect you with opportunities around the world.
4. Use Travel Discounts
Some credit cards entitle users to discounts in hotel accommodations, car rentals and entertainment venues. Make sure these discounts are available outside the U.S.
5. Lock-In Airfare and Hotels
Many travelers wait until the last minute to book their airline and hotel reservations. Experts recommend locking in the best price early to avoid currency fluctuations. As much as possible, avoid traveling during early mornings and evenings, when business travelers fill seats. Cheaper airline fares are typically limited during these high-demand times.
6. Eat In
Look for rooms with complimentary breakfasts and happy hour buffets. If you plan on staying in one location for several days, look for efficiency apartments with kitchenettes. Hostel hoppers should seek out free breakfast offers that can be stretched into free lunches through careful sandwich constructions.
Stick a couple zip-lock baggies, a small Tupperware container, silverware and a corkscrew in your luggage for on-the-go meals. Shopping farmers markets and grocery stores is a great way to interact with the locals and sample regional foods.
7. Currency Exchange
Credit cards are the most convenient way to make purchases overseas, and most cards offer fraud security. Since fees vary between cards, however, research the best offer. For example, Capitol One charges no fee for overseas purchases (just make sure you call before leaving the country to avoid an alert being placed on your card.)
For cash-in-hand, ask your bank about international fees on debit cards. Some banks will charge a flat fee, and others charge a percentage of your withdrawal. Also ask about ATM transaction fees, which can vary from those charged in the U.S.
8. Avoid Tours
If you’re comfortable managing on your own and have your own sightseeing agenda, avoid the more expensive sightseeing tours. There are some cities, however, that are better seen the first time with a knowledgeable tour guide. For example, there was so much to see and learn about Berlin’s rich history I found it helpful to begin with a tour by a knowledgeable guide. I then returned to specific places for further exploration.