As the economy continues its climb out of recession, many families might be thinking twice about what they spend on the annual summer vacation.
But there are ways to preserve the tradition by being smart about spending. Some ideas:
Get on the mailing list. For any possible destination you can think of, go to their Web sites early and get on their mailing list. You might get plenty of endless chatter from the hotels, amusement parks and other destinations you're interested in, but you might also find coupons to those locations and other linked businesses that could save you money. Go to the tourism Web sites of the states you're planning to visit to take advantage of coupons and specials - you might also find events and activities to attend that aren't publicized anywhere else.
Weigh the value of driving vs. flying. Driving vacations aren't necessarily the cheapest alternative. If you haven't measured the gas mileage lately on your car, do so after your next fill-up and don't forget wear and tear on the car (roughly 10 to 20 cents a mile) and meals or hotels on the road. If you plan significantly ahead of time, traveling by air might not only get you there faster - but cheaper. At the same time, if you fly and need a rental car, don't forget to figure in that cost. Also, go to the Web sites of the airlines you fly the most and sign up to get advance notice of cheap fares.
Make your reservations online. Tourism businesses save money when you reserve online, so you might get a slight discount for using that option. Online travel sites also make it easy to combine hotel, airfare and rental car at a cheaper rate. And remember the days and times that are typically cheaper to fly - Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays if you're willing to fly early in the morning or late in the evening.
Know when to use travel agents. A good travel agent can be a great money saver, particularly for lengthy or complex trips.
If you're going abroad, check in with your credit card company before you go. Some might charge high currency conversion fees, and you can either negotiate them downward or apply for a card with a lower conversion rate that you'll use only for this kind of travel.
Make sure phoning home is affordable. Check with your wireless provider to make sure your destination has adequate network strength for your phone, and particularly check what it will cost to call home or other destinations abroad if you're overseas. Also, check with your arriving airport to see if local stores rent cell phones or disposable cell phones at a significant savings.
Check on car insurance. We've all heard how buying rental car insurance is a bad deal, but not so fast. For domestic trips, double check whether your own car insurance policy is likely to pick up the bill if you crash your rental car. For overseas trips, check with your rental agencies as well as your credit card company to see what insurance options you have. Don't think only in terms of accidents. Think about blown transmissions in small towns with only one mechanic who doesn't speak English. Also, if you're driving to Canada or Latin America in your own car, be very sure you have adequate coverage required in every country. You might have to buy supplemental coverage.
Rebecca Warren is a certified financial planner professional and certified senior adviser in Mesa. She can be reached at (480) 357-8380 or by e-mail at Rebecca@WarrenFinancialServices.com.