By Louis DeNicola, Cheapism.com
Spring may still be a few weeks away but if you're a first-class budgeter you know that snaring summer vacation deals means planning ahead. Between flights, car rentals, and lodging, the relatively fixed costs associated with time away from home add up quickly. Of course, the variable costs of food, gas, souvenirs, entrance or entertainment tickets, and unexpected outlays must also be factored in.Whisk away to a beach for cheap.
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To maximize the fun of a cheap summer vacation while minimizing the expense, plan early and heed the tips below.
Making Plans. Start with a bit of introspection. Imagine where you want to be and what you want to do this summer. If you think "Florida" or "Yellowstone," figure out what's leading you there. Perhaps you've always wanted to see Yellowstone. But if communing with nature is the true motivation, Yellowstone probably isn't the most budget-friendly destination. Moreover, a less crowded spot may be more enjoyable. In other words, identifying what you truly want out of a cheap summer vacation increases the chances of finding an unbeatable vacation deal and having a memorable experience.
As you probably know, avoiding the obvious often means better vacation deals on airfare and hotels. So draw up a list of your "wants" and let it point you to alternative destinations. Then narrow your focus to a manageable three options, leaving in your favorite as well as the one you think offers cheap summer vacation prices on food and attractions.
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Next -- and this is the benefit of starting the hunt early -- set up price alerts for airfare and lodging for all three locations. You're probably familiar with vacation deal sites such as Kayak and Priceline, but check out Yapta while planning a cheap summer vacation. Yapta searches for flights using the same technology behind most major airfare search engines and sends alerts when prices change on your selected flight or hotel before you even book. After you've booked, the site continues to watch for, and alerts you to, price drops, which results in a refund of the difference in airfare; for hotels, which often don't charge for cancellations until the day before arrival, you'll be able to rebook at the lower rate. While the price alerts provide good data on the expected fixed travel and room costs, you should do some research on your own to estimate food and entertainment costs.Have fun in the sun for less.
Take a couple of weeks to figure out the pricing and then book your tickets. An early start gives you a handle on costs and locks in prices, and, as the New York Times travel blog points out, the anticipation of an upcoming vacation becomes a source of joy in and of itself. But don't dally -- you could end up watching your cheap summer vacation plans fizzle in the heat of frenzied competition from last-minute vacationers and price increases from savvy service providers.
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- Group trips are usually cheaper than going it alone. Consider planning a cheap summer vacation with friends and splitting the cost of a house instead of booking a hotel.
- Use a family vacation as an opportunity to explain budgeting to the kids and then strive for consensus on vacation deals that fit the budget.
- Keep the trip short and end it with an intense or memorable moment -- an approach recommended by Time.
- Leave your budget with some wiggle room. Chances are you haven't taken into account all the taxes or planned for that delicious dessert you just can't pass up.
- Don't count the flight as part of your vacation. This is a mental trick that will keep airport-related hassles from ruining the trip. Vacations start after you land and end before you arrive at the airport for the return flight home.
More from Cheapism:
Our vacation car rentals guide
Inexpensive hotel recommendations
Top travel sites
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