How to: Plan a summer vacation

Karen Caffarini

Summer vacations don’t have to break your bank, provided you plan and budget ahead of time, spend wisely and don’t get caught in tourist traps, travel advisers say.

Set a goal for the amount of money you want to save, and set a date to reach the goal. Calculate how much you will need to spend on the trip, then how much to put away each week or month to fund the trip.

And don’t forget little cuts in expense that won’t spoil your vacation.


This is one case where planning early may not pay off. Last-minute deals can be had either through online sites or the hotel itself if it’s anxious to fill vacant rooms, said Denis Cauvier, financial psychologist and co-author of “The ABCs of Making Money.”

Planning a trip out of season, using hotel rewards programs and looking for free-night deals can also save big bucks, said Ian Ford, president and co-founder of discount travel site Undercover Tourist. Swapping homes with someone eliminates this cost altogether, Cauvier said.


Cauvier and Ford agree that driving is a less expensive alternative to flying, and can be a more enjoyable experience. You won’t need to go through a security checkpoint or rent a car at your destination. There are no luggage or other fees.

If you must fly, bring your own snacks on board, sign up for frequent flyer miles ahead of time, skip the movie, book in advance and be flexible with flight times, they said.

Budget for the unexpected

Even the best-laid plans can have a hiccup. The car could get a flat tire, your toddler could develop a bad cold from the change of weather or certain items might end up costing more than you budgeted for.

For starters, make sure your car is in good mechanical shape and you have your health insurance cards with you, just in case.

Cauvier said it is better to use cash, as you tend to spend less this way, but you should bring a credit card in case of emergencies.

“Don’t spend up to the credit limit before you leave, so you have plenty as a built-in buffer,” he said. Always have a couple hundred dollars in cash stashed away for emergencies only, he added.

Ford said Disney and other theme parks have wonderful emergency services, including first-aid stations and defibrillators, in the event someone gets sick while there. He said one of the most common emergencies families face is a lost ticket, which at a theme park can be costly. He suggests making a photocopy of all the tickets, which have bar codes and dates on them. While some theme parks reserve the right to refuse a photocopied ticket, most will accept them if the ticket looks legitimate.


Set expectations and boundaries on how much you will spend, Ford suggested. Rather than buying a plush animal at a theme park or other vacation spot, buy one at a big-box store before your trip and give it to your child at the park, he said.

Cauvier suggested avoiding the usual tourist souvenirs and buying something unique to the region instead, such as a bottle of wine from Tuscany.

Food & Drinks

Cauvier and Ford say booking a hotel that offers free breakfast or has a refrigerator that you can fill with food and drinks can save you a couple hundred dollars a week.

If you drive to your destination, pack lower-cost healthy meals for the ride and avoid greasy fast food. Pack your own snacks and water bottles when heading to a theme park, and opt for all-inclusive hotels where all food and drink are included, Ford said.

Did you know? Most long-distance holiday travel, about 91 percent, is by personal vehicle, such as by car. —Bureau of Transportation Statistics