Planning a Summer Vacation? These Tips Can Help You Save

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Follow these tips to have some summer fun without the post-vacation penny-pinching.

I'll be honest: I'm pretty used to the hermit life, having lived it long before the pandemic started. But even I am ready to get out and have a little fun after being cooped up at home for over a year. And a summer vacation sounds fantastic. But that doesn't mean I'm willing to go hog wild on spending. You don't have to either. Here are a few of my top money-saving tips that can help you take an awesome vacation and still have money left in your wallet when you get home.

1. Be flexible

If you're not in a hurry to reach your destination, focus on finding the most cost-effective way to get there. That could mean driving instead of flying or looking for flights mid-week rather than on the weekends when people are more inclined to travel.

Consider alternative accommodations, too. Maybe you can stay with a friend instead of booking a hotel. Or if you love the outdoors, you could head for the nearest campground. If you don't mind cooking, a vacation rental with a kitchen could save you money compared to dining out at every meal while you're away.

You can even be flexible with your vacation destination if you don't have somewhere specific in mind. Say you want to go somewhere with a beach. You don't have to trek all the way to the ocean -- you could find a cabin by a lake instead. Think outside the box.

2. Use credit card rewards

All that online shopping you did during the pandemic could help you out now if you've racked up a substantial amount of credit card rewards. Travel rewards credit cards are usually the best for vacation savings. They can help you score free flights and hotel stays, discounts on checked luggage, and more. But other types of rewards can be helpful, too.

You can use cash back credit cards to purchase gift cards for stores and restaurants you plan to visit while on vacation or to pay for things you need for the trip. Or you can just use them to cover your everyday expenses, like groceries, so you can save more of the money you're earning from your job for vacation.

Check with your credit card issuer to see how many points you have, what you can spend them on, and whether there are any limitations like blackout dates on flights or expiration dates on rewards points.

3. Look for coupons and free activities

If you already know how you want to spend your time on your trip, check to see if any of those activities offer discounts. Some places give you money off for being a new customer or signing up for their mailing list. Or you may be able to score a coupon online. Check the expiration date to make sure it'll be valid when you're there.

It also doesn't hurt to check the area's event calendar before you hit the road. There might be some activities going on you wouldn't have known about otherwise, and they may be more affordable than other things you planned on doing.

4. Set a budget

Sticking to a budget prevents you from overspending. You'll probably have a sense of how much you're going to spend on flights, hotels, and gas if you've already planned out the trip. But things like snacks, souvenirs, and activities can quickly balloon if you're spending thoughtlessly.

Before you go, decide how much money you're going to spend on each of these things, then track your spending while you're on vacation. A budgeting app makes this pretty easy. And if you find yourself going overboard in one category, see if there are ways to compensate in other categories to keep yourself on track.

If you spend a fortune on your vacation, you're probably not going to be taking another one for a long time. But if you keep your costs down, it'll be easier to afford another break from reality later on. Try these tips and keep your eyes peeled for other opportunities to save on your travel costs.

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