Plan an affordable vacation without going into debt - WREX.com – Rockford’s News Leader

Plan an affordable vacation without going into debt

© iStockphoto.com / Steve Dibblee © iStockphoto.com / Steve Dibblee

By Andrew Housser

Everyone can use a little escape from the bustle and stress of everyday life. It is healthy to take some time for rest and relaxation on a regular basis. But a vacation trip is not always in the budget. If you are in need of some time off but are tight on cash, consider these affordable vacation ideas.

1.      Explore the outdoors. Visiting a park, forest or other outdoor recreation area is a great way to escape busy city life and reconnect with nature. If you want to camp but do not own camping supplies, see if you can buy used equipment or borrow gear from friends. Some stores rent gear. Many state and national parks also have cabins for rent at prices much lower than hotels. Plus, the entertainment -- hiking, fishing, playing horseshoes, and counting stars -- is free. (Although you will need to purchase a fishing license and pay for any park entrance fees.) Bring your own food and beverages to keep costs low. Cost for admission to a national park generally runs about $15, but to save even more, the National Park Service hosts several annual free days.

2.      Book a last-minute trip. Planning ahead is often a great way to save, but it’s possible to save at the last minute, too, if you can be flexible with your dates. Cruise lines, for instance, offer significant discounts on last-minute bookings. The closer you get to the departure date, the lower the price. Sign up to receive newsletters from cruise companies to stay informed of departure dates and deals. You also can save money by cruising during the off-season or going on a repositioning cruise – taking a trip when a cruise line is moving ships from one place to another in anticipation of the upcoming season. Tour guide companies, like cruise lines, also offer last-minute deals on adventures because they do not want spots to go unfilled.

3.      Avoid the crowds. You will find better deals when you travel during less popular times. That means that you’ll often find some good deals in early and late summer vs. the height of the vacation season. The same rule applies when picking a destination. Countries (or states) that have struggling economies may offer better deals on lodging. Areas that are rebuilding after a natural disaster such as a flood want tourists to return, so you will find better discounts in these regions.

4.      Go on a volunteer tour. Voluntourism involves volunteering at a destination in exchange for discounts on travel and lodging. There are still fees to offset costs incurred by the nonprofit organization, but the expenses are often much lower than if you made travel arrangements on your own. Volunteer vacation opportunities can range from building schools in third-world countries to helping with conservation efforts in America’s national parks. Charity Guide is a good place to find information about voluntourism opportunities.

5.      Use coupon sites. Online deal sites like Groupon Getaways offer big discounts on lodging, tours, spas and family activities like whitewater rafting and horseback riding. These coupons can make it easier to get away for a quick and affordable weekend trip. Before you buy, make sure to read the fine print regarding extra fees and taxes, blackout dates and other restrictions.

6.      Vacation at home. Even if a faraway destination is not financially feasible this year, you can still get away from it all. Make a list of places and activities in your area that you want to check out, such as amusement parks, museums, theater productions, zoos, botanic gardens, water parks, festivals and family fun centers like bowling alleys, go-kart racing and miniature golf. Check for discount tickets at grocery stores or visitor centers. Some public libraries also offer free museum passes.

Taking a break from work and everyday life stressors is good for both your physical and mental well-being. Whatever you do, do not rack up “vacation debt”; it won’t be good for your well-being to face paying the trip off for months to come. Fortunately, with some foresight and planning, you can enjoy a break and stay within budget. And for next year, plan ahead and put money into a vacation fund.

 
Andrew Housser is a co-founder and CEO of Bills.com, a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about personal finance issues and compare financial products and services. He also is co-CEO of Freedom Financial Network, LLC providing comprehensive consumer credit advocacy and debt relief services. Housser holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College.
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