|Sunday, May 19, 2013|
Research, Plan, and Budget for That Special Vacation
Sun, sand, sea, no sound but the cry of the gulls--that's a vacation paradise to some. Others might say, "Where are the cool stores, the movie theaters, the array of restaurants?" There are myriad ways to vacation, so to make the best use of your precious time and dollars, understand what you want and plan ahead.
What's your budget?To start, "Decide what you can afford to spend for the entire trip, and per day," recommends Maggie Blehert, a spokesperson for Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates, based in Minneapolis. This will give you realistic parameters for planning your vacation.
What do you want to do?Next, and most important, says Blehert, "Figure out what you want from the vacation. Is it total relaxation? Intense sightseeing? Adventure? Something else?" Make a list of all the elements you--and those you're traveling with--consider essential for a successful trip.
Where do you want to go?
Once you understand everyone's expectations, research likely destinations. "Ask friends for recommendations, but don't consider them the final word, especially if there's a place you especially want to go," Blehert says.
You can do your own online research--today's powerful search engines make it easy. Use Google, Yahoo, or similar Web browsers to search destinations or key words like "hiking" to get an idea of what's available.
"There's so much information online that you can almost experience your destination before you get there," says Katie Deines, leisure-travel expert at Expedia.com, Bellevue, Wash. Tripadvisor has travelers' opinions on destinations, hotels, and restaurants; Citysearch is a good site too.
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And travel sites like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz display travel information from numerous vendors--including flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises--all in one place, speeding your search. They often offer special deals and vacation packages that could expand your affordable options.
"Don't be intimidated if you don't know exactly what you want," advises Deines. "Go to a reputable Web site and give it a go--you'll stumble on something that inspires you."
You may consider consulting a professional travel agent--it could save significant time. If you do, make sure the agent is reputable. "Ask your friends for recommendations, and research how long the agency's been in business," says Blehert. "Many agents have become niche experts for particular destinations or types of trips. If you don't get what you're looking for from one agent, definitely shop around."
Keep costs down
After identifying your top destination and travel arrangement options, list all the costs you'd incur (see the vacation budget checklist sidebar for tips) and make sure the trip fits your budget. By making some adjustments, you may be able to decrease costs.
Most important, figure out what you want from the vacation.
"Think of your big 'must haves,' " Blehert says. "If there's a spa you really want to use, but it's more expensive than you thought, think of ways to balance it out. Set a smaller shopping budget, shorten a day trip--even shorten your whole trip by a day or two--or find a less expensive hotel."
Booking your flight and hotel together as a package also can be a money saver. "Expedia.com customers who do so save an average of $220 on their trips," says Deines. "And if your dates are flexible, you can take advantage of online booking tools--Expedia has airfare and hotel rate calendars that show the cheapest rates in a given two-month period."
She notes that airlines typically release fare sales on Tuesdays, and the major airlines usually match each others' prices. "So, Tuesday afternoons and evenings are great times to check airfares."
And while it's generally better to buy airline tickets as far in advance as possible, at least two weeks ahead, it is possible to find last-minute deals if you have that flexibility. "However, there's no guarantee you'll get your preferred dates," says Blehert.
All-inclusive resorts and cruises, where accommodations and meals are part of the package, often are less expensive than booking separately, and you'll know your exact costs in advance. However, cautions Blehert, "Packages vary widely in terms of what's included. When you check in at your resort or cruise ship, review the policies carefully; often certain 'specialty restaurants' aren't included."
There's so much information online that you can almost experience your destination before you get there.
Other cost-cutting tips include:
Booking your flight and hotel together as a package also can be a money saver.
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