After more than a year of stay-at-home social distancing, people are ready to venture out, experience new sights and sounds, and plan for a budget-friendly vacation. The kids are out of school, the summer season beacons, and it’s time for fun.

While traveling freely is on everyone’s mind, so are the financial uncertainties of the ongoing pandemic. That’s why taking time to plan for a budget-friendly vacation can help you manage expenses, and enjoy your much-needed summer vacation without derailing your finances – and the fun.

Before you hit the open road this summer, check out a few budget-friendly vacation tips.

Get a Budget “Gut Check”

As early as you can, take a budget “gut check” before you pack up the kids and the car. Get a handle on your monthly income and typical expenses, including credit card debt or other loan payments.

Once you have a complete picture of monthly income, expenses and debt, consider how much you can set aside to build up vacation savings.

Automating savings deposits makes it more “painless.” You’ll be able to set it and forget it, by funding the vacation first through automated savings.

Make it a family affair. Set a vacation savings goal with loved ones lets you plan and encourage each other to make that dream vacation a reality.

Closer to the actual vacation date, build a vacation budget. List estimated costs of travel, food, activities, lodging and vacation-related purchases. Be realistic about what you’ll spend – building in a buffer to reduce any potential financial stress.

Finally, give yourself an additional cushion by paring down on credit card debt to ease monthly payments. That way you’ll free up funds for fun!

Plan Affordable Fun

Now the planning can begin by researching destinations and browsing travel sites online. What is the most fun for you and your loved ones – theme parks, different cultures, beach or outdoor adventures, history, extreme sports? Get a consensus on your vacation priorities and keep focused on the destination.

Are there “off-season” deals you can explore? Are there special deals out there for lodging, activities or events? Many popular destinations are offering post-COVID travel deals, so take the time to get informed.

Once everyone agrees on the overall vacation experience, research how realities can align with expectations. What’s the most affordable way to pay for lodging, food, travel within the destination, whether it’s a theme park campground or staying with family or friends. Research all the many travel alternatives in advance will help you and your family not just have fun, but experience fun in the most affordable fashion.

Look at Lodging

Over the last decade or so, there has been an explosion of affordable, alternative vacation accommodations just right for you. This is good news for those planning for a budget-friendly vacation that avoids expensive hotel lodging.

Want an “in-home” vacation experience? Live like the locals do by visiting websites such as Vrbo and Airbnb to find just the right lodging. Some options come with a kitchen in order to save money by preparing meals, bikes, backyard or even boats to avoid costly add-on expenses.

If traveling internationally, hostels offer inexpensive lodging. Best to plan in advance to be sure of availability and features, and if meals are included. Hostels work best if you’re flying solo or traveling as a couple instead of as a family.

Mix it up by lodging with friends and family who might live nearby your travel destination – just try not to wear out your welcome! You’ll hear directly from the locals about fun things to do while you’re in town.

Don’t Forget Tried and True Travel Tips

For a budget-friendly vacation, don’t forget those tried and true ideas like redeeming points on a rewards credit card. Airline and hotel credit cards provide you with a premium for your brand loyalty, which translates to lower costs for airfare, gas, and accommodations.

Finally, if you have the flexibility, consider a last-minute trip. Those last-minute cruises, hotel, lodging, attraction and airfare deals might mean leaving as soon as 24 hours after you lock in the deals, so keep your suitcase packed. Check out LastMinuteTravel.com to see what is being offered in terms of price and destinations.

Budget-Friendly Travel – Final Thoughts

We’ve all had to hold off on making our travel dreams come true. Keeping in mind the ideas listed above can help make those dreams possible. If a vacation is on your wish list, by planning ahead, you can figure out your finances and make it a budget-friendly vacation.

This blog post was brought to you by GreenPath Financial Wellness.