Thursday, December 10, 2020

Get A Head Start On Next Summer's Vacation Plans


Depending on where you are in the country (I'm in PA.) or in the world, you might be getting ready for some bitter, cold weather or you already had a snowstorm or two. Or maybe you're one of the lucky ones who live somewhere where you don't see snow and ice and temps below freezing! Wherever you call home, you might be looking to get away for a few days or a few weeks. If you are planning to take a vacation, now is the best time to start planning! (and saving!) 

Pick A Destination 

This might be the hardest part of the whole adventure. Of course, this will depend on your budget and the time of year you're planning to visit but this could end up being a tough decision! Especially if you have a kid or 3 and you have a few other people who might have different ideas than you. 

You'll want to definitely do your research! Check out rates, availability of rooms or space, and definitely find out when their off-season is. If you can pay half the price to make reservations a week after Labor Day, that might be the deal-breaker right there. We often go to different campgrounds after Labor Day so we can get the less expensive cabin. Oftentimes this was a great opportunity to add a few nights onto our original plan or we would just have extra spending money to take along. (Well, in one case, it ended up being transmission money for my Saab and tow from Connecticut back to PA.) Either way, there is always a reason to save money where you can. I'm sure you can think of something to do with it! 

Start Planning

So, you have your destination and you checked out reviews on every hotel, vacation rental, bed and breakfast, cabin, and RV park so what's next? Check out the best vacation spots, museums, find your restaurants, shopping malls, maybe you planned and chose your destination around an event. It is never too early to plan an itinerary. (Unfortunately, due to the current situation, you may not be able to set anything in stone so you may want to check out cancelation policies and plan what you can. You can always go back to this once you know what the current situation is wherever you may be going.) I'm not digging any part of this shutdown so I am going to pretend that by next spring, all will be well and we are planning anyway with the expectation that we will be allowed to visit anywhere! 

I've always found that the best way to find the best spots in town is to start searching for local groups on Facebook and start searching Google for local, small-town dining, shops, even right outside of the town if need be. I tend to always favor small businesses and prefer to give them as much business as possible. Even at home. But, they also don't charge outlandish prices. They're not tourist traps. Usually. So, you can save a fortune maybe driving just a little bit outside of your vacation spot but you could potentially save $5 for that Alabama Slammer (OK, maybe $20 on 4 of those...) and you could get a much better quality meal that will only cost you half the price! 

Be sure to check reviews, check for coupons, discounts, and collect addresses, phone numbers, map everything out so you know where you're going when you get there. You probably won't have a printer with you but if you print those half-price coupons off before you leave, you could save a whole dinner's worth of money before you head back home. 

Take Care Of Everything At Home

Even if you're 9 months out, you may want to consider setting up any arrangements necessary for pets or even if you need someone to check in on your house or check your mail. It probably wouldn't hurt to have backup plans too. (Trust me, this happened to us a few times when a friend ended up backing out last minute.) 

You'll probably need a new pair of sneakers or some swim suits for the kids, maybe a few new tankinis for yourself, or a new bag to stuff everything into. So, start checking for sales during the holiday season! I often find the best deals from Cyber Monday the whole way through the New Year. I even stock up on shower gels, snacks, fancy candy, things I wouldn't otherwise buy any other time during the year. But, when they sell for half price or offer free gifts and free shipping I will buy up to last as long as possible! Actually, this would be a great time not just for swimwear but for toiletries and games and puzzles for the kids. All of these things are useful when traveling. 

Years ago when I first started actually using a computer and a printer., (Just 15 years ago! I was way behind on all of this Internet stuff!) I quickly realized how important it was to have a bank bag or an envelope stuffed with any pamphlets or maps from any of the places we were planning to visit. As well as coupons, any gift cards, frequent dining or gas station perks cards, a few blank checks, just in case, an emergency credit card or 2, medical insurance cards, anything I knew or thought we might need going into this bag. It was so helpful to have this so handy (in the glove box). That way, if we were going by a gas station or a chain restaurant, I could quickly find everything and save money too! If you are using a bank bag or a small bag of some kind and you have vitamins or prescription medication, this is the perfect place for those bottles too! Everything is just right within reach and depending on the size, you could easily fit this into your own bag when you stop on the way or are going into a restaurant. I also always throw a few oddball things in there like an extra lip gloss or 2 and a chapstick as well as some bandages, allergy meds, basic first aid kind of stuff. 

Another maybe strange habit I've always had or maybe it's not so strange but, I always think about how exhausted we are when we do finally arrive back home from vacation. The absolute last thing I want to do is have an overflowing hamper and a sink full of dishes! I am usually the last one to sleep on vacation eve because I am busy writing checklists to make sure we packed everything and then I catch up on laundry, clearing out the fridge, making sure drinks are stocked up so we don't have to run anywhere after we are home, and making sure the sinks are cleared out and everything is tidy. I feel a lot better coming home to a neat and tidy house. Where I don't have to do anything. But unpack and make a pot of coffee and fall asleep on my laptop. Of course, these are things you would do right before you leave rather than 7 or 8 months ahead of time! But, I figured I would add them. Just in case. 

Save Your Money

This is sometimes the most annoying part of vacation planning but if you throw a few dollars in a jar each week or you automatically deposit a few bucks into a savings account online or you just save all of your change, this will add up fast and could end up being all of your spending and shopping money while you're gone! (I'm assuming you've already paid for your stay when you reserved.) The next step isn't so bad. You just have to create a plan and a budget and stick to it! 

Years ago when my husband and I first started out and we had just 1 child, I was very cautious about our spending money on vacation and I would write up a piece of paper with exact amounts of money we had to use for each day. For instance; We're going to be out for 3 nights and 4 days so we need 4 days worth of food money and 2 days worth of spending money and the gas money for days 1 and 4. I would gather all of the coupons and discount cards I could find and then simply divide the money up into categories. I love to "overestimate" everything. Even if it's just a $5 overage. This way there is always extra. (I do this with my bills too!) Say my truck payment is $533 a month. It's actually $550 so that's how much I make sure is in the bank to cover that bill. I do this with each bill so this way I am always just a little bit ahead. (Same deal for vacation money just on a smaller scale.) 

One last thing! If you're saving coins, be sure to check with your bank first before paying an outrageous price like 8% at the grocery store. We have a very small bank but they do allow for us to drop off loose or rolled up coins and then pick up later in the day or the next day and they don't charge us anything! 8% may not seem like a lot but it could end up being 2 large pizzas worth when you're counting out a few hundred.


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