The summer season is in full swing, which means calendars are flooding with travel plans to the beach and road trips across the country, right? Not exactly.
First, Americans are not great at taking vacations. Second, vacations are expensive. According to Bankrate.com, 39 million U.S. adults are not planning to go anywhere this summer. Summer might evoke images of adventure and exploration, but when money is tight, it can be difficult to justify spending money on a trip.
The thing is, taking a vacation can do wonders for your mental and physical health. As Fast Company‘s Lydia Dishman previously reported, studies have shown that vacations can reduce your risk of heart disease. Foregoing vacation for just one year, however, can increase it.
Rather than opting out of a trip this year, consider these travel tips to help you embark on that summer vacation. By incorporating these tips in your planning process, you can be sure that you won’t still be paying for your trip in the years to come.
Investigate what an ideal vacation would cost
If travel is something you are serious about, take the time to understand your current financial situation. Then calculate how much an annual (or even semi-annual) break from reality will cost.
That starts by researching your top travel destinations and finding out how much it will cost to get there, and the affordability of the city. Will you be lying on the beach all day or sightseeing around a European city? What kind of activities will recharge and rejuvenate you? If your ideal destination is out of your price range, is there an affordable alternative?
Once you’ve decided on a place, set a monthly savings goal based on your current income and savings. Start planning at least six months ahead of time and consider talking to a financial expert to get the most out of your escape.
Don’t wait until the last minute to book
According to Cheapair’s 2019 report, the prime booking window is about four months to three weeks before your departure date. Killing time will hurt your budget, so don’t postpone your purchase. That same study found that waiting to book two weeks or less before your departure date will cost you about $135 more than booking during that sweet spot.
Considering how popular it is to travel in the summer, it should be no surprise that travel costs tend to skyrocket around holidays like the Fourth of July or Labor Day. If you avoid traveling around these dates and book for late August or into September you can still get summertime weather, but with the fall price tag.
Pay attention to the details
If you don’t already have an air millage program, it might be a great idea to start looking into it. Points programs through airlines and hotels rack up fast and can help cut down costs for future trips. Keep in mind that loyalty matters, especially for frequent travelers. If you want to get the best rewards, stick with one hotel and airline chain.
Above all, pay attention to the details. Taking the time to look into the specifics of your trip is just as important as finding the best hotel deal. Are you leaving the country? Look into where you can exchange your USD. Exchange rates are almost always higher at the airport. If you’re jumping through hoops to save $20 here and $15 there, but forget to check the airline’s baggage policy, the cost of double-checking your bags might cancel out all of your other savings.
At the end of the day, this is the most critical question to ask yourself: How can I achieve my goals based on my lifestyle, income, and priorities? Spending habits are different for everyone, and what constitutes a relaxing vacation for one person might not be ideal for another. Choose a vacation that’s right for you—and plan wisely. When you do that, you can go on that vacation you’ve earned while keeping your long-term financial goals in check.
Anitra Blue-Francis is a financial adviser at Northwestern Mutual.