Plan ahead so you can have fun on vacation

May 13, 1999|By Lynn F. Little

Want to have a great vacation? Want to enjoy your time off without worrying about money? Just remember two words - PLAN AHEAD!

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Whether you want to take a trip across the country or across the ocean, or just spend some time at a nearby resort, planning ahead will get you there with less hassles and lower costs.

The first step is to determine what you and your family want from your vacation. Do you want to do something or go somewhere very different from your daily life? Are you in the mood to relax and do very little? If you have school-aged children, perhaps you want to include some sightseeing and/or visits to distant family members. Whatever it is, take time to plan your goals and make sure everyone is somewhat in agreement with the vacation plan.

The next decision will be about when to go. You may be constrained by work, school or seasonal schedules, or you may be able to go where you want to go during limited times of the year. Whatever the circumstances, choose a time period and block it off your calendar. The further in advance you can choose your vacation dates, the better your chances of getting some inexpensive travel deals.


While you are exploring ways to get to your vacation destination, deciding exactly what you will do when you get there, what clothes and equipment you will need, and finding someone to take care of the pets while you are gone, you can be saving money to help pay your vacation expenses.

You could decide to take a certain amount of money from every paycheck and put it in a savings account. You could set a jar on the kitchen counter and encourage all family members to toss in loose change at the end of every day. If you are anticipating a costly vacation, you and your family might decide to give up some routine pleasures, such as candy bars or sodas from vending machines or dinners out and put that money in your vacation jar instead.

Also, as soon as you know when and where you want to go, you can start shopping around for transportation, hotel, restaurant and entertainment deals. According to travel agents, it usually is easier to find lower-cost fares and rates when you book in advance. Of course, the season will affect your costs. It is important to research the seasonal variations of rates for your vacation destination.

Vacations don't always have to be far away, for a long time or costly. If rest is what you crave, and/or money is limited, you may want to stay home and eat all your meals out.

Some simple ways to save money would be to pack simple meals and snacks instead of buying all food from restaurants; buying the kids car toys and souvenirs from discount stores instead of tourist attractions; pack carefully so you aren't forced to buy a forgotten necessity at an expensive hotel gift shop; purchase or borrow a guidebook about the place(s) you are visiting so you know in advance when are the least expensive times to visit museums and entertainment parks.

Major amusement parks, such as Disney World, publish guides every year telling you when is their busiest and their least busy times, in what order to get on the rides to avoid long lines, which restaurants are cheaper, etc. Spending some time perusing vacation guides can alleviate frustrations and unexpected heavy expenses.

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County - University of Maryland.

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