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How to Plan a Debt-Free Summer Vacation

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It’s a cruel, cruel summer for some Americans who want to travel but don’t have the money.

An American Express survey from 2010 found that families were planning on spending $4,000 on average for their summer vacation plans, but not everyone has that kind of cash lying around. Instead, some families rely on credit cards to pay for their summer fun and then are faced with a massive bill when it’s over.

We spoke to travel experts about what consumers can do before, during and after their summer vacation to make their travels something they fondly remember instead of something they regret financially. Here are the top five tips we found.

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Free Credit Check ToolPut a little aside from each paycheck.

“If you have a monthly budget that you live by, configure your budget to
include a travel fund,” says Erica James, owner of Erica James Travel. “Every payday set money aside to go towards your travels.”

James says she used this tactic herself before she became a travel agent. If you set aside $50 from each paycheck and get paid twice a month, that’s $1,200 saved annually just for travel expenses. Many travel agents, James included, offer travel accounts to help travelers preemptively put some cash away.

Go all-inclusive.

Avoiding debt while actually on vacation can be even harder than avoiding it before you go. Those extras add up, especially if you didn’t budget for them. Several of the experts we spoke to said they recommend budget travelers consider a vacation that can be prepaid like an all-inclusive resort or a cruise.

“All-inclusive resort packages are the best way to have a debt-free vacation,” James says. “You can start paying on your vacation about 10 months ahead of time and then when you get to the resort, everything is paid for and you don’t have to have extra money to pay for food, drinks and entertainment when you get there.”

Parents might find this especially helpful, since finding family friendly and inexpensive dining options may be quite difficult and you may find yourselves breaking your dining budget relatively early on in a trip. If you go all-inclusive, however, all food and drinks are included in packages for the whole family and it can help take out the guesswork.

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Use social media to hunt for deals.

Meredith Holt, public relations manager at Walker Marketing who done work for several tourism boards, suggests following the Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest accounts of some of your favorite locations’ tourism organizations for discounts and bargains.

By following the social media accounts of cruise lines, airlines and rental car companies can also prove fruitful, but it takes time and effort. You’ll need to be dedicated to checking these accounts daily to find the best offers.

Consider travel insurance.

Debt isn’t something that people plan for, which is why buying a travelers insurance policy may be a smart choice for you.

“I highly recommend a travel insurance that covers job loss,” says Christina Ernst, president of VIP Alpine Tours, a travel agency in Cleveland, Ga. “This is included in one of the standard policies I sell daily. If a client books a dream trip over a year in advance, we may think of a death in the family or medical emergency but we do not know what may happen with our jobs or home. It’s nice to know that great vacation is protected.”

Not all travel insurance will cover job loss, so make sure you read through any policy before putting down money.

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If you don’t have enough money, wait!

Just because you found a great vacation deal using the tips above doesn’t mean you should go if you’re just going to be putting it on credit cards and depleting your savings account.

Dean Jacobs, a published travel author, says there are many ways to save on your travels, but if you don’t have the money to travel in the first place, just put your vacation plans on hold.

“If you don’t have the money to take the trip you want, wait and save a little longer” he says. “Coming back to work off a vacation takes some of the joy out of traveling.”

Image: Sebastian Fuss, via Flickr

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