5 ways to save and prepare for your next vacation


At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here’s an explanation for

With summer winding down, you’re probably not thinking much about next year’s summer vacation. But you should be.

A Bankrate survey in May found that 1 in 4 Americans weren’t taking a summer vacation this year because they couldn’t afford it. If you were among that group, now’s the time to make sure you’re ready for vacation next year. When it comes to both saving for and planning your trip, time is your friend.

Here are five ways to make sure your next vacation happens.

1. Figure out how much you need to save

The first step is to determine your budget.

In the Bankrate survey, respondents who planned to take a summer vacation said the median amount they intended to spend was $1,000. A majority of millennials (64 percent) expected to spend $1,000 or less and 70 percent of baby boomers expected to spend $1,001 or more.

To get an idea of how much you need to save, add your transportation (airfare, gas, tolls etc.), lodging, food and excursions/sightseeing/activities. Don’t forget to budget for souvenirs or impulse buys, says Jill Rosenberg, manager, group and executive travel services at AAA Northeast.

There are many ways to make your budget, but one method is searching Excel for a vacation budget template. If you’re concerned about being caught off-guard by unexpected costs, an all-inclusive trip might be a good choice.

If you find that your vacation is over budget, consider shortening the trip to save on lodging or staying at a less expensive hotel.

Here are some average vacation costs, courtesy of AAA, to help you determine how much you may need to save:

  • Beach vacation: One week in Hawaii ($4,790) or Key West ($3,410).
  • Disney five-day vacation: $3,930.
  • Caribbean seven-day cruises: Royal Caribbean ($2,935) or Norwegian ($3,100).

Now that you have your budget, set up a savings account with a recurring savings plan that will incrementally add up to your goal. Either have a portion of your direct deposit or a recurring transfer from your checking account into a savings account separate from your emergency fund or other accounts. This ensures the money is not spent.

2. Consider the spending details

Create a realistic budget. If your group is going to eat a sit-down breakfast each morning, don’t budget for just a bagel. No matter what type of estimation you do, make sure you familiarize yourself with the area, the types of restaurants and the prices of both.

“They don’t want to get there and find out that they budgeted $50 a day and in reality, it’s going to cost $150 a day,” Rosenberg says.

Include excursions into your budget and think about whether you will be going on an adventure or sightseeing every day or just on certain days. When pricing hotel rooms, Rosenberg says the first price you see might be before taxes and other fees. So if you go by the first number, your budget may be inaccurate.

3. Use a rewards credit card for purchases

Spend smart on a daily basis with either a cash-back credit card or a travel card.

Cash back, miles or points can pay for a portion of your vacation. Charging your trip may maximize your return and benefits — for instance, airline tickets with an airline credit card or a hotel with a hotel-branded card. So, make sure you think about the card you use. If you’re using a cash-back card, transfer any cash back into your vacation savings account.

If you’re going to be traveling abroad, compare credit cards to make sure you have one that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees. Also, check with your bank to see whether you will be charged ATM fees when you withdraw money from your bank account abroad.

Learn more about how to maximize your rewards credit cards.

4. Determine when you’re going to pay

For some types of vacations – such as a trip to the Caribbean, a cruise or even a Disney vacation – full payment is not required at the time of booking, Rosenberg says.

Usually you can save money by booking trips far in advance. If you are actively researching the trip – airfares and hotel prices – you’ll be more in tune with the going rates.

“My main advice would be is to book in advance,” Rosenberg says. “If you’re planning a summer vacation for next year, now is the time to do it. And it also does give you plenty of time to budget.”

5. Consider offseason travel

It’s good to not go with the flow when it comes to saving money on travel. Rosenberg says the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and after New Year’s are good times to travel.

“Because most people are not getting ready to go anywhere, they’re getting ready for the holidays, they’re getting ready to do their errands, they’re getting ready for the end of the year,” Rosenberg says.

Shoulder season — the time between the high and low seasons of a destination — can be a good time to travel. For instance, in Europe, should season is April through mid-June and September through October, according to RickSteves.com.

The best time to book a flight is 21-121 days in advance, according to the CheapAir.com 2018 Annual Airfare Study of 917 million fares. The study determined that getting the lowest airfare varied depending on the time of the year:

  • Winter: 62 days in advance.
  • Spring: 90 days in advance.
  • Summer: 47 days in advance.
  • Fall: 69 days in advance.

Saving for a vacation: 1-year plan

Months out Savings tips
12 Open a savings account and automate your savings from either your direct deposit, a recurring transfer from your savings – or both. Develop a savings plan and do some budgeting.
8 This might be a good time to book your trip. If you have touched your vacation savings account, re-evaluate your vacation savings plan – while you still have time to recover.
6 If you’ve hit some unexpected savings roadblocks, see if there is a way to make up ground by auditing your budget for needless expenses.
4 Check on your vacation savings account and make sure you’re on target to meet your vacation goal.
2 Transfer any cash-back earned on a cash-back credit card into your vacation savings account.

Learn more: