6 tips for a debt-free summer vacation - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

6 tips for a debt-free summer vacation

© Noel Hendrickson / Digital Vision / Thinkstock © Noel Hendrickson / Digital Vision / Thinkstock

By Andrew Housser

The average cost for a vacation for a family of four is $4,580, American Express reports. Up to half of vacation travelers come home with credit card debt, according to a survey by Experian.

All too often, people charge an expensive trip on a credit card – and then wind up paying for months (or years) after the trip is a distant memory. If your vacation budget is small this year, you are not alone. In fact, more than 50 percent of people surveyed in May are not planning to take a summer vacation. If you’d like to be in the other 50 percent, and find a way to get away for less, here are six ways to think outside the (debt) box.

1) Share someone else’s home. Maybe you have a faraway friend or relative who will let you stay with them, or allow you to borrow their home while they travel. Perhaps you can join a reputable home exchange service to trade homes. Or take advantage of VRBO.com or other home rental listings. You might even discover a surprise favorite destination.  

2) Drive instead of flying. With gas prices still reasonably low, 2016 may be a good year for a road trip. Especially for families or friends who can share driving duties, road tripping can save hundreds or thousands of dollars. The savings are even greater if you usually would rent a car at your destination. As an additional bonus, you can bring a cooler loaded with food and drinks you like – at grocery-store prices.

3) Get outside. Visiting a park, forest or other outdoor recreation area is a great way to escape busy city life and reconnect with nature. If you want to camp but do not own camping supplies, look into renting gear, buying used equipment or borrowing from friends. Many state and national parks also have cabins for rent at prices much lower than hotels. Plus, the “entertainment” is free: hiking, watching wildlife, picnicking and counting stars. Most national parks charge an admission fee of about $30 per vehicle, which lets you enter for seven days. To save even more, visit on one of the National Park Service free days.

4) Seek out bargains. Online deal sites such as Groupon Getaways, Living Social, TravelZoo and many local websites offer discounts on lodging, tours, spas and activities such as whitewater rafting and horseback riding. Also check if any memberships you have – auto clubs, alumni organizations, credit unions or professional groups – provide discounts. Before you buy, however, read the fine print regarding extra fees and taxes, blackout dates and other restrictions.

5) Plan a super stay-cation. You can still get away from it all in your own town. Check local websites or tourism guides for local places to experience, from amusement parks to festivals. Seek out discount tickets at grocery stores or visitor centers. Some public libraries offer free museum passes. Challenge yourself to do something fun on a weekly basis. It might be finding the best salsa in town, hiking to every waterfall within 50 miles, visiting new farmers’ markets, or taste testing at all the ice cream shops in your area. 

6) Find theme park alternatives. If your budget does not permit a trip to a major destination park, consider experiencing some of the highlights at home. Many movie theater chains offer a summer movie series of kids’ films for just a dollar or less per movie. Take a trip to a local amusement park, or go in with several families to hire a costumed character for a themed birthday or back-to-school party. For older kids or adults, find a comicon event nearby, host a costume party or join a costume-friendly city scavenger hunt or fun run. 

For the future, start a vacation savings fund. Plan your dream trip’s cost and determine how much you can save per month to make it happen. On the other hand, if you are repaying other debt, do not despair about not yet being able to save for your vacation. Instead, congratulate yourself on not digging a deeper hole with this summer’s plans – and find wonderful ways to enjoy a well-deserved, and paid-in-full, break. 

Andrew Housser is a co-founder and CEO of Bills.com, a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about personal finance issues and compare financial products and services. He also is co-CEO of Freedom Financial Network, LLC providing comprehensive consumer credit advocacy and debt relief services. Housser holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College.
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