Whether you’re staying close to home or taking a transatlantic flight, a budget is an important tool for planning your family trip. After all, knowing what you can safely spend can keep you from racking up unwanted debt, or doing a number on your credit score. Additionally, an organized budget will mean an organized trip for you and your family and you won’t have to worry about spending a little too much here or there. We tapped Rick Seaney, chief executive of the travel site Fare Compare, for some ideas to help you get started on planning your finances for your trip.
Saving money on airfare can significantly lower the cost of your trip, said Seaney, so it pays to shop smart — and early. “Everyone should sign up for alerts,” he said, advising travelers to shop three months in advance for domestic flights and five months out for international flights. You can also save money by flying on certain days, Seaney said. “Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are the cheapest days to take domestic flights,” he noted, while international flights serve up the best fares Monday through Thursday. “Weekend pricing for transatlantic flights is more expensive.”
“A lot of people have security concerns, so it’s always good to get the lay of the land of the country you’re visiting,” said Seaney. A great way to do that, he said, is by clicking to the U.S. Department of State’s website. There, you’ll find information on which countries require vaccines and visas and what steps you and your family can take to stay safe and healthy abroad. (Speaking of health, don’t forget to check if your health insurance works where you’re headed, Seaney said. No one wants a medical billing nightmare.) If you need a visa, for instance, Seaney advised applying early to avoid processing fees. He also recommended checking your passport, as some countries won’t let you in if your document is about to expire.
If you’re leaving the country, be sure to notify your credit card issuers and bank of your plans, said Seaney. This will prevent a hold from being placed on your cards, and if something suspicious pops up, you’ll be first to know about it and allow you to immediately take action. You may also consider asking your bank to set daily limits on how much money you can withdraw from an ATM just in case your debit card happens to wind up in the wrong hands. There’s always the chance your bank will replenish funds lost to fraud, but it’s best not to take any chances while traveling.
If you have some big activities or events in mind, like snorkelling or visiting Vatican City, it’s wise to book in advance, said Seaney. “Anything over $200 or $300 you’ll want to pre-plan if you can,” and if your trip depends on the activity, then you’ll certainly want to prepare. TripAdvisor can give you ideas, but if you haven’t traveled much, it doesn’t hurt to dig more. For his part, Seaney likes “to fire up Google Maps and see what’s around” and ask for tips from the locals.
If you don’t currently carry a credit card, it may be worth it to see what credit card offers are out there. Travel rewards credit cards are a great way to save on airfare and hotels, Seaney said, especially when they have no foreign transaction fees. But try to use those miles smartly. If you’re racking up debt just to ramp up the points, you’ll be doing your credit a disservice. You can also get more bang for your buck by putting the miles where they really count, Seaney said. “Consider using miles when the airfare is $450 roundtrip,” he said. “That’s when you’re going to get the most value.”
Jill Krasny is an editor and reporter at Credit.com. Prior to joining the company, she was a senior writer at Esquire and Inc. Magazine, where she covered a range of lifestyle and business topics. Her work has appeared in Mashable, Travel + Leisure and MTV.