July 18, 2024
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How to stay on budget this summer, wherever your vacation plans take you

How to stay on budget this summer, wherever your vacation plans take you

If daydreams about the cottage, beach or pool are making it harder to focus on Zoom meetings these days, you’re not alone.

Summer is peak travel season for Canadians, with July the most popular time for a getaway, according to a recent Deloitte poll.

But if budget worries are casting a cloud over your vacation fantasies, experts say it’s possible to ease that anxiety. Whether you’re adventuring close to home or taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip, here are some tips to ensure summer fun doesn’t break the bank.

Staycation

Staycations allow you to eliminate some of the biggest expenses associated with travel, such as airfare and hotel stays. But unless you plan to spend the entire time reading on the deck, you’ll want a budget that allows for fun outings.

Paul Seipp, BMO’s regional president for the Prairies Central region, encourages exploring local attractions and experiences, keeping a special lookout for ones that don’t cost anything. Festivals, fireworks, outdoor events and parades can be a great way to make a staycation feel special.

When you do hit up a pricier local attraction, be conscious of discount days and special offers. Many museums, for example, offer cheap entry on a certain day of the week or after a certain time of day.

“One of the worst things that can happen is that September hangover when the summer bills come in, so (even for a staycation), stay on track by setting up a separate vacation account or having some savings put aside,” said Seipp.

While picnics or packing your own lunch are always budget-friendly options, Seipp said staycationers who want to dine at restaurants should consider happy hours, “kids eat free” days, and other strategic ways to save money.

Camping

Camping can be significantly cheaper than staying in a hotel if you already own the gear, but if you don’t, sleeping outdoors can be pricey. Experts recommend checking second-hand shops, Facebook Marketplace, and even garage sales for lightly used camping equipment.

“Used camping gear can be quite efficient and quite good and save you a few dollars,” said Kristine D’Arbelles, senior director of public affairs for the Canadian Automobile Association, which counts trip-booking, travel advice and roadside assistance among its services.

While it’s good advice to plan camping meals carefully so you’re not making unexpected purchases at an overpriced campground store, D’Arbelles said a lesser-known way to save money is simply to pack efficiently.

“The heavier your vehicle is, the more gas you’re going to use,” she said. “So think about what you need to be packing in your vehicle. Even removing external racks that you don’t need will decrease some of your drag and ultimately help you save on gas.”

Some campgrounds may offer discounts for mid-week stays. If you plan to camp multiple times throughout the summer, investing in a national or provincial park pass can also pay off.

Domestic road trip

Gas is typically one of the biggest expenses on a road trip, so check out different driving routes and itineraries to determine which cities or regions you can get to without blowing your budget.

It’s also smart to be strategic about where you’ll stop for gas. Seipp recommends taking advantage of loyalty programs or memberships, as well as checking out mobile gas apps that offer to find the best prices in your area or along your route.

“(It) can make a huge difference, especially if it’s a big car and you’re traveling a long distance,” Seipp said.

It’s better to pre-book accommodations for road trips than to assume you’ll just find a hotel when you get tired. Not only is pre-booking generally cheaper, taking time to research hotels can help you save money in other ways. Booking a room with a kitchenette, for example, can keep you from having to eat all your meals at restaurants, D’Arbelles said.

International getaway

If this is the summer you’re jetting off to Europe or some other dream location, it may be time to cash in all those saved-up credit card or airline rewards points. Doing so can help save on travel and accommodations, leaving more of your budget for splurging on dining, events or shopping.

“Redeeming points is a key area where folks can ultimately reduce their costs,” Seipp said. “Especially for those once-every-three-years, once-every-five-years type of big trips.”

When travelling internationally, check your credit card policy to ensure you don’t get stung by foreign transaction fees, and purchase a local SIM card or use Wi-Fi to avoid cellphone roaming charges.

International travellers have a huge range of accommodation options, from budget hotels to luxury resorts to vacation rentals via platforms like Airbnb. Consider factors like proximity to attractions and whether there’s a complimentary breakfast in addition to the upfront price of the room, Seipp said.

Finally, when it comes to international trips, D’Arbelles said she strongly recommends purchasing travel insurance. Weather or flight-related delays are not just minor inconveniences, they can add hundreds or thousands of dollars to the cost of a vacation in the form of unexpected food and lodging expenses.

It’s a little counterintuitive because people think they’re just spending the money instead on travel insurance, D’Arbelles said, but “given the uncertainty of travel today, it’s a really, really good idea.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 20, 2024.

Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press

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