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May 15, 2007 > Take the stress out of your next vacation

Take the stress out of your next vacation

By Jason Alderman

It seems like everyone I know works longer hours and has more responsibilities than ever before. Some people say the only thing that keeps them sane is thinking about their vacation.

Whether you're one of those people who spend months planning every detail or you prefer being more spontaneous, here are a few steps you can take to make sure your vacation provides the relief you crave without breaking the bank.

Create a vacation budget. Practical Money Skills for Life, a free personal financial management site sponsored by Visa USA (www.practicalmoneyskills.com/calculators), features an interactive calculator called Travel Wizard, which helps you prepare a travel budget for transportation, meals, hotels, entertainment and other vacation expenses. It helps you decide between necessary and flexible expenses, and to make budget adjustments before it's too late.

Do your research. Most tourist attractions have Web sites or toll-free numbers, so it's easy to get directions, hours of operation and fees, as well as make reservations before your trip. A quick call can save you from a three-hour drive to a "Closed for Repairs" sign.

Shop around. Many airlines charge more to book flights by phone or through a travel agent compared than on their Web sites. Other sites, such as www.orbitz.com and www.expedia.com, let you compare fares from a variety of airlines, hotels and rental car companies.

Other tips:
Airfares to more remote airports are often considerably less expensive than their more popular, and crowded, alternatives closer to town.

Always ask if hotels, restaurants and attractions offer discounts - AAA, AARP and other organizations often negotiate discounts for their members.

If you decide to charge your rental car or other vacation purchases to a credit card, check your credit card agreement beforehand to see if it includes auto rental collision damage or theft coverage.

Expect the unexpected. Even short trips can be plagued by unanticipated expenses, so if you're not careful, you might end up paying for your vacation for months afterward. Add 10 to 15 percent to your budget for unanticipated events - things like lost luggage, a flat tire or an Emergency Room visit.

Don't forget paperwork. Make sure you bring along copies your medical and auto insurance information. It's also a good idea to carry your credit card companies' toll-free numbers in case your wallet should be stolen (keep the list somewhere else in your luggage).

Stay abreast of current events. If you're traveling abroad, watch for news reports about public unrest, disease outbreaks or employment strikes at your destination, and try to have a back-up plan. The U.S. State Department maintains a list of current warnings in foreign countries at www.travel.state.gov.

Travel safely. Sometimes on holiday your guard is down and you do things you never would ordinarily. For example, if you've been driving for hours and are tired or inattentive, pull over for a rest. Read up on traffic regulations in other states or countries you visit. And be aware of your surroundings: Having your wallet disappear is not how you want to remember this vacation.
And remember to relax. This is your vacation and you've earned it. Do a little preparation in advance and you can play the whole time.

Jason Alderman directs the Practical Money Skills for Life program for Visa USA. To sign up for a free monthly personal finance e-Newsletter, go to www.practicalmoneyskills.com/newsletter. As always, consult a financial professional regarding your particular situation.

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