We thought it might be nice while we’re in the midst of a Central New York winter to write about taking a vacation! Maybe you’re planning on traveling somewhere warm with hot sand and calming waves; maybe your idea of a vacation is traveling to another country with exotic food and historic sights to see! Wherever you visit this summer, the financial stress of vacations can be an uninvited downer. However, planning ahead eases that stress and can ensure you stay out of debt so you can enjoy your time away!

Here are some tips to keep in mind so you make the most of your vacation time:

1. Research the cost of your vacation  

Be sure to calculate the average cost of transportation, meals, overnight accommodations and activities. While it’s easy to be optimistic, always overestimate your costs and be realistic with your estimates. If you find yourself with extra cash from overestimating, that just means you can treat yourself to that special souvenir or extra activity!

If traveling abroad, check the customs, currency, and weather of the country you’re visiting. For example, if you’re visiting Europe, you may need to be a little more conservative in your savings to make up for the exchange rate. Be sure to check your medical insurance and auto insurance coverage, as well as your internet and cell phone coverage in international markets.

2. Create a monthly savings plan

Once you’ve determined your vacation expense estimate, create a financial saving plan. The easiest way to save is to set up a direct deposit to a special vacation fund account at your bank, whether every paycheck or every month.

If your vacation is already on the calendar, target your monthly savings to reach your goal. If you have no specific date in mind, review your budget to see where you can trim spendings to save in your vacation fund.

Additionally, you can use credit card rewards or air miles to help lower the cost of vacations. You can often receive up to 50,000 airline miles just for signing up for a new airline credit card and additional bonus miles when you activate and use the card (just make sure you’re responsible and pay it off!). You can also look into airline and hotel rewards programs which offer lots of upgrades and free treats you might otherwise miss out on.

3. Be flexible

Lots of savings can be found if you’re not set on specific dates and locales. If you’re able to travel during the off-season, you can often save on airfare and accommodations. Take the time to research prices during different times of year, and see what works!

If you’re not attached to staying in a four-star hotel, looking into hostels can be a great way to save money and make memories. Many hostels provide a bed, bathroom and shower arrangements, and oftentimes even a meal. If you’re averse to sharing a room and bathroom with strangers, this might not be for you. However, if you plan on spending more time out on the town than in the room, hostels may be perfect for you.

4. Stay focused

The total dollar amount of your vacation can be daunting. But stay optimistic and focused! Watching the progress of your vacation fund may encourage you to save even more to avoid vacation debt. Make it into a game for yourself! Create a money thermometer that you fill every time you add to your vacation fund so you can see the great progress you’re making. Then, once you’re on vacation, you can reward yourself for meeting your goals with extra treats, exciting experiences, and zero regrets!