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A simple way to make sure you have a great vacation next year

Key Points
  • If vacation spending put you on edge this summer, start now to save next year’s getaway.
  • Most Americans value vacation time. Few bother to save for that precious time away.
Laura and Miles Lennon on Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, Japan, earlier this year.
Source: Laura Lennon

People save for retirement. For college. For a down payment.

Few save for vacation.

Yet every year, about two-thirds of Americans put everyday life behind them and set off for some R&R, according to a Gallup poll taken in December.

Paying for it is another matter. Saving for vacation is not a priority for Americans, says a survey from CIT Bank. In February, CIT surveyed 1,100 U.S. adults online to see how they save money, and how the money is earmarked.

Only about a third of people save for travel and vacation, CIT found.

Meet a planning pro

Laura Lennon, a risk operations manager who lives in Brooklyn, New York, makes the most of every long weekend in the year. Travel can be anything from a quick jaunt to Long Island to a trip to Japan.

She and her husband look at the upcoming year to note available vacation days, estimate what travel will cost and plan about six months in advance.

About two years ago, Lennon says, they also started tracking expenses and created a budget.

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"We love and value travel, but we wanted to make sure we were being responsible," she said. They settled on 5 percent of their income, and sometimes pull money from other budgets and leverage credit card points and miles to make it work.

The Lennons found that regularly setting aside money for travel to a dedicated savings account has made it easier to book travel. Having the funds removes any doubt over whether it's a financially responsible decision.

Vacation planning 101

"If there is something out of your ordinary spending routine, there is no way around budgeting," said Justin Sullivan, certified financial planner and investment market manager at PNC Wealth Management.

People often turn to credit cards to pay for trips, but when the weekend is over, "it's not worth it," Sullivan said. "It's such a reverse from how you felt on vacation."

1. Pad your budget by 15 percent

Sullivan's first advice is to budget for the obvious — flights, car rental, hotel, meals and entertainment. "People forget about other expenses, such as boarding your pet, which can be expensive," he said.

Don't forget about gratuities or buying new clothes.

Sullivan recommends taking the total estimate cost of your trip and adding 15 percent to 20 percent.

2. Reduce expenses when possible

Traveling with family and friends means you can split a hotel room or share the cost of a rental car.

Don't automatically default to a hotel. "You can stay at someone's house using local apps, such as AirBnb," Sullivan said. You can save on restaurants by cooking a few meals yourself, and you might have a few nights in, watching a movie on TV and snacking on popcorn.

3. Show your loyalty

The longer your planning, the more chances you'll have to build up some credit card points or hotel program rewards. Even one night in a hotel or one plane ticket can help save money.

4. Pay as you go

Consider paying in advance, especially for expensive and complicated vacations. "Maybe you want to go to Africa on safari in September," Sullivan said.

In January, you pay for the flight. Throughout the year you can pay for the safari itself, perhaps lodging or land transfer expenses. Paying as you go helps avoid putting large purchases on your credit card and letting the interest pile up.

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