School is winding down, college graduations are complete, high school ceremonies are around the corner, and the younger children have one eye (and a big part of their minds) on summer vacation. Families are scouring the internet for vacation deals and making plans for road trips. After a long winter and rainy spring (at least for the southeast), everyone is ready for a pleasant summer.
In lieu of a detailed analysis of a financial planning topic, the debt markets, or the latest economic news, it seems like a good time to share some of my thoughts on maximizing your summer vacation fun. So here goes, in no particular order:
Vacation where you are most comfortable. Your time at the beach or in the mountains is supposed to be fun. In the name of budget, it's tempting to try to squeeze a family of four into a one bedroom condo. Good luck with that! No one will get a good night's sleep and everyone will be grumpy the whole trip. Step up to a two or three bedroom and knock a night off your stay to compensate for the extra cost if necessary. A well rested family is much happier!
Spend more on things that will enhance your experience. Express tickets are the best amusement park innovation of the past decade. Spending the majority of your time walking between rides and standing in line (usually in the heat) saps the fun and energy faster than anything. Whatever it costs to buy the express tickets, do it. While it might double the ticket cost, it will increase your enjoyment of the park ten-fold. That's a fair trade. Because most families only make it to an amusement park every few years, the additional cost is marginal in the big scheme of things. You'll remember the thrill of experiencing every marquee ride long after the credit card bill is paid.
Don't break the bank dining out. When our family goes to the beach, we alternate dinners - one night out, one night in. While it's always nice to have the big family dinner at the local tourist trap, it's just as much fun to have takeout pizza and head back to the beach. The two hours before sunset are a magical time - the crowds have gone, the temperature has dropped - it's a perfect time to play on the beach.
Technology is a great vacation tool. We love using our tablet to track our progress, look up information on local destinations, and search restaurant reviews and menus. We've had many detours / field trips initiated by one of the kids researching a roadside attraction or historical site along our route. If your tablet doesn't have mobile internet, figure out how to tether it to your phone, or upgrade!
Don't sweat the small stuff. Detailed budgets and cost variance analysis are best left in the office, not on vacation. You lock in most of your vacation cost by choosing the location, lodging, transportation, and major activities. Keep a cushion for everything else and don't worry where it goes. So little Johnny needs another skim board, should we get the $15 el cheapo or the $25 model with the fancy design? Who cares! Get one and get back to the beach, you're burning daylight! Mom loses her sunglasses again. Buy three pair you think she'll like and get back to the cabin. You can return the extras later or leave them behind as your donation to the next guest. More than ever, when you are on vacation, time is more valuable than money!