COLLEGE STATION — For most families with children in school, the very mention of summer brings thoughts of a family vacation to mind. But organizing a vacation takes dogged effort and sharp planni ng skills.
The planning in itself is a daunting task, but Nancy Granovsky, Texas Agricultural Extension Service family economics specialist, says starting early is the key to getting the best bargains.
“The key things to a vacation are planning, recognizing that families are going to be spending some money for vacations, and then plugging that into a financial plan so that the costs of those thin gs don’t come as a surprise,” she said. “To do all of that, you really must start early.”
Because family vacations tend to be expensive, Granovsky suggests opening a separate vacation bank account.
“It’s a good idea to have a separate account for special financial goals because if we put that money in our regular accounts, we would probably regret that,” she said. “Normally, I would recommend putting those savings in something other than a checking account because they sometimes have service charges and you can get your hands on the money too easily.”
Traveler’s checks, credit cards, ATM cards, debit cards and cash should all be considered carefully when planning how to pay for a vacation.
“If you are traveling internationally, you may get a better exchange rate using a credit card,” she said. “Check on the country and find out what some of the prevailing rates are.”
Because cash can be easily lost and is irreplaceable, many people use traveler’s checks. Granovsky warns that while traveler’s checks are safe, they are only safe if people keep track of the number s.
“Always carry the numbers with you in a separate place from the checks so if the checks are stolen, it will be easier to get the money back,” she said.
Granovsky said another part of planning is deciding if a package deal is right for the family. If the package contains elements that the family is not interested in, it’s probably not a good invest ment. She added that if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.
“There can also be some problems if you’re not going through a travel agency that really stands behind their offers or if you are responding to an advertisement,” she said. “I’d be very, very wary. ”
As for staying in a place with a kitchen, Granovsky says it depends on the family.
“Some people see a vacation as a vacation away from cooking,” she said. “But for families with children, especially small ones, it can save a lot of time and money.”
Transportation is another area where it pays to plan early. With thousands of variations in ticket costs each day, the airline industry can be very creative in coming up with bargain fares and trav el incentives to fill seats. Granovsky said driving may be a more feasible and cheaper option this summer for many families.
“If gasoline prices hold where they are right now, which is at a very low level, driving will once again be very popular this summer,” she said.
Granovsky advised when renting a car, shop around and reserve cars early.
“Do some comparison pricing to determine what the optional coverages may cost and whether or not some of them are needed,” she said. “Sometimes your own car insurance will cover this instead.”
For families with children, Granovsky suggests discussing some spending limits with the children, telling them what souvenir-type items will and will not be covered. Another suggestion is to give t he child a vacation allowance.
“This can really make the child more self-reliant and lets them know if they blow their wad on the first day, then they may not have enough money to buy things they discover later on the trip,” she said.
Back on the homefront, Granovsky says to take special precautions if traveling for an extended period. Let neighbors know that the house will be vacant so they will watch for suspicious behavior or visitors.
“Stop your mail, stop your paper delivery while you’re gone,” she said. “Don’t make your house look like it’s been abandoned!”
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