If you can afford a summer vacation without going into debt, you should certainly take one. Chances are your working harder than ever at work, and are feeling the stress of the economy and everything else. I posted six affordable ideas for summer vacations last year, but this year provides rare opportunities to take dream trips, or at least luxury trips, without breaking the bank.

Timeshare Promotions
If you’re a homeowner, then you can take advantage of a timeshare promotion. Most of them offer weekend or three night summer vacations at a screamingly low price, usually less than $300. You can’t get a decent hotel room anywhere for less than that. Of course you’ll still have to pay for food and entertainment, but most timeshares also include fridges, microwaves, and maybe even cooktop so you can make your lunches and eat breakfast in your room. Of course, you’re trading your time for this offer. They’ll give you hard sell for about 90 minutes and pressure you to sign up right then. Don’t do it. No matter how good it sounds, there is always a catch.

Europe on Sale
Although the dollar is still weaker than the Euro, Europe is seriously suffering from a drop in tourist traffic, from both Europeans and overseas travelers. You can score five-star hotel rooms for four-star prices (or less). You can get into most restaurants without a long wait. Airfares offer great deals, especially if you use national airlines that make stopovers in major cities on their way to other places. Money Magazine also recommends looking at second-tier cities. For example, instead of Tuscany, go to Umbria. Obviously, there’s no substitute for Paris and London, but rather than a week in the big cities, schedule a few days there and then head to a less-popular but still fabulous location for the balance of the week.

Local Summer Vacations
Last year I recommend “staycations.” Just don’t tell anyone that’s what you’re doing. This year, you might even be able to wangle a couple nights at a swanky hotel for 50% off. Museums, amusement parks, and other popular locations are offering specials to lure more people in. Investigate carefully to take advantage of the best deals. If you have an Entertainment Book, look for coupons to sweeten the deals further.

South and Central America Deals
The dollar still goes very far in South and Central American countries. If you want to visit them and aren’t familiar, consider using a site like LuxuryLink for amazing deals. Most of the offers are for off-season or shoulder-season, but summer is actually their off-season. Try to avoid the really wet season, but you should be able to find something affordable with decent weather and reasonable humidity. Before you bid, email the resort to confirm that there are rooms available during your vacation dates, then bid the minimum. It’s very rare to be bid against. Since most flights must travel through the US to reach these destinations, you can usually find decent airfares, too.

Last-Minute Vacation Packages
If you have the flexibility to get away with a few days’ notice, then sign up for last-minute deal alerts from the major travel sites, like Priceline and Travelocity. You can usually find an offer for less than 50% of the full price, often less than you’d pay for booking six months in advance. You can find cruises, hotel/air packages, or whatever else you’re looking for.

Home Swap
You can use a formal home swapping service, but there are alternatives if you want to get away without breaking the bank. If you live in or near a city with tourist attractions or great outdoor activities, call or email a friend in a location you’d like to visit and offer to trade houses. If you only know local people, see if your friends or relatives know people who might want to swap.

If you plan right and use all your resources, you can score some really great travel deals this summer. Just make sure you’re not creating debt when you travel, but if you’ve got the money, this is the year for that dream trip to Paris.

A few years ago, my husband and I spent a lovely nine days camping in Sedona, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Zion National Park. We hiked, we developed a new inside joke, and we ate dinner in our car because it turned out to be monsoon season. Despite the rain, it was a great trip, and it probably cost less than $600, including the rental car because neither of us wanted to put 1500 miles on our cars.

I’ve been camping with my family since I was a toddler. For a long time, we went every summer. It’s always a fun time. It’s also a fairly frugal vacation. If you need to get away, but can’t afford a vacation, consider camping somewhere within a day’s drive. Here are tips for planning your trip.

Reserve Your Campsite Now
Most campsites accept reservations about 7 months in advance. Visit Reserve America or the National Park site to book your site. Since we’re in April, holiday weekends will be taken. However, mid-week and non-holiday weekends should still be available. The key is to be flexible with your location and dates. Don’t just plan for the major national parks. Check out a state or county park.

Arrange to Borrow Equipment
If you don’t already have the necessary camping supplies: tent, sleeping bags, camp stove, lantern, and cooler, ask around. Your friends most likely do and would be more than happy to lend them to you for the weekend. Just make sure you sweep out the tent carefully and air out the sleeping bags before returning them. If you plan to camp frequently, watch for sales at Costco, Wal-Mart, and local camping supply stores.

Plan Your Menu
Camping food should be simple and it should be something you can cook on a fire or campstove. Aim for one or two pot meals. Eggs are the most common breakfast. Dinner is chili, tacos, barbecued chicken, and other dishes along those lines. Pack trail mix and sandwich fixings for lunch. S’mores are a must, so bring wire hangers for toasting marshmallows.

Plan Your Activities
You don’t want to plan your trip down to the minute, but you should have some idea of what you plan to do so you can pack accordingly. If you plan to hike, you’ll need hats, backpacks, and water containers. If you plan to photograph nature, pack the camera. If you plan to send your kids to Junior Ranger, check the website to see what sorts of activities are available. Is there a pool or lake on-site? Bring the swimsuit.

Follow the Rules
If the ranger says to use the bear box, use the bear box. If they say not a path is closed, don’t go down that path. If fires are banned, don’t light one. The rules are there for your protection – remember, it may be called a “park,” but this is the wild.

The nice thing about camping is that you’re forced to relax. You can hike or swim all day, but come nightfall, there will be quiet time sitting around the fire talking or playing games. You’ll go to bed early because it’s dark and rise early because it’s light. Your lungs will feel fresh and clean.

This post is making me want to camp! I may have to start looking for a nearby spot to park my tent for a few days. What are your camping tips? Do you have any favorite camping spots? Any good camping stories? Share them in the comments.

I’ve been making the annual Thanksgiving Drive for 11 years. This year, we’re staying home for the holiday. Unfortunately, this is probably the year when traffic will be lighter! AAA estimates that 2% fewer people will travel this Thanksgiving. That’s a lot when you’re talking bumper-to-bumper traffic. If you do have to get on the road, see my previous post on long drives as well as these tips.

Start Your Thanksgiving Drive Early
The earlier you can leave, the better. If you can leave today or Tuesday, that’s best. Your trip should be pretty smooth. If you can’t leave until Wednesday, try to leave in the morning. For every half hour you delay, you’re tacking at least another 15 minutes onto the trip. I prefer to leave by 1 PM, but now that my husband and I are both gainfully employed, we usually can’t get on the road before 3 PM. That’s okay, but we’d be in big trouble if we waited to leave until 5 or 6.

Pack Everything the Day Before
Have your suitcases, car games, maps, and food packed the night before. Put them near the door so you can toss them in the car as soon as you get home from work. If you have food that must be refrigerated until you leave, put all of it in a plastic bag in the fridge that you can grab and drop into your cooler just before leaving. Make sure the ice pack is at the front of the freezer, not buried under last summer’s leftovers.

Check the Route for Closures
We learned the lesson the hard way two years ago, when some idiot in the permit department approved a major road closure on the route between our apartment and the freeway. It took us an hour to travel the two miles to the freeway because of that closure. Lest you think they must have been doing vital roadwork, I can assure you they weren’t. The road was closed for a promotional event.

If your city has a traffic website, check it for closures and events along your route. You should also check your state transportation website for updates on highway conditions. This is the season of road closures due to weather, so it’s better to know before you hit the road so you can plan a route around the backup.

Set the Radio to the Traffic Station
When you first set-out, tune the radio to your local news and traffic station. They’ll keep you up to date on new breakdowns, accidents, and other incidents. Even if you can’t avoid them, you should make sure you’ve gone to the bathroom and will have enough gas to idle through the traffic jam.

Dress for the Road
When you’ve got a long trip ahead of you, wear loose pants, a non-itchy shirt, and comfortable shoes. You should also pack sweaters and jackets for the stops. Although it can be 70 where we live and 60 at our final destination, the route in between gets down to the 30s and 40s with high winds. I’ve seen people hop out of warm cars in flip flops and shorts, only to realize they have to stand outside in a long bathroom line. If I’m shivering in my coat, how must they feel?

If you take advantage of these five tips as well as my previous tips, your trip will be tolerable. I’m not going to claim it will be pleasant – no one looks forward to the great Thanksgiving Drive.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have DVDs, let alone DVD players in cars. I’m sure that DVDs are a good way for kids to pass time in the car, but I think a more interactive approach would be better. (Note, I don’t have kids. I reserve the right to change my mind when I’ve got two wee ones kicking the back of my seat for six hours.) If you’ve got a long drive and kids, here are a few fun and cheap travel games for you and your family.

Magnetic Travel Games for Kids
When I was a kid, magnetic travel games were very popular. We had a little set with checkers, Chinese checkers, chess, and a few others. We also had a miniature Connect 4. We set them up on the fold-down armrest on the back seat, that also acted as an anti-conflict device. Before you hit the road, visit a local toy store to browse for a magnetic car game set.

Trivia Cards
We also had a set of Jr. Trivial Pursuit. We didn’t bring the whole game, just a box of cards we used to quiz each other and the pie pieces to keep score. We made a rule that you got a pie wedge when you answered five correct questions. If you have Trivial Pursuit Family or Disney, take the cards on the road with you.

Classic Car Games
You can play classic car games without the violent slapping when Bugs are spotted. Instead, turn them into quests to see how many state license plates you see, or count the number of Priuses on the road. The first kid to reach 20 gets a cookie.

20 Questions is another easy one to play, and you can incorporate things you can see from the road.

Pipe Cleaners and String Games
Pipe cleaners and string are among the cheapest travel games out there, and they keep little hands from sneaking across the seat to poke a sibling. Visit a craft store to buy a pack of pipe cleaners in a variety of colors. They can be bent and formed into all kinds of fun shapes like hats, eyeglasses, and other accessories. String games usually require two people, so buy a book of string games and colorful yarn, then let your kids figure out how each set of instructions works.

Mad Libs
Who doesn’t love Mad Libs? I loved making up sentences when I was a kid. The wackier it sounded the better. Mad Libs are still available at any grocery store or drug store. Check the magazine aisle for these and other fill-in-the-blank travel games and books.

Coloring Books
Paint by number and watercolor books are tough, but crayons are still safe for the backseat. Give each kid a coloring book of their favorite characters. If you have pieces of cardboard, give one to each kid to place under the book so it holds up better. My sister and I each had a lap desk – a piece of enameled plywood attached to a cushion.

If one of you can read without getting sick, read aloud to everyone in the family. It will help the pass time quickly, and reinforce the importance of reading. Take a family trip to the library to find the right book for everyone.

My family made several successful six to eight hour drives when I was a kid. Sure, there was some hitting and fighting, but these travel games kept it to a minimum. At the very least, we all made it to our destination without injury and without Mom screaming at us to behave. That alone is a worthy accomplishment.

If you plan to take a winter vacation and haven’t already booked the trip, start planning the trip now. The longer you wait, the more it will cost, especially if you want to go skiing or visit a popular warm-weather destination like Hawaii or Cancun. Use these tips to get a jump on the planning.

Choose Your Dates Now
Winter vacations can occur anytime between Thanksgiving and April, so you have a lot of flexibility, but you should check your children’s school schedules and your office conference schedule now to rule out date conflicts and find a few possible vacation windows.

If you can, avoid the major holidays like President’s Day, New Year’s, MLK Day, Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas. These are the most popular winter vacation times, and prices rise just for those occasions. My husband and I chose the second week of December, which is a nice shoulder week when most places are empty.

Research Winter Vacation Locations
Hawaii and ski resorts are the two most popular winter destinations. They’re also the most expensive options. If you want to go skiing, either look for something close to home to cut down on fuel costs and travel time, or look for a smaller resort that isn’t as popular.

If you want something tropical, consider one of the smaller Caribbean islands, Mexico, or parts of Central America like Belize and Costa Rica. Although you do need a passport, your dollar will stretch further. In some countries, you don’t even need to change your money. Due to cruise ship traffic, the dollar is often preferred to the local currency.

Check travel sites like Luxury Link and Priceline for package deals to both cold and warm winter locales. Often the savings is considerable. Check Craigslist for vacation rentals. Book now to ensure the most date flexibility and a wider range of affordable options.

Set a Budget
Once you’ve got some ideas, look at your finances and figure out what you can afford. “Afford” means without raiding your emergency fund, reducing your retirement or college funding, or running of credit card debt. One bonus to planning now is that you have time to save up the money for the trip, or can pay it over time by buying the plane tickets one month, paying the deposit on the rental another month, etc.

With your budget in mind, book the trip. Remember, food and entertainment also have to come out of that budget, so don’t blow the whole thing on travel and lodging.

Request the Time Off
If you have kids, request the time off from work as soon as possible. The popular dates will also be popular with other parents. Even better, go on a vacation without the kids. You’ll save money, have more date flexibility, and it will do wonders for your relationship.

Whether you bring the kids or not, make sure you get approval before booking anything.

You may think that September is too early to be thinking about a January vacation, but now is exactly when you need to start planning to ensure you get the best deals on the best spots. What are your top winter destinations.

Thanksgiving cornucopia

Don’t hate me for mentioning Thanksgiving before we’ve even passed Halloween, but you do need to start making your holiday plans, especially if they include that most miserable of experiences: Thanksgiving travel. Even if you’re staying home, you need to do a little prep work now. You don’t have to drag out the pie pans, but here are a few things you should do now to prepare for the festival of food.

Book Thanksgiving Flights in Early September
Recently I attended a party where someone said she was considering flying home for Thanksgiving, but wanted to see if airfares would come down. I advised her to book now. I flew home for several Thanksgivings and know the prices will only go up. To get the best price, you probably should have booked your ticket in August, but you can still get a good deal in September. Don’t wait until October or November. If you can even find a flight, it’s guaranteed to cost both arms and legs. Use these tips to save money on holiday travel and find travel deals.

Reserve a Hotel
If you can’t stay with friends or family, then book a hotel now. You’ll have a wider range of options in your budget and more flexibility in dates if you make a reservation in September.

Set Your Thanksgiving Budget
What? A budget for Thanksgiving? Yes, if you plan to travel, host a dinner, or go out to dinner, then you need to set a budget. That will help down the road when you’re tempted to order the Thanksgiving cornucopia and fall flower extravaganza as a centerpiece, but only have room in the budget for a large gourd because you decided to serve 15 side dishes and an organic kosher free range pre-prined turkey.

Consider Who You’ll Invite
If you’re hosting a dinner, figure out how many people you can invite within your budget. It’s fairly traditional to ask people to contribute dishes, so that may make it easier to invite more people. However, if more people requires renting tables, chairs, or serveware, then you need to factor that into the budget.

Consider the Menu
Again, you should consider your menu when creating your budget. Although you’ll save some money by having friends or relatives contribute, you’ll at least be on the hook for the turkey and some wine. Having a menu in mind will also make it easier to divvy up the remaining responsibilities.

Review Restaurant Options
If you like to eat out for Thanksgiving, you should start looking for a restaurant now. Compare prices and again review your budget. Will eating out at the five-star restaurant blow your Christmas budget? Although you don’t have to make your dinner reservations now, you should make them by early November at the latest unless you enjoy eating at 11 AM or 10 PM. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to supply a credit card to reserve your table.

Other than booking your travel arrangements now, you don’t have to go to major effort to plan for Thanksgiving. Thirty minutes of quality time with a pen and paper or restaurant review site should be all you need to set your budget and at least form a general plan for the biggest eating day of the year. Remember, also, that you don’t need to plan the feast of a lifetime. This is a day for family and friends, not for fancy recipes. As long as you have turkey, potatoes, and a can of jelly cranberry sauce (with ridges), your guests will be content. They probably won’t remember anything other than that anyway.

The best way to avoid baggage fees is to choose an airline that doesn’t charge them. You can also see yesterday’s tips for avoiding airline fees for more ideas. If you are stuck with an airline that charges fees, and you booked after the fee was imposed, then your next defense is packing wisely.  Here’s how to pack a suitcase.

Plan Carefully
About a week before you plan to leave, start a packing list. Start by listing your necessities, including the following items:

  • Number of pairs of underwear and socks
  • All toiletries
  • Food
  • Gifts
  • Carry-on items
  • Items you’ll wear on the plane
  • Medications
  • All accessories.

Now look at the activities you have scheduled, including tourist destinations. Figure out what you’ll want to wear to those places.

With your list of activities in mind, plan your outfits accordingly. If you plan to visit churches, then you’ll need to pack long pants or a skirt, and a top with sleeves or a light sweater to throw over a tank top.  If you plan to do a lot of hiking, bring thicker socks, hiking shoes, and lightweight t-shirts and shorts. Try to mix and match your outfits so that you can wear 2-3 tops with the same pair of pants, or wear the same top from day to night with only a change in the bottoms. Limit yourself to three pairs of shoes, max: 1 dress, 1 casual walking, 1 for hiking and heavy walking. Wear your heaviest or biggest pair of shoes on the plane.

As you go through the week, whittle down the list until it’s manageable.  Now it’s time to start packing. Never pack a suitcase the same day you leave. Instead, pack at least the night before to avoid overpacking, underpacking, or leaving out necessary items.

Choose the Right Suitcase
When my husband and I went on our honeymoon, we packed one big suitcase for the two of us, and then brought a smaller carry-on suitcase to bring home souvenirs wrapped in his t-shirts. We also had a backpack for our reading material and plane food. When my parents travel to Europe, they tend to move around a lot, so they each bring one small rolling suitcase and plan to do laundry once while they’re there.

Wherever you’re going, try to condense your packing as much as possible. Carry-on restrictions are becoming stricter, so measure and weigh yours to make sure it meets the limit. If you’re traveling as a family or couple, you’ll pay fewer baggage fees if you consolidate more than one person’s belongings into a single suitcase.

How to Pack a Suitcase
Lay everything you plan to pack on the bed. You may notice that you’ve listed too much, so trim the list further as you go. Now lay out your suitcase. Does that pile on the bed look like it will fit? If not, trim the list more. If so, will it fit so snugly that you can’t fit souvenirs? Again, trimming may be in order.

There are two methods for packing wisely: rolling and stacking. I prefer a combo of both. Here’s my method.

1. Lay pants, dresses, and long skirts lengthwise in the suitcase so the ends stick out.

2. Lay shirts that tend to wrinkle on top.

3. Roll knits, t-shirts, and other less wrinkly items. Arrange them in a row on top of the pants.

4. Tuck shoes into the sides, along with belts, socks, and underwear, chargers, and a small package of accessories.

5. Fold legs and arms over the top of the bundle.

6. Lay a hand towel on top of the clothes.

7. Lay toiletry bag and other shoes on top of the towel. Liquids inside the toiletry bag should also be encased in a resealable plastic bag if the pressure could force the liquids out of the containers.

8. Close it. Place a list of last-minute items, like your PJs or toothbrush, on top so you remember to add them right before leaving. Now you’ve got a neatly packed, wrinkle-reducing suitcase.

The airlines have declared war on our stuff, but we all know that we can’t reasonably expect to travel without it. Overhead bins aren’t getting any bigger, and I doubt the baggage fees are going anywhere, so learning how to pack is the best to avoid getting slapped with extra fees.

I said some very unkind things when I heard that US Air is now charging for water in coach class. Water! On top of the baggage fees, fuel surcharges, booking fees, change fees, and breathing fees they’ve come up with recently, this one really burns me. I’m trapped in their airplane. They least they can do is spend three cents to give me a cup of water.

The new fees made me so angry that I set out to find ways to avoid them, especially the baggage fee, which was instituted AFTER I booked two plane tickets for this summer. If you want to avoid spending all your vacation money on the plane, here’s my list of ways to avoid the new airline fees. You can also check my other tips for more ways to save money on travel. To check the latest fees before you book or before you leave, review the Domestic Airline Fee Chart.

Fuel Surcharge
Unfortunately, you can’t skip this one, and you can only expect them to go up. They can’t charge you an additional surcharge after you’ve booked the ticket, though. When booking tickets, use a site like Kayak that includes this fee in the ticket price.

Baggage Fees
The baggage fees were not in force when I booked my tickets. The FAA recently announced that airlines CAN’T charge you the baggage fee if you booked your ticket before the date it was implemented. To make sure you don’t get charged, visit the airline’s baggage rules page. It should state the exemption dates. Now take a screen cap of that. If you don’t have screen cap software, tap the Print Screen button on the keyboard. Open your Paint program (free with Windows), and hit CTRL and V on the keyboard to paste it into the Paint window. Now print it and put it with your other travel documents so you can show it to the clerk if they try to charge you a fee when you check in.

If you booked after the fee was announced, then they can charge you. The only way to avoid the fee is to pack lightly so you only need to take a carry-on. But be warned – most people will adopt this same strategy, so you might not be able to find room in the overhead bin. I don’t yet know if there’s a fee to gate-check bags that don’t fit on the plane.

Food Fees
Most of the airlines have abolished free food, and many are even getting rid of free snacks. Instead they’ll charge you $5-$10 for a “snack box.” This one’s easy to avoid, though. You can make a sandwich or package up other food at home and carry it through security (check the TSA prohibited items list first). A small lunch sack also doesn’t typically count as a carry-on item. Be careful with chilled foods, though. Ice packs can’t go through security.

If you don’t want to bring food from home, you can buy it in the airport for a slightly lower fee than you’ll pay in the airplane. It will probably be a larger portion and it may also be fresher than the food on board.

Beverage Fees
I started bringing my own water on the plane with me a long time ago. Once they instituted the ban on carrying liquids through security, I switched to sport bottles. I have a metal one, but you can also use a hard plastic one. Once you get through security, fill it at the water fountain and you’re good to go. No, it’s not a soda, but at least you’re not at the mercy of the flight attendant.

If you don’t want to bring your own water bottle through, you can also buy water and soda in the airport. It will no doubt be cheaper than what you could get on the airline (assuming they charge for water/soda/juice.)

Most travel experts advise drinking only water on a plane in order to stay hydrated. Both soda and coffee dehydrate you. There’s no reason to pay $5-6 for crappy wine or hard liquor. Just wait and get a drink at a bar when you arrive.

I’ve no doubt that the airlines will probably start charging us for the foam in our seats soon enough. No matter how many airline fees they throw at me, I’m going to try to dodge as many as I can. My hard-earned cash is meant to spend at my destination, not on the airplane I took there. I paid for my ticket. As far as I’m concerned, that’s payment enough.

Recently I stayed at a Sheraton hotel for business. Upon checking in, I discovered I’m a Starwood Gold member. I don’t know how that happened, but I was more than happy to take advantage of the perks offered. That got me thinking – how many ways can travel rewards help you save money on a trip?

Free Flights
You can still get free flights with airline miles. The key is to book early or to have a lot of flexibility in your dates/route. I’ve used miles for travel to Ireland, New York, and Central America. When I booked the Ireland trip, the helpful customer service rep spent half an hour hunting down route options around our available dates.

Free Checked Bags
Some of the airlines offer free checked bags for premium frequent flyer members. You have to fly a lot of earn that, but if you do fly often, then free bags can be a significant savings.

Free Hotel Rooms
If you’re a frequent business traveler, be sure to sign up for the hotel rewards card. If you stay often, you can earn free nights or upgrades. I belong to Hilton and Starwood. Although I haven’t yet earned a free night, I have received other perks.

Free Food/Drinks
Last time I stayed at a Hilton, I received two free bottles of water just for being a member. That saved me from having to buy bottled water while out and about the next day. On the recent trip, Starwood was offering free continental breakfast and happy hour. I used both as opportunities to score free snacks and bottles of water. I would have enjoyed the free breakfast, but I can’t eat muffins and breads. I did enjoy the free fruit and juice, however.

If you’re traveling with children or not being reimbursed by your company, a free breakfast will save you at least $5 a person, and probably closer to $10. Granted, it’s not a full breakfast in some places, but muffins and fruit can really fill you up. You can also snag whole fruit to eat later.

Late Check-Out
Starwood also provided a free late checkout. Rather than having to check my bags with the bell captain (and pay for that privilege), I just left my bags in the room until 4 PM, which is when I had to head to the airport.

Transfer to Miles
If you need a few extra miles to get your free trip, see if you can transfer any hotel rewards points to the airline to put you over the edge. Buying miles can be costly, but transferring them from a partner service may be free, or at least cost significantly less.

Obviously, some of these will save you more than others. Whether you’re a frequent traveler or not, see if any hotels are connected to your credit card or airline rewards. Since I’ve never stayed at a Sheraton before, I assume the membership was connected to either my credit card or my airline points. I did sign up for Hilton Honors, but only because it automatically transfers points to my mileage program.

Even if all you save is the cost of breakfast, that could be a savings of $200 for a family of four on a five-day trip. That’s not nothing!

If you received other good rewards from your travel clubs, let me know in the comments.

For more travel tips, see my past post on frugal travel tips.

Now that you’ve booked or planned your affordable summer vacation, your brain may already be in vacation-mode. Before your mind drifts too far, there are a few things you need to take care of, like bills. The last thing you want to do is come home to a missed bill and a late fee. Paying bills while on vacation is actually very simple these days, and you usually don’t have to deal with it from the road. Take a few minutes before you leave to make sure all your bills are covered while you’re gone.

Make Sure Your Paychecks Will Be Deposited
If your company provides direct deposit, then you don’t need to worry about picking up your paychecks. If your company doesn’t provide direct deposit, give the HR or payroll person a deposit slip and an addressed and stamped envelope. Ask them to mail your deposit when the paycheck is issued.

If you don’t receive paychecks, then arrange for scheduled transfers from your savings account or withdraw enough to cover all your bills before you leave.

Set Up Automatic Payments
Arrange to have your bills charged to a credit card or automatically deducted from your checking account. That will reduce the number of bills you receive and ensure that they’re always paid on time. If you charge them to a credit card on which you don’t carry a balance, you might even earn points or miles for paying bills.

Set Up Online Payments
Some bills can’t be charged or automatically deducted. If your bank offers online bill pay, set up your payments in advance. Set them to pay 2 days before they’re due to be safe. You should also verify that all those bills can be paid electronically. Our auto insurance can’t accept electronic payments, so we set those bills to pay 5 days early, which gives the bank time to mail a check.

Prepay Bills
If you can’t do any of the above, then pay your bills in advance. This does require that you have the money in your checking account before you leave. If you can’t do that, write the checks out in advance, put them in stamped payment envelopes, and give them to a friend to mail five to seven days before they’re due. You might not be sure of the exact totals of some bills (like the power bill), so use last month’s bill as a guide. I would add $25 to be safe. You can also call the company and ask for an estimate now. If you explain that you’re going on vacation, they’re usually helpful.

Renters – give the landlord a postdated check and inform them of your travel dates.

Remember Your Infrequent Bills
When planning your bill payments, see if you have any infrequent bills, like insurance, that will be due while you’re gone. Choose the best of the above methods to ensure that they’re also paid on time.

Forward Your Bills to a Trusted Friend or Relative
If you’re taking an extended vacation, forward your mail to a trusted friend or relative. You should also set up a second checking account and provide them with the checkbook. Arrange for regular transfers into the second account, or make transfers from the road, so that they can pay unanticipated bills while you’re gone.

The easiest way to forward you bills is to file a temporary change of address with the post office. You can forward mail for six months, and then request an extension up to a year. File your request ten days before you leave to make sure it’s processed in time.

That last thing you want to do is come home to find your power cut off or mortgage payment late. It also wouldn’t be fun to realize you forgot to pay your Visa bill halfway through your safari. To ensure that you have a relaxing vacation, and can stay relaxed after you get home, add paying bills in advance to your vacation packing list.

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