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How to plan a debt-free vacation

Start with a clear idea of your trip's scope, create a realistic spending limit, then get creative to trim costs along the way.

There are ways to trim vacation costs if

There are ways to trim vacation costs if you stick to goals while being creative. Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Choreograph

Whether you're planning a trip to a country across the globe or packing the car for a weekend road trip to a local campground, you can have a debt-free vacation with some careful planning.

To ease the stress of a vacation on your budget, start with a clear idea of your trip's scope — identifying expenses from the time you leave your home to the moment you return — and create a realistic spending limit. Then get creative to trim costs along the way.

Save over time: Play the long game when planning and saving for a vacation. Put a portion of every paycheck aside to build up a reserve of cash for your trip.

Even saving $25 or $50 a month will help make your trip more affordable. Make sure the amount you're setting aside will provide you with enough vacation cash, too.

Consider opening a separate savings account and automating regular transfers to help you save without thinking about it.

Make a friendly budget: Think of your budget as another companion on your trip.

Just as with any travel buddy, make sure you and your budget set good expectations for each other. Make a spending plan. Account for everything from flights and lodging to entertainment and shopping. Your budget might not take you to every museum or restaurant you want; work to find a compromise that makes both of you happy.

If you run the numbers and find you can't swing that vacation without overspending, think about shelving the trip for a few months and saving more money in the meantime.

Make the most of your credit cards: Have a travel credit card or a cash-back card sitting in your wallet? You can take advantage of it before and during your trip.

Card in hand, spend smart. Say you have a card that gives you cash back on groceries; determine what you spend on groceries annually and earmark those rewards points for your vacation budget.

The key is having a plan to pay off your charges every month.

You can also use a rewards card to cut your travel costs. Your card may get you free rental car insurance, or baggage fees or foreign transaction fees waived.

Watch hotels like a hawk: Lodging is one of the most costly parts of a vacation. Shop strategically to lower your hotel costs, including monitoring prices and booking rooms during off-peak periods.

Joe Cheung, a travel blogger at As the Joe Flies, recommends booking your reservation, but waiting to pay. That way you can continue to monitor hotel prices and change your booking accordingly.

"I once had a hotel for $250 a night, then it dropped to $160 a night," he says.

You also can check prices at the hotel where you've made your initial reservation and compare with hotel-price aggregator sites to see if you're getting the best deal.

Let technology help

Price-tracking apps and websites can do the work of price hunting for cheap flights. With the smartphone app Hopper, for example, you can enter the general parameters of your itinerary, and it will track prices over time and alert you when the cheapest flight is available. Google Flights provides a similar service. One drawback: These services don't include prices for every airline. So monitor a few sources to get the best price.

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