13 Life Hacks to Planning your Vacation

Once in a while, I like to throw in a Life Hack - and in this case, it's something important which will help anyone - 13 Life Hacks to Planning your Vacation. I recently spoke with a man who was going to take his live-in girlfriend and their kids on a vacation. She hadn't had one in 6 years, and worked 7 days a week in all that time. I would go nuts doing that - but that's just me. Of course 3-4 days off is also plenty for me to unwind.

13 Life Hacks to Planning your Vacation

So anyways this guy is planning the vacation, it's out to California, theme parks, museums, the red woods, whole shebang... but there was something inherently wrong with his plan - it was too well planned. It reminds me of Vegas Vacation, where dad plans everything to the minute to maximize the amount of time spent with the kids. Kids on the other hand - at least at that age - will rebel.

 

Don't over plan

13 Life Hacks to Planning your VacationKeep your vacation fluid, and allow yourself plenty of leeway. If you're going to be in a single place for a few days, give yourself various options. For example we want to go here, but we could also go there and there. Admittedly you probably want to hit the theme park, but the museum and beach could be moved around a bit.

It's easier to be fluid, when you use the right tools. For this, I am going to recommend you check out Groupon. Groupon is in most of the major cities, and will allow you at a moments notice to do a search for deals including meals and activities. Some of my favorite restaurants have been found using this site.

Using the Right Flight Planner

Travelers have long debated the superiority of certain flight search engines versus others. But in the end, there is no "best" finder—it all comes down to your particular goals. 

Don't know where you want to go? Google Flights has an innovative flight-search tool allows you to plug in countries or regions that you'd like to travel to, rather than a specific city. Determined to cobble your trip together in one go? Orbitz allows you to book a hotel, flight, and rental car at once, and score deals on attractions, entertainment, and more.  Best of all? Rewards Points to use on future trips!

Book at the Right Time

The best time to book a flight is another hotly debated topic. Expedia weighed in on the issue in a recent study, maintaining that weekends and Tuesdays are often the best time to book. To get the best deals, the study encourages flyers to book early, but not too early—roughly 57 days in advance.

Be Flexible With Dates

When it comes to flight dates, the difference of one day—or even a couple hours—can mean a difference in over $100 in the price. Seating prices change by the minute as travelers purchase, cancel, and alter flight reservations and airlines update the number of seats left in each price rage. Use a site that includes a flexible date search option, such as Google Flights or Kayak, to determine the days with the lowest fares.

Tip: Don't forget to check out the airlines directly. Many of the flight Search Engines add on a percentage. The best rate might actually come directly from the airline. For example, check out SouthWest Airlines if traveling in the US.

Be Flexible with Airports

Surprisingly as it may be, flying from smaller airports can sometimes save you both money and time. When booking your flight, expand your search terms to include nearby airports to see if you can land a better deal. Smaller airports are not only often cheaper to travel from, but they often come with shorter lines and more cheerful customer service.

Be Flexible with Airport Parking

While we're on the subject of Airports let me mention that there is no reason you need to pay upwards of $10 a day for uninsured parking just to be next to the airport and search for a long time to find the perfect space which you will forget, by the time you get back. Instead, you can use a service like About Airport Parking, which researches locally run airport parking which usually also includes free shuttle service directly to your terminal.

Book with the Right Card

The credit card market is extremely competitive, and companies will dole out some pretty awesome travel benefits to win you over as a member. Choose the right credit card, and you could get free airfare, hotels, and other perks. Check out the Chase Sapphire Preferred®, which offers a huge signup bonus in addition to long-term rewards for every dollar spent on travel and dining. Or, consider the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, which rewards members with two miles per dollar spent on anything to use towards airfare and hotels. 

Book Accommodations Ahead Of Time

Like booking flights, booking a room takes time and resourcefulness if you want to score the best deal at the right hotel. Use sites like Expedia, Travelocity, or Orbitz to compare prices and look for deals, and coupon sites like eBates to find hotel coupon codes you can use for further discounts.

Tip: I always click through eBates and then on to Orbitz to maximize my savings. They also list coupon codes. So a recent trip to Las Vegas for the weekend, which should have cost $220 for the hotel, ended up costing me $180 (with the coupon), with an additional savings coming back to me for $5 via eBates!

Hotels, Motels, and other Accomodations

You can often find cheap alternatives to hotels if you're willing to be a little bit flexible—and adventurous. The widely popular Airbnb allows you to rent a room or apartment from a local, while vacation rental sites like HomeAway let you search entire homes by location, property type, and amenities. For the truly bold, there's always CouchSurfing, a site that hooks you up with a free couch to sleep on in a local's home.

Don't forget to check out Hostels. A Hostel is a shared living space popular around Europe. Often used by those traveling on foot, bike, or train. Recently Orbitz started listing some hostels around the US as well.

Exchanging Money For Foreign Currency 

If you're flying to a foreign destination, avoid exchanging money at your home bank or currency exchange at the airport. With both options, you can be hit with fees as high as 13 percent. Wait until you arrive at your destination airport, and then use your debit card to withdraw local currency.  Though certain banks charge fees for using foreign ATMs, it's still often the cheapest option—especially if you can withdraw from one of your home bank's international partners. 

If you aren't sure what the local exchange rate should be, then get XE for your phone, which will allow you to see up-to-date exchange rates to and from most currencies.

Pricey Tour Packages

Skip the overpriced tour packages, which can cost you twice as much as you'd pay if you made the trip on your own. Instead, get yourself a good guidebook and plan on exploring your destination via foot, bicycle, public transportation, or rental car. You'll get to sightsee on your own schedule, have the opportunity to venture off the beaten track and hang out with the locals rather than a bunch of tourists from three miles outside your hometown.

I want to mention something close to home with this guide to 13 Life Hacks to Planning for your Vacation - don't get sucked into MyVegas as being the only solution for a discounted vacation. You might save on show tickets, but you will have to book with one of their partner casinos. With the added resort fees you will end up paying for the shows you want to see. Instead opt to use Groupon and Living Social for show tickets, or even Vegas.com and  Vegas Tickets. Stay at a cheaper hotel - Budget Suites of America, America's Best Value Inn, Travel Lodge, and avoid the resort fees - with the savings go see which ever shows you want to see.

Understand the Local Language

Make sure you research where you're going. While a voice translator can come in handy, it is also dependent on having a good cellular connection. If you don't have that, then you're going to be the guy pointing at his shoes, the sky, and his mouth and saying "bawk bawk bawk" when you want a chicken dinner... and then being redirected to the mental health clinic nearby.

If you're traveling, and in need of a travelers SIM card for your phone, check out OneSimCard which will give you a local number to where you are traveling, and also allow you to set up a data-plan which will work with the local area.

Travel Insurance a Must

When travelling abroad, it's also a good idea to have travel insurance. I don't know if you know this already, but when you cross am international border, in most cases you void any and all types of insurance you may already have. Travel Insurance isn't just for your plane flight, it's for delays, missed cruise connections, rental vehicle insurance, even medical expenses.

Wear Nice Clothes to the Airport

If you've read all the way to here, then I have one final tip to add to my 13 Life Hacks to Planning your Vacation guide (making it 14)... if you're going to the airport, wear nice clothes. You are less likely to be flagged at the airport, if you wear designer clothes and accessories at the airport. She had on the MK shoes, MK purse, her diamond-ish ring and earrings, and me a suit sans tie. We headed to the normal class lines, and got escorted to the first class lines which were not only shorter, but less intrusive - saving a good 30-60 minutes of line time.

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