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Short on cash? Tips on how to plan a getaway on the cheap

With summer fast approaching, some may be hoping to get away on the cheap as the higher cost of living takes a bigger bite out of household budgets.

"If you cannot afford a five-star luxury experience, you have two choices: wait until you can or look for three-, four-star alternatives that work for you," said Stefanie Ricchio, who works as a chartered professional accountant and is an avid traveller.

"But your mindset has to be open to it and the different experience levels."

Travelling to the destination and accommodation often make up the biggest chunk of a small budget. Being flexible and going in with an open mind on destinations and travel dates can make vacations more budget-friendly, Ricchio said.

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She planned a New York City trip in May just a week ahead of time. Instead of flying there, she opted to take the train, despite it taking longer.

"It was more logical for me to spend the money that way instead of going on the flight and doubling the cost of transportation," she said. While the train tickets were only $300, travel time went up by three hours.

"I'm going to look at it as an opportunity that I'll be able to work and make money," she said.

Next up: accommodation. Booking hotels can be expensive in big city centres, Ricchio said. She managed to use her travel rewards card toward her seven-day stay in New York City, bringing the bill down to $800, Ricchio said.

Tapping into loyalty reward points racked up over time can be a budget-friendly way to pay for travel.

There are a lot of loyalty points that are best used for accommodations and flights with higher frequencies, said Richard Vanderlubbe, president of travel agency Tripcentral.ca. But he warns not to lose the sense of value when spending loyalty rewards.

It's important to consider the amount of money spent to get loyalty points, Vanderlubbe said.

He says people should ask themselves: "What would I pay for this normally and what else could I redeem with these points that might be better value?"

Budgeting is key when going on a trip — however short or long.

"We have to look at a realistic budget," said Vanderlubbe. "There's a certain fixed cost to fly there and there's a certain (cost) of accommodation."

Major cities can be more expensive, while smaller towns and not-so-touristy destinations can be cheaper, he sad.

"If you just want to get away and want to go to Cuba, since Americans can't go there, the demand for accommodation is a lot lower," Vanderlubbe said.

Planning a getaway starts with knowing what's enjoyable for the traveller and aligning that trip with values, said Jackie Porter, a certified financial planner with Carte Wealth Management Inc.

"Use that as your guide," she said, in deciding where to go instead of focusing on someone else's travel experience or chasing social media trends.

"Planning ahead is so crucial," Porter said. "It gives you something to look forward to."

She said it is important to not create more pressure on already-burdened household budgets. This means book ahead of time and scour the internet for deals that offer the biggest bang for your buck.

Exploring vacation packages for deals on travel sites can also be a money-saver. Airlines, including Air Canada, WestJet and Sunwing have all-inclusive packages that can offer value without having to spend a lot, Vanderlubbe said.

But if the budget doesn't allow for travel for an extended period of time, Porter suggests taking 24- or 48-hour long micro-vacations with family.

If the goal is to spend time with family by the water, she said there are many small towns with lakes across Canada that can be visited for short trips during the summer — and explore free activities.

Creating a list of free festivals and activities across nearby small towns and hitting them every few weeks can still give a feeling of being on vacation without dropping lots of dollars, she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2024.

Ritika Dubey, The Canadian Press