“Ask the locals for suggestions about what they like to do, because they’re more likely to refer you to hidden gems that don’t cost a fortune rather than the more touristy activities.”(GETTY IMAGES)

WHILE TAKING A vacation is supposed to provide an escape from the stressors of everyday life, managing an escalating travel budget can be anything but relaxing.

In fact, the 2017 Stress in America study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that 62 percent of Americans point to money as a primary source of stress. And for those who don’t plan their vacations in advance, money can often become a major concern and source of debt.

Though charging travel expenses on a credit card may seem like an ideal solution for eliminating trip-planning stress, this tactic can create a larger financial burden as interest fees pile up, and ultimately cause greater anxiety when the bills arrive in the mail.

 

Fortunately, with a little research, forward thinking and expert intel, there are ways to pad your travel budget without compromising on quality vacation experiences. Read on for savvy tips for cutting spending and building a vacation budget that stretches your travel dollars further.

Keep a separate travel account. Instead of scrambling to figure out how you’re going to pay for a trip at the last minute before you book, establish a specific account for travel and save throughout the year.

“It’s essential that you keep your vacation fund separate from your other savings account,” says Leslie Tayne, a debt resolution attorney and managing director of Tayne Law Group. “The best way to deal with unexpected costs is to be prepared, so this doesn’t take away from your [allocated] vacation fund.”

Chelsea Hudson, a shopping expert at the cash-back shopping site TopCashback.com, suggests stashing away change from any cash transaction into your vacation savings to help grow it faster. Whenever you break a big bill and get $1 or $5 back, drop the extra change in a jar at home to add to your trip fund, she says.

Meanwhile, Jenn Earley, owner of the travel agency Cultured Vacations, recommends using the so-called envelope method. “Every time you get paid, stash away some cash in an envelope,” she says. “Try something like $40 a pay period. At the end of the year, you may have enough for a round-trip flight to somewhere like Barbados or even Paris,” she adds.

Tap into rewards programs. When used strategically, credit card reward programs that offer points for everyday purchase can help build up your travel budget and offset major vacation costs, including airfare and hotel expenses. For example, the AAdvantage MileUp card from Citi and American Airlines allows cardholders to earn 2 miles for every dollar spent at the grocery store and with American Airlines. “These miles can add up quickly, helping you afford your next vacation that much sooner,” says Stephanie O’Connell, money expert, author and speaker at StefanieOconnell.com. Meanwhile, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers two points for travel and dining at affiliated restaurants and one point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

What’s more, you can double your rewards points when you make purchases with cash-back siteslike Ebates.com and Swagbucks.com. Both sites allow you to accrue points for any purchase you make through their online portals, which can be redeemed for gift cards with merchants such as Amazon, Target and Starbucks. You can then use these gift cards while traveling to pay for vacation costs, such as dining expenses and trip activities.

Increase your cash flow. Finding extra room to pay for a vacation may seem like a daunting task, but raising your income can help solve this problem. For example, you could ask your employer for a raise, seek out freelancing opportunities or sell your old or unused property, Tayne suggests. “Regardless of which route you decide to take, proper planning and time management will be vital to increasing your income and boost your travel fund,” she says.

Check out online marketplaces like Upwork for freelance work or run errands for people in your area through TaskRabbit.com. When it comes to selling unused items, post clothing and shoes on sites such as Poshmark or ThredUp and gadgets on Gazelle, or try eBay and the OfferUp app to sell a variety of household goods.

Reduce monthly spending. If your budget feels squeezed with limited funds to pay for a trip, it’s time to rethink your monthly spending. Beth Whitman, travel expert and founder of WanderTours and Wanderlust and Lipstick, a site that provides travel tips and stories that aim to inspire and empower female travelers, says she makes a conscious effort to lower her household expenses and only keep the recurring services that matter most. For instance, she canceled cable and switched mobile carriers to reduce her bills. This has freed up extra money in her budget to help save toward family trips, so she doesn’t feel stretched too thin.

 

Leverage your network. Check in with family and friends who live in desirable destinations to see if they would be willing to host you during your trip, O’Connell suggests. Considering hotel stays are one of the biggest travel expenses in any vacation budget, saving on accommodations will give you more room in your budget to prioritize experiences. “They may even offer for you to use their house while they are off on vacation and may have some great insider tips on places to visit or restaurants to try,” she says.