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Plan for Travel Hoping for Fun While Being Ready for Anything

Many of the standard guidelines are turned on their heads when health conditions can quickly change from place to place, putting finances at greater risk.


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James L Katzaman

7 months ago | 5 min read
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Navigating in tough times takes good skills to spread happiness

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Traveling during — and eventually after — a pandemic, many of the old guidelines are out the window.

Book early for bargain fares? Sure, but be prepared in case conditions change, and flights are canceled.

Going to a family get together? Maybe loved ones are not ready for visitors.

Beverly Harzog, credit card expert and consumer finance analyst for U.S. News, and financial experts at consumer credit reporting company Experian talked about planning for travel amid so much uncertainty.

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An environment in flux challenges advice to book travel far in advance to get the best prices. Making reservations closer to travel is less of a risk against unexpected closings. The tradeoff is that bargains might be fewer.

Yet, Harzog favors making arrangements “as early as possible. Get to the airport early, too.”

Experian reiterated that most experts recommend booking flights 60 to 90 days in advance. However, those holding off due to concerns about the pandemic or protocols ought to try to finalize their decision as soon as possible.

To protect travel purchases in case you have to make changes, look into the possibility of travel insurance. Be sure to read the fine print because cancellations might not automatically be reimbursed and replaced instead by alternate reservations — not to mention added fees.

“Take advantage of credit card benefits,” Harzog said. “Book your travel with a credit card that offers insurance against delays and such. An added bonus is earning rewards to use for travel later or as a statement credit to offset purchases.”

Beware of Non-Refundables

When making travel purchases, Experian stressed that it’s important to know all the terms. Try to avoid non-refundable travel purchases. Research travel insurance options.

The Points Guy has tips to pandemic-proof travel.

Check out the websites of the travel companies to find the best prices. That could save the added expense of fees tacked on by a middle man.

“Do research to compare prices,” Harzog said. “There’s a multitude of websites to help you, including Expedia and Travelocity. It’s hard to get deals at a late date, but not impossible.”

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Thrifty Traveler notes that when booking last-minute travel, every day counts. The sooner you can book your travel the better. You may need to be open to the airport you fly through. You may need to lean on rewards points.

Before committing to travel, check into long-range weather forecasts and seasonal trends. That should give you a clue about what kind of gear and clothing to take along. Above all, factor in extra costs to make sure this is an excursion you can afford.

“Be sure you include the travel expenses in your budget,” Harzog said. “If you travel, there are many expenses such as dining out, lodging and so on.”

Experian recommends researching pandemic protocols — such as vaccination and testing requirements — for the destinations you are flying to. Consider your flexibility in the event of flight cancellations, along with your comfort level with the safety protocols.

Cash On Standby

Travel insurance can help offset costs of canceled or changed reservations. Be sure you have ready access to your emergency fund in case you have an accident or breakdown. If driving, try to plan trips around urban centers outside of rush hours.

A Washington Post article has tips for navigating busy travel times.

Experian has more travel suggestions:

  • Stay informed as you prepare to travel and throughout your vacation.
  • Research the terms for your travel ahead of time.
  • Be aware of rental scams.
  • Always have your valid IDs and updated insurance cards.
  • Research all modes of transportation for your destination.

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Budget for expected travel expenses and add a percentage to account for inflated prices. The key is to do this without tapping into your emergency fund. Emergencies are surprises, not anticipated. If you expect to have an emergency, stay home.

“Use GasBuddy to find cheaper gas,” Harzog said. “Road trips don’t have to include stops for expensive meals. Pack lunches or at least bring snacks, especially if it’s a long trip. I can go up to six hours before I need chocolate.”

Experian listed ways to save on fuel costs:

  • Filling up at club warehouse gas stations
  • Using rewards points for a small discount
  • Ensuring your vehicle is properly tuned-up
  • Using an app that can help you find the most affordable gas stations nearby

Long-Distance Celebrations

If not traveling for the holidays, set aside time to talk with friends and relatives by phone or video. Locally, check into events. Don’t forget traditional standbys such as driving through neighborhoods to take in the lights and sounds of the season.

“We’ve done Zoom calls with relatives in other states,” Harzog said. “Once we even did a Zoom dinner. There’s facetime and many other ways to connect. It’s also fun to do free things as a family. Go for a walk and look at the lights.”

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Abiding by a travel budget is the best way to protect your credit, steering you from spur-of-the-moment expensive emotional purchases. Keep your wallets, purses and other valuables secure to protect against identity theft.

“Let your issuer know you’ll be out of town,” Harzog said. “Check your credit card and bank accounts often to look for unauthorized purchases. Be aware of your surroundings while out shopping. Guard your wallet.”

Experian advises to review credit card and banking apps regularly to monitor the charges on your accounts. Safeguard your passports and IDs when traveling. Avoid using public Wi-Fi to access your banking apps or make online purchases.

The Ask Experian blog details ways a credit card can protect you when you travel.

Gifts for the Long Haul

Rather than buying gifts and shipping, buy from merchants’ websites and schedule possibly free deliveries. If driving, see what you can comfortably pack in your car without blocking mirrors.

“I buy as much as I can from Amazon for free shipping,” Harzog said. “I look for websites that offer free shipping after you hit a certain amount for my other purchases. If I’m traveling, I just bring the gifts home with me.”

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Experian notes that most sites offer a gift option when you make a purchase. It might be most cost-effective to ship directly to your recipients. If you want to ship a package, do so as soon as possible to avoid having to pay for express shipping. Choose the flat-rate option if possible.

Reduce the uncertainties of travel. Try the What-If model. That prompts you for anything that might come up. Then you can plan for contingencies and have redundancies much like a space flight without having to leave the planet.

Although you might be anxious to book travel, Experian cautions not to feel pressured to make a decision that will leave you financially strapped. Do your research to make the decision that fits your financial goals.

“Don’t forget to have fun,” Harzog said. “Expect that some things could go wrong, and roll with it. If you don’t freak out, it helps others stay calm. Stay flexible and stay safe.”

About the Author

Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services and worked in public affairs for the Air Force and federal government. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Disclaimer

This article is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be considered financial advice. You should consult a financial professional before making any major financial decisions.

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James L Katzaman

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Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services and worked in public affairs for the Air Force and federal government. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.


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