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What’s a Hooraycation, and How Can I Go on One?

GalapagosGetting Away from it All After Busy Season: Trips for Any Budget

As busy season finally draws to a close, your senses dulled by long nights staring at a monitor and routing through piles of disorganized receipts, you might understandably be thinking about taking a well-earned break. Recharging your batteries, getting acquainted once again with those people who share your house and enjoying a few days of relaxation mean different things to different people, but in the end it always comes down to budget. Here are three family-friendly vacation types you can plan today, designed for modest, moderate and extreme budgets.

The Staycation (5 days, family of 4: $750-$3,000+)

Staycations have gained popularity in the past decade, due to an economy in recession. People seeking a break from the world have found travel too costly and have turned to exploring their backyards for a change of pace.

If it sounds dull to you, it need not be. The staycation isn’t just about saving money; it’s about finding the fun nearby. If you live in or near a major metropolitan area, it’s unlikely you know every nook and cranny of it. Look for exotic restaurants, museums, art galleries, botanical gardens, zoos, or historical tours. If you prefer nature, look to your state or national parks, beaches, or eco-tours. You can plan a full week of activities for you and your family, and for extra savings, use home as your base; look into spending a little on a cleaning service and laundry for the week, so home feels a little more like a hotel, and you have less to think about. If you want to spend a little more, use one of the many hotel discount websites to find lodging appropriate to your budget.

If it’s just you and your spouse, a staycation has even more possibilities. Seek out your area’s best hotel/spa combination and book yourself a few days of pampering. Hotel spas often run independent of the hotel itself, so you don’t need to stay there to take advantage.

The staycation can happen anywhere within a few hours’ drive from your home, so think outside the box, and get ready to recharge. A few tanks of gas run far less than airline tickets, so this might be just what you need if you don’t have much to spend, but need to get away.

The Playcation (5 days, family of 4: $5,500+)

A playcation allows you to get away from it all and enjoy a total change of scenery. The expense is greater because you’ll want to fly to your destination (unless you have substantial time off), and you’ll need somewhere to stay.

Travel websites offer vacation packages that bundle hotel, airfare, and sometimes even rental cars into a single, per-person daily cost and keep expenses lower. Prices vary depending on how far you travel, as well as where you go and when, but can be as little as a few hundred dollars per person per day.

Warm-weather destinations see a spike in tourism around spring break, and prices often reflect that reality. That’s not to say you can’t find deals to places like Miami, Orlando or Austin, but you’ll need to do more footwork. Branching out to nearby countries such as Mexico or the Bahamas can be a great way to get the beach vacation you want while reining in expenses.  If you do venture out of the country always remember to check with the State Department for a list of travel advisories, which list regional concerns such as conflicts, political unrest or dangerous health conditions such as the Zika virus. Also, recent changes in border entry laws now mean you need a passport to travel to the few countries Americans could once visit with only a valid I.D., so be sure your family is covered

If cooler weather is your thing, spring is a great time to travel. You can get great deals to travel to northern cities and destinations from airlines, as well as reduced rates on under-booked hotels. If you want to get exotic without breaking the bank, Canada offers everything from major metro areas like Toronto, to charming Euro-feel cities like Quebec City and Montreal, to wilderness lodges, fishing and hunting excursions and much more. Exchange rates tend to fluctuate moderately between the U.S. and Canada, and many vendors accept U.S. dollars if you don’t want to bother (this seldom works to your advantage, though).

Vacations at this level often benefit from professional planning. Travel agents usually cost nothing, and can offer you multiple options for your budget. They work well if you aren’t sure where you’d like to go and need some guidance.

Unusual destinations on a Playcation budget: Taos, New Mexico; Lutsen, Minnesota; Venice Beach, Florida

The Hooraycation (5 days, Family of 4: $12,000+)

Maybe busy season was really good to you. The sky is the limit. France for art and culture? Kenya for a photo safari? When options are unlimited, the bank better be willing to oblige.  While the ultimate vacation often makes us think of faraway places, think of what your top-of-the-heap budget could buy you closer to home. Always dreamed of traveling in style? How about first-class tickets and luxury accommodations to a destination in the U.S., Canada or the Bahamas? Daily spa treatments, exciting outdoor excursions, incredible cuisine—you can enjoy the finest on offer guilt-free when you don’t have to think about 6+ hour flights, foreign hotels and all the expenses they represent. There are the usual destinations like Orlando, Miami, Los Angeles, Niagara Falls and Yellowstone. But cities like Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta have much to offer well-heeled travelers as well.

Of course, you might have your heart set on something more unusual, and here again is a good time to talk to a travel agent if you don’t have a good idea of where you might like to go. Be sure to mention your interests, any special needs and most importantly, your budget. When travelling abroad, remember that less-frequented cities and regions can be far less expensive for food and accommodations, and can give you a better sense of local color and culture. Think Lyon instead of Paris, Graz instead of Vienna, Seville instead of Madrid. In most cases, you can still take day trips to see the better-known locations without paying the price of being a tourist staying in them. Be wary of quick currency exchange kiosks, and stick to major banks for exchanging any large sums of money. It’s best to travel abroad with traveler’s checks, which can protect you from loss and theft, and bring only minimal U.S. currency with you.

Unusual destinations on a Hooraycation budget: Irkutsk, Russia; The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador; The Principality of Liechtenstein

Whatever your destination, and  whatever you have to spend, you’ve earned a break. Even if you can’t get away right now, planning a vacation for down the road is an excellent way to focus on the prize for all your hard work. Congratulations on a great season, and have fun on your vacation!

Adam Junkroski, Lead Manager-Tax Communications, American Institute of CPAs.

Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador courtesy of Shutterstock.

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