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Financial Literacy for Everyone

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June 30, 2006

Summer is here and millions of Americans will be taking their annual vacations. There are some simple steps you can take to make sure your vacation lives up to your dreams and doesn’t devolve into a fiscal nightmare.

Do your research. Most tourist attractions have Web sites or toll-free numbers, so it’s easy to get directions, hours of operation and fees, as well as make reservations before your trip. A quick call can save you from a three-hour drive to a “Closed for Repairs” sign.

Create a vacation budget. Visa Inc. sponsors a free Web site, Practical Money Skills for Life, which contains a handy tool called the Travel Calculator, an interactive budget-planning calculator. It walks you through the process of preparing a travel budget for transportation, meals, hotels, entertainment expenses and more. It helps you decide between necessary and flexible expenses, and to make budget adjustments before it’s too late. Go to www.practicalmoneyskills.com/resources/financial_calculators.

Shop around. Many airlines charge higher rates to book flights by phone or through a travel agent compared to online, so take a few minutes to visit the airlines’ Web sites. Several other sites, including Expedia.com and Orbitz.com, allow you to compare fares from a variety of airlines, hotels and rental car companies, side by side. Another good tip: Airfares to more remote airports may be significantly less expensive than their more popular – and crowded – alternatives.

Expect the unexpected. Even short trips can be plagued by unanticipated expenses, so if you’re not careful, you might end up paying for your vacation for months afterward. Build a cushion into your budget for unanticipated events – like a flat tire or an Emergency Room visit.

Don’t forget paperwork. Make sure you bring along copies your medical and auto insurance information. It’s also a good idea to carry your credit card issuers’ toll-free numbers in case your wallet should be stolen (keep the list somewhere else in your luggage).

Stay abreast of current events. If you’re going abroad, watch for news reports about public unrest, outbreaks of disease or employment strikes at your destination, and try to have a back-up plan. The U.S. State Department maintains a list of current warnings in foreign countries at www.travel.state.gov.

Travel safely. Sometimes on holiday your guard is down and you do things you never would ordinarily. For example, if you’ve been driving for hours and are tired or inattentive, pull over for a rest. Read up on traffic regulations in other states or countries you visit. And be aware of your surroundings: Having your wallet disappear is not how you want to remember this vacation.

And remember to have fun. This is your vacation – if you do a little work in advance, you can play the whole time.

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This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered health, legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.

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