07/12/2012 03:04 pm ET | Updated Sep 11, 2012

7 Strategies for Smart Vacation Spending

By Catherine McManus, Associate Director of Marketing Communications, Women & Co.

Planning a vacation? It's easy for travel expenses to get out of control without setting up a few ground rules for how and where you'll be spending your cash before you take off. Here are seven smart strategies to help keep your spending on track:

1. First, start a vacation fund, no matter where you are in the planning process. To get started, ask yourself what you can give up to add a little extra money to the vacation coffers. Can you skip your weekly manicure or bring lunch to work instead of eating out? Keep your vacation money separate from the accounts that you use to pay your monthly expenses so that you're not tempted to use it for other things.

2. Set a budget to give yourself a plan to figure out how much money you want to spend and to help you make better choices about what you purchase while traveling. One Women & Co. community member told us that without a budget, it was way too easy for her to purchase big ticket items simply because she was "on vacation" -- and in the end, it added up to a lot of money. When you're figuring out your vacation budget, make sure to factor in local transportation costs; pet care if you'll be traveling with a pet or kenneling an animal while you're gone and an emergency fund that's at least 20% of your entire vacation budget.

3. Be realistic about how much you can accomplish. It won't be much of a vacation if you're exhausted from trying to pack too much in each day. If you're traveling with small children, don't plan on more than one major activity each day -- and you'll cut down on entertainment costs, too!

4. Before you book, review the travel beneifts offered by your credit card. The Citi Thank You® Premier card, for example, has no foreign transaction fees and gives you access to one free domestic companion ticket each year. The Citi® AAdvantage® card lets you redeem points for travel on over 20 different airlines and 35 different hotel chains. Your card might also earn you points that you can redeem for discounts at merchants to help you prepare for your trip.

5. Save on airfare by booking at least six weeks in advance, and search for departures on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Saturdays to get the best fares. When pricing out flight options, don't forget to consider alternate airports that might be within close proximity to the main airline hub in your vacation destination. If you're traveling to New York, for instance, you'll want to look at Newark, LaGuardia and JFK to see which airport will give you the best rate. Connecting flights and early-morning departures can also help you save, but make sure that you factor in the costs of your trade-offs. If leaving on a 6 a.m. flight means that you'll have to take a cab to the airport instead of public transportation, you may end up spending more in the long run.

6. Travel with a group of friends or family to cut down on costs on everything from accommodations (renting a house instead of individual hotel rooms) to meals (cooking family-style meals at your rental house or suite instead of dining out). To ensure that splitting costs goes smoothly, make sure that you get on the same page before you start planning the trip about the level of accommodations and activities that everyone expects. Plan your expense-sharing strategy ahead of time -- will you chip in equal amounts for a pre-paid credit card and use that for all of the expenses, or will one person pay for everything, and you'll settle up after the trip is over? And have everyone contribute to the vacation fund -- it's a great way to teach children how to save.

7. Walk the walk. Once you've arrived at your destination, don't always rely on taxis to take you around. Walking is a great way to see the sites and experience the culture -- and burn off some of the extra calories that you'll consume while savoring the local cuisine!

Last but not least, be flexible. Unexpected costs or opportunities might come up along the way, but don't be so rigid in your planning that you don't take advantage of unique experiences that could provide you with a wonderful vacation memory -- which will last a lot longer than the temporary dip in your bank account.

About the Author:
Catherine McManus leads public relations efforts for Women & Co.--her goal is to raise awareness for the site by leveraging insights from our content and partnerships to create news, build buzz, and activate social influencers as ambassadors for the Women & Co. brand. Prior to Women & Co., Catherine held various communications roles at The Parenting Group, publisher of Parenting magazine and, where she led the creation and execution of the group's national PR efforts and the development of various multi-media editorial partnerships. She began her career at Southard Communications, a PR firm in New York City specializing in consumer product publicity. Catherine is a native New Yorker, a graduate of Fordham University, and currently lives in Manhattan with her husband and their 2-year-old daughter.