Summertime! The kids are out of school and you and millions of others are ready for a much-needed and well-deserved break.

Whether you're planning on driving or flying, or staying close to home or going far away, you can do a lot to make sure you and your family stay safe, save some money and make it a vacation to remember.

Vacation Scams Are Out There

The worst vacation is the one that never happens. Don't blow your hard-earned money on a travel or vacation scam. Various scams have been around for years, but the schemers are wily and innovative.

For instance, in 2011 the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shut down five companies that tricked Spanish-speaking consumers into paying fees for vacation packages they supposedly won in contests, without delivering the vacations.

It's always best to remember that hardly anything in life is "free." And to be lawful, a "free" offer must really be "free."

No Place Like Home

The best vacation in the world is ruined when you get home only to discover thieves broke into your home or it was damaged by a fire. Protect it before you leave:

  • Don't let your mail or newspapers pile up. Stop delivery or have a neighbor or friend pick them up each day
  • Put timers on at least one light inside the house, and have at least one outside light on a timer or motion detector
  • Ask a neighbor or friend to keep an eye on things while you're away

There's a lot more you can do to protect your home, and it doesn't take too long or cost too much to do.

Pros & Cons of Paying In Advance

Paying ahead of time to lock in a hotel room, condo on the beach or cabin in the woods makes sense, but there are some things to keep in mind:

  • Before booking a reservation ask about cancellation fees and deposit refunds, just in case you need to cancel or reschedule your vacation
  • Using a credit card rather than a debit card makes getting a refund easier if there's a problem with the accommodations
  • Travel insurance can save the day if you've paid a lot of money in advance but illness or worse prevents you from making the trip

Get There Safely & On Time

There are hundreds of things you can do to make sure you and your family get to your vacation spot safely and quickly, but here are some key points.

Road Trip: Rules of the Road

Many of us drive to our vacation getaways, and with so many cars on the road, safety should come first:

  • Have a mechanic check out your car or other vehicle to make sure it can make the trip
  • Wear your seat belt, and make sure your family members do, too
  • Map out your drive in detail, including where rest stops and hotels are along the way
  • Make sure your pets are safe in the car

Flying Takes Planning

It's usually faster and more convenient to fly, but there are pitfalls to plan around:

  • Before booking the flight, ask about cancellation fees and rebooking charges if your flight is rescheduled or cancelled
  • Check on the airline's rules, costs and safety records for transporting pets
  • Be sure to follow the carry-on luggage and other rules so you don't miss the flight and the start of your vacation

Money Saving Tips

There's plenty you can do to save money along every step of your vacation.

Savings at the Planning Stage

While you're planning out the details of the trip, you can save money by:

  • Making airline reservations well in advance. Booking a flight 21 days ahead of time can save you hundreds of dollars
  • Travel lightly, especially when flying to avoid the extra baggage fees
  • Talk to a travel agent about packages and deals, and then comparison shop online for better rates on airlines, hotels or other needs
  • Look for coupons and discounts for attractions you plan to visit while on vacation, such as zoos, museums and amusement parks
  • Save money on gas (PDF) by using the lowest octane fuel possible. Many cars don't need the higher priced high octane gas - check your owner's manual
  • Look for a time share someone's trying to sell because they can't use it or don't want it. You may find a great deal
  • Plan the trip with other family members or friends and split the costs

Save While Having Fun

You can save money while you're actually enjoying the sights and sounds on vacation:

  • Unless you really need one, don't rent a car. Make sure your insurance covers rental cars, or buy extra insurance from the rental agency if you do rent one
  • Walk, rent a bicycle or use public transportation, even if you rented a car
  • Cook your own meals instead of going out for lunch or dinner everyday. Bring your coupon book from home to use at local stores
  • Ask about discounts for senior citizens and children at restaurants and attractions
  • Don't go overboard on souvenirs. Buying a trinket to remember the trip won't break the bank, but taking a lot of pictures and video of your adventures lasts much longer

It all may sound like a lot of work. It is. But making sure that you and your family are safe, and that your wallet is overworked, makes it all worth it.

Questions for Your Attorney

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