Only taking one trip this summer? Here’s how to make it memorable

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There’s a big world out there, and Mary Jo Manzanares is on a quest to see it all.

Manzanares, also known as MJ, is the travel writer and podcaster behind the popular website ‘Traveling with MJ.’

She’s not just any travel expert though, but a luxury one. This means she stays at the swankiest hotels, eats at top rated restaurants and gets pampered at the finest spas.

For her, splurging is a mindset. “There is nothing wrong with splurging on things during your vacation; you just can’t splurge on everything,” she says.

Before planning your budget, Manzanares says, ask yourself what will make your vacation a stellar experience? Those are the things worth splurging on. This exercise should mentally free you from obsessing over a museum entry fee or a champagne toast to celebrate a big anniversary. “Make sure that when you return home from the trip, you’re talking about all the wonderful experiences, not the regret over what you could have done.”

So, when you’re on vacation, what should you splurge on … and where can you save money? Manzanares shares her tips:

Food and drinks 

SAVE: You can save on your food budget by stocking up a few things for your hotel room. Most rooms have a coffee maker, so there is no need to go to the coffee shop every morning. If there’s a refrigerator, stock up on juice, water, milk, and other snacks.

Buy a few bottles of wine so you can have a glass while you’re going out for the evening (even reducing your dinner bill by a glass of wine per person will save you money.) If your hotel has a kitchenette or you’re staying at an apartment plan on having breakfast inside every day.

SPLURGE: If there’s a top-notch restaurant you’re dying to try, consider going for lunch or for drinks and an appetizer in the bar. You can soak up the ambiance and enjoy the food and drinks for a fraction of what it would cost for dinner.

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Rental cars

SAVE: Rental cars seem like a reasonable cost when you look at the day rate, but when you add up gas, parking fees, tolls and other expenses, you’ve dropped a chunk of change. If you don’t need to be driving every day, don’t rent a car.

SPLURGE: Use the money to take a private tour.

Data usage

SAVE: Staying connected often comes at a very high price. I run my business online so access is critical when I’m traveling, but that data usage can rack up big charges if you’re over your limit or traveling internationally.

Some phone and data plans now have some type of included usage, often at a reduced speed, but that may not be practical for everyone. If you have an unlocked phone, you can purchase a local sim card when you arrive in a new country.

If you don’t get a sim card, turn the phone on airplane mode and only use it via available WiFi. You don’t want to be surprised with a huge bill when you get home. If you’re traveling with a family, it may be more economical to rent or purchase a MiFi device which can provide access for multiple devices.

Amenities

SAVE: Look at the all-in charges and amenities for your accommodations before making a decision on where to stay. A cheap per night charge may not be the best deal and a higher priced suite may deliver substantial value. I always look for value added in the per night charge, like free WiFi, included breakfast, complimentary happy hour and appetizers, private lounge, etc.

Paying a little bit more per night can often save me a lot more than what I’m spending. One of my pet peeves is the addition of a “resort fee” (also seen as a service charge, amenity fee, and other equally offensive names).

Shopping

SAVE: I know it’s tempting to want to bring back a little souvenir for everyone, but it’s really not necessary. Tchotchkes cost money, take up room in your luggage and often get shoved in a drawer once at home.

SPLURGE: If there’s a special purchase you want to make, go for it. There’s nothing like leather goods from Spain, wine from Italy, sandals from Greece.

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