It pays to save when it comes to affording your dream vacation.

By Alice Garbarini Hurley
April 26, 2011
Mariah and Ian Lussier drove to Martha's Vineyard and spent the week in a rented cottage to save money on airfare and a five-star hotel.
Photo courtesy of Mad Max

When Mariah and Ian Lussier of Owls Head, Maine, got married, they knew they needed to make some compromises to afford the honeymoon they’d always wanted. Instead of a ritzy hotel, they spent their wedding night on lobsterman Ian’s boat, The Nightingale, docked off shore. Instead of round-trip airfare and a five-star hotel, they drove to Martha’s Vineyard and stayed a week in a rented cottage.

To afford it, the couple made it difficult to access their savings. They keep their vacation fund in a separate bank than the one that holds their checking account. “We make sure we can’t write a check on it, or chew through it quickly with a debit card,” says Ian. They already have $3,000 ($100 per day) saved for a cross-country trip for the month of June when they’ll camp or stay with family. But the healthiest thing about their trips, financial planners say, is that they carefully save for them—a smart rule that applies to vacations both near and far.

The cottage cost $1,400 for the week; they hit that goal six months before the wedding. They took their car on the ferry to the Vineyard and brought a huge cooler with breakfast and lunch fixings to avoid touristy grocery traps. Among their best wedding presents from friends: Gift certificates to four great restaurants on the island for a few unforgettable meals.

It may sound obvious, but it’s not. “Set your honeymoon budget and make sure you’ve saved enough before the wedding,” says Rick. “Don’t count on gift money to pay your travel bills.”

Another way to tuck in a lavish trip: Go in a group, and space out payments ahead of time. 

Eight friends who met as girls in Glen Rock, New Jersey, celebrated their 40th-birthday year in two Westin Sunset Key Guest Cottages in Key West that June. Each cottage slept four; they stayed for five days and four nights.

“It was a big stretch,” says Patsy Manning. “But we thought, ‘Let’s splurge. It’s one time in our lives. We’ll never turn 40 again.’ And it was the absolute best investment.” Perks: Private beach, rafts, porches, hammocks, fluffy beds, and fresh baskets of muffins and fruit.

After airfare, the total cottage cost (in 2008) amounted to $1,065 per person, payable in three parts because they booked months ahead. They preordered groceries by fax, getting items like OJ, pasta, and sauces (to cook dinner twice). And they stopped en route from the airport to buy beer, wine, and gin and tonic. They split food, beverage, and restaurant tabs evenly.

One dinner cost $1,119.43. “But the food was delicious, and we got fancy desserts. It was a weekend to indulge,” says Jen Benik. “For a milestone, you don’t mind spending a little extra.”

The friends even chipped in, presenting each birthday girl with a Tiffany & Co. silver mesh bracelet to mark the milestone. “When we get together, we all wear it,” says Manning. “It’s like our own club.”