The winter months offer the perfect excuse to plan a fabulous getaway, and you don’t have to travel far to find something that fits your vacation expectations.
If you need to flee from the cold depths of winter, there are plenty of beaches in Florida and California, and warm desert landscapes to enjoy in Arizona and New Mexico that will warm you up and give your skin a bit of summer glow. Picture yourself playing tennis in the sun, or lounging by the pool with a book while the kids are splashing around in the water.
Here are tips on how to best plan your warm-weather winter vacation:
• Look for deals during the slow months. Because January and February are so close to the holidays, but too early yet for spring break, hotels and resorts tend to offer special discounts to encourage traveling.
• Pack sunblock, even if you’ve been “tanning.” Also make sure your travel bags include sun shades, a hat with a brim and a water bottle. Nothing makes a vacation more uncomfortable than sunburn and dehydration.
• Add a jacket to the luggage. Nights can get chilly, and if the wind blows in a rain cloud or two, you’ll be glad you have that jacket to ward off the goose bumps.
Maybe you like to play in the fluffy white stuff and can’t wait to schedule downhill skiing in Colorado, snowshoeing in Maine or ice fishing in Minnesota — or somewhere a little closer like Sunrise or Snowbowl. The images you’ll take home this winter include majestic mountains covered in snow, your daughter pulling a 360 while snowboarding down a half-pipe or even an elk or moose with a full rack of antlers on his head browsing for vegetation along a back country road.
Tips for planning your snow vacation include:
• Figure out if you’re going to take your gear or rent it at your destination. While looking into this, determine if your vehicle can carry all the gear, or if there are any restrictions barring you from taking it on the airplane. If you plan to rent, call ahead of time to reserve your equipment.
• Pack many layers of clothing. Many snow activities can make you warm, but once you stop moving, you’re going to want the heavier layers back.
• Again, don’t forget sunblock, goggles, shades or hat, because the sun glaring on snow can easily burn your skin and eyes, and winter rays can be just as damaging as those in summer.
Set holiday travel budget
Holiday travel season is at hand. ’Tis the season when the joy of traveling to see friends and family is all too often hampered by the challenge of trying to keep a handle on holiday season finances.
Travel can be one of the biggest-ticket items on your holiday list, so it’s worth it to plan ahead. Setting a budget — and sticking to it — can help you stay in better control of holiday spending. According to a recent Visa survey, a majority (54 percent) of this year’s summer travelers either didn’t set a budget or overspent their budget while traveling, and more than a quarter of those surveyed overspent by more than $250. To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, it’s important to create a realistic holiday travel budget and make a plan for how you will spend within your means while on the road.
To create a budget, think through your trip. First, include the basics such as transportation to and from your destination, and lodging. Next, plan for expenses that come up along the way such as meals on the road, host/hostess gifts, rental cars or public transportation. Don’t forget to include entertainment — whether sightseeing, sleigh riding or going to the movies. It’s also a good idea to build in a cushion for the unexpected.
Once you’ve set your holiday travel budget, you need to stick to it. One tool that can help is a prepaid travel card. A prepaid card draws from funds that are set aside in advance for purchases. Here are a few ways prepaid travel cards can come in handy:
• Keep travel funds separate. An easy way to make sure you don’t go over budget is to set your travel budget aside on a prepaid travel card. Simply load the card with your travel budget, and use it for everything from online booking to grabbing lunch during an (unexpectedly extended) layover without worrying about spending more than you planned or dipping into gift-buying funds.
• Access cash. Whether you need a few dollars or several yen, choose a prepaid card that will allow you to withdraw cash from ATMs around the world. If you’re traveling internationally, it’ll also save you the hassle of tracking down and waiting in line for local currency.
• Browse and buy. Look for a prepaid card that you can use online. Travel sites offer a wealth of information and detailed listings of competing offers from airlines and hotels as well as reviews from fellow travelers. For flights, you can typically compare possible savings by traveling on alternate days or from nearby airports. Once you spot the deal that works for your budget, use your prepaid travel card to snap it up.
• Enjoy peace of mind when traveling. Prepaid cards may come with travel-related services. For example, the Visa TravelMoney card offers Zero Liability for lost or stolen cards as well as lost luggage reimbursement and purchase security. Make sure you know which benefits your card offers and how they work so you can tap into them should the need arise.
With some advance preparation and the right tools in place, you don’t have to overspend on travel this holiday season. In fact, with some careful planning, you could end up with enough left to buy yourself a little something during the post-holiday sales. For more information about Visa TravelMoney, visit: www.visa.com/travelmoney.
Drive safely this winter
If your travel plans include driving, there are preparations you should make before hitting the road.
Rough winter weather increases your risk of being in a car accident by 36 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But taking a few steps now can help minimize your risk. Ed Ramsden, automotive coordinator at WyoTech in Blairsville, Pa. offers some important advice for winter driving.
First, check your engine fluid. “In the winter, engine fluid has double duties. It warms the inside of your car while also acting as a coolant to keep your engine from overheating. Your engine fluid can lose its properties after extended use, so you want to make sure to follow manufacturer standards,” says Ramsden. While some vehicles can go five years or 100,000 miles before needing a change, others require engine fluid to be changed every three years. To maximize performance on cold mornings automotive technicians also suggest that you give your car at least three to five minutes to warm up. This allows the engine fluid to reach operating temperature before driving.
Second, make sure to maintain proper tire pressure. Improper tire pressure affects handling, gas mileage, tire wear and tear, and traction — all of which can make driving more dangerous in rough road conditions. Tire pressures can fluctuate widely in the winter climate because the air inside the tires can go from very cold to very hot in a short amount of time, so Ramsden recommends that you take a few minutes to check your tire pressure each time you fill up at the gas station.
WyoTech’s Ramsden also suggests that tires more than three years old be replaced. “The compounds used in tire manufacturing break down over time, and after three years, there is enough wear to affect the structural integrity of the tire,” he explains. Checking the age of your tires is easy. Just look for the last four digits of the DOT label on the sidewall. The last four digits of the number tell you the week and year of manufacture.
Traction is more important in the winter than at other times of the year, so you want to check the tread pattern and tread depth on all your tires. If snow is likely in your climate, you want to make sure your tread depth is not less than 6/32nds inches. One quick way to check your tread depth is with a penny. Just place a penny face down into the tread groove of the tire. If the top of the Lincoln Memorial is covered by the tread, you have more than 6/32nds of tread depth remaining. If not, it’s time to get new ones.
Third, always buy windshield wiper fluid that matches the climate you live in. “Play it safe. If it is possible for temperature to reach negative 20 degrees, then you want to buy fluid that is good up to negative 25 degrees,” says Ramsden. The wrong windshield fluid in the winter can result in busted lines and containers if the fluid freezes. Good windshield wipers are also a good investment. “If you can’t see well, you can’t drive well,” says Ramsden.
Even if you live in a frigid climate, however, Ramsden warns against using dry gas additives. “All gasoline sold in the U.S. is regulated, so you should not have problems with gas lines freezing in today’s market,” he says. In fact, the use of fuel additives can cause severe drivability issues resulting in hard starts and deceleration stalls. Extended use can also damage the catalytic converter, which is a very expensive emission control device.
Making sure your car is in good condition is only the first step. How you drive in winter weather is just as important. “My favorite winter advice is three simple rules: Drive slow, stop early and keep in mind most people aren’t following these simple rules — i.e., drive defensively,” says Ramsden.
“You want to be prepared for any type of situation,” Ramsden says. Keep gloves, a winter hat and a warm coat in your vehicle in case of a breakdown. You may also want to keep a tow strap or jumper cables in the trunk, in case you encounter someone else in need. Ramsden suggests that you keep a fully charged cell phone, blanket, hazard markers and a tire jack in the trunk. You may also want to carry a bag of kitty litter in your trunk for additional traction, in case you get stuck.
Lastly, Ramsden suggests you keep a full tank of fuel in your vehicle at all times. The additional weight is helpful for traction and it can come in very useful in case of an emergency. “You definitely don’t want to run out of gas if you get stuck in your vehicle for any period of time,” he says.
Courtesy of ARAcontent