Five summer vacation spots that won’t break the bank

IMG_3571.JPGSometimes, you just have to get away and take in some new scenery. Good thing America is full of destinations where you can choose how much you want to spend once you get there.

Yellowstone National Park

A road trip to one of America’s natural wonders will take you past enough landmarks to justify a vacation unto themselves: South Dakota’s Black Hills, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, the Grand Tetons and more. Take out an almanac and plot different courses there and back for variety.

Just be sure to leave enough time in Yellowstone itself, where you could spend weeks exploring geysers, waterfalls, jewel-toned hot springs, canyons and wildflowers. Bears, bison and elk provide even more photo opportunities in the park.

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Lodging in the nearby towns of Jackson Hole, Cody and West Yellowstone is available at varied pricing levels, so book as far in advance as you can. You can also take a tent and camp at one of the 2,000 sites within the park if you reserve it in time. Eating within Yellowstone can be pricey, so pack a cooler with food and drinks at a grocery store outside the park every day.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach is a popular tourist destination, with lots of flights going in and out every day on discount carriers. Look for sales on individual airlines’ sites as well as popular travel booking sites to get the best deal. There is no shortage of beachfront condo-style hotels competing to fill rooms, either.

Once you get there, Myrtle Beach has a lot to offer besides the beach. The world-class Ripley’s Aquarium is the city’s biggest draw, with the Family Kingdom Amusement Park & Water Park close behind. Companies offer ziplining, kayaking, boating and diving for the active vacationer – or you can just sit on the beach and relax.

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston has more history per square mile than any other city in America. Once you get there, you can discover the city’s rich Revolutionary War heritage on foot on your own or with the help of a guided walking tour. Business travel makes downtown hotels close to attractions, like the waterfront and theater district, popular during the week, with better deals on weekend nights.

One money-saving deal to consider is the Go Boston Card, which lets you skip lines and gets you into a long list of destinations at a discounted price. You can choose which kind of card you want based on the number of places you want to visit, or just custom-load one according to your plans.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

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Once you’re out of spring break territory, this Florida beach city calms down into a destination for wide sandy coastlines, open-air dining and water sports like kayaking. The city’s arts district has grown up around Las Olas Boulevard, packed with galleries, boutiques and world-class dining. If you get tired of the city and beach, you can take a boat tour into the Everglades or tour a historic estate.

You can fly into Fort Lauderdale, but you can also check for cheaper flights into Miami and West Palm Beach. Once you’re there, you can take water taxis on the canals or use the city’s trolley service along the beach and downtown. Finding a beachfront hotel in your price range might not be as hard as you think, especially in summer, because of all the competition.

Austin, Texas

Austin has carved out a reputation that stands apart from the rest of Texas. The state capital is also the world’s live music capital, with a thriving cultural scene and welcoming attitude that keeps it hopping year round. Austin has a well-developed bus and light-rail system that connects downtown to the airport. You can also rent a bike and use the city’s system of lanes and trails.

Because Austin is such a popular destination – you’ll want to avoid the South by Southwest festival if you’re keeping costs down – it has a lot of available places to rent via services like Airbnb. There are also affordable rooms at hostels near 6th Street, ground zero for Austin’s late-night live music scene.

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Wherever you end up going this summer, a little research beforehand will save you money on hotels and transportation. But once you’re at your vacation spot, don’t be afraid to ask the locals their opinions on the best diners or dive bars. They’ll steer you to great, under-the-radar places you might not find in your guidebook.

Vacations are about making memories, so concentrate on finding the kind of unforgettable experiences that money just can’t buy.

What does FOMO mean for your future?

IMG_3437The thought of being trapped in your office cube while your friends go to their third happy hour of the week drives you insane.

After drooling over your sister’s tower of artisanal French toast on Instagram, you can’t even deal with your boring bowl of cereal.

Your squad rolling up to that concert without you gives you heart palpitations.

That anxious feeling of not doing enough, not experiencing enough, is called FOMO: fear of missing out.

This 21st-century social anxiety is fittingly fueled by social media, where everyone else’s carefully edited lives seem to put your own to shame. One friend is in Greece, another is already a vice president at work, and that power couple is making cake pops for the soccer tournament.

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FOMO becomes a real problem if it makes you reach for your wallet instead of putting down your phone. Its hold on investors leads to bubbles and then to crashes, like the dot-com collapse in 2000. It can even hurt your career if you’re constantly unsatisfied with your position, leading you to devalue your own work until you can find “something better.”

So what do you do about it?

  • Have something to look forward to. FOMO won’t strike as hard if you’re not staring down an empty calendar. So plan some volleyball games or commit to seeing the new superhero movie with friends. It’s cheaper than buying plane tickets.
  • Don’t leave money languishing in accessible accounts. If your checking account has more than a few months’ expenses in it, start saving more aggressively for emergencies and retirement. The less likely you are to spend now, the more you can enjoy later in life.
  • Don’t let yourself be bored. Pursue that hobby you’ve always put off. Use that gym membership. Keeping busy keeps envy at bay.
  • Give social media a break. Your Instagram account doesn’t define you, so realize that it’s not a complete picture of anyone else’s life, either.
  • Let it go. You’re never going to experience everything, win every award, get every promotion. Just remember: You don’t have to impress anyone but yourself. Besides, everyone you know is probably jealous of your lifestyle already. They have FOMO, too.

Pet insurance. Is it worth it?

Is pet insurance really worth it?

Veterinary care is a lot like health care for humans: Technology, medicine and lifesaving techniques are always being developed. Your pet’s doctor can offer more advanced treatment, but it comes at a cost. Faced with thousands of dollars in treatment after an accident or dire diagnosis, many pet owners are conflicted. Many people draw the line at spending $500 on vet care, forcing themselves into a difficult decision. Even fewer pet owners are willing to spend more than $1,000.

It’s not like people insurance.

Pet insurance has a higher profile lately, with an increasing number of carriers competing for owners’ dollars each year. Premiums can range from around $10 to $90 a month, with widely varying levels of coverage. If you have pet insurance, you’ll usually have to pay your vet up front, then file a claim for reimbursement. Most vet offices will help you fill out the paperwork involved.

So is it worth it?                    

Pet insurance can come in handy in urgent situations. Just like for people, emergency veterinary care is exponentially expensive. If your dog fractures its leg and needs orthopedic surgery, the bill could top $3,000. But that’s a rare situation, and pet insurance doesn’t end up saving most owners money in the long-term. The exceptions are pets that develop a rare disease that will require long-term treatment and pets with catastrophic injuries.

What if I decide to buy coverage?

Ask your veterinarian to recommend a few carriers. Vets don’t get kickbacks on this kind of advice. Compare a few different policies from different companies and read the fine print on maximum payouts and other exclusions. Including “wellness care” on top of accident and illness coverage for your pet will probably not be worth the higher premium you will pay, so consider leaving it out. Insure your pet when it’s healthy, and don’t cancel when it gets older unless you’re willing to deal with the consequences.

Check the coverage limitations.

Some plans cover wellness visits as well as emergencies; others don’t. Common but expensive ailments such as hip dysplasia are usually excluded under most plans. Some carriers completely exclude certain breeds, such as the Chinese Shar-Pei. Some breeds, like Labrador retrievers, will be covered for only one round of surgical object removal after eating, say, your shoe. Big breeds aren’t always covered for ligament repair after a common leg injury, and so forth.

Insurance isn’t your only option. Consider depositing a few hundred dollars a year into a savings account for unexpected vet bills. If your pet leads a relatively healthy life until old age, you’ll have money to spend if problems arise.

You can also save money in the long run by reducing your pet’s medical risk factors. Spaying or neutering, keeping current on vaccinations and dental cleaning, using heartworm prevention, and protecting your pet from fleas and ticks will put the odds in your favor. Feeding your dog a vet-recommended diet will also help. Even if you decide against insuring your pet, staying mindful about its everyday health can provide peace of mind.