Staycations Are Key to Summer Fun on a Budget

Summer is here, and for most, that means vacation time! Many people travel out of town, or even out of the country, but if you’re on a budget, indulging in a “staycation” may be just the thing for you. In case you’re wondering, a staycation is when you stay in your own city or state and take day trips to local attractions. Here in Florida, there are so many activities to choose from the possibilities are endless. And you can do it all without breaking the bank. We’ve put together a few ideas for you to get your staycation started.

Stop by the beach. Florida is known for its beaches. What would summer be without a trip to one of our sandy shorelines?  If you don’t know where to start, make a game out of it. Make a list of all the beaches in the state you want to visit and assign them a number. Put all of the numbers in a hat, shake it up and pull one out. Whichever beach was assigned that number is your next staycation spot. “Sea” you later!

Visit one of Florida’s many state or national parks. They are filled with tremendous beauty, adventures and new discoveries. Best of all— they’re affordable! Entrance fees to most Florida state and national parks are less than $10. There are about 11 national parks, 160 state parks, and a number of preservation and recreation areas for you to choose from. So you might want to do a little advance planning. Besides the awesome sights, national and state parks are an awesome place to picnic or even camp overnight. So pack up your tents, gather ingredients for s’mores and head out to enjoy nature. Click here to find a park near you!

Get discounted tickets to amusement parks. Most Orlando area theme parks have Florida resident discounts as well as promotions where you pay for one day and get in free the rest of the year! Take advantage of the Florida resident discount to enhance your staycation, and continue the fun for the rest of the year. Click here for a list of Florida resident discounts from Visit Orlando. An added bonus – as an Insight Credit Union member you get discounted tickets to Legoland. Cool, right?!

Catch up on some reading. Find a cute little park, coffee shop or bookstore and let yourself get lost in a good book. This can help with relaxation and transport your mind to another place. You can even take a book to that beach you decided to go to.

Attend a local sporting event. Whether it’s baseball, soccer, golf, bull riding or wrestling, Central Florida has plenty of sporting event options to take advantage of. Get the family out for a fun-filled evening to one of the many Florida Collegiate Summer League baseball games. If you are more of a soccer fan, be sure to check out an Orlando City soccer game! For other exciting sporting events this summer, check out the list that Visit Orlando has compiled for more details.

Visit local museums. History and art museums can be found all over Florida. They may even be a museum celebrating the history of your own city. This is a great activity for both adults and children. You can have fun and learn something all at the same time. Botanical gardens, zoos, and farms that let you pick your own fruit are also great ideas for some summertime fun, not to mention they’re a hit with the little ones.

We hope these ideas can help you maximize your staycation without maxing out your budget! Do you have a favorite staycation spot? We would love to hear more about it! Share with us in the comments below.

 

*This is an updated version of a post originally published on July 28, 2014.

3 Tips to Improve Your Cruise

cruise_shipPlanning a cruise? Sheri Mruz, owner of Directions Luxury Travel in Ocala, Florida, has some great tips to help you get the most out of your cruise vacation. Here’s what she had to say:

Book as far in advance as possible. You will have the best selection on room type, location and dining options. If you book your cruise and later find a lower fare or new promotion, most cruise lines will honor the lower fare as long as you haven’t made your final payment.

Driving to the port? Book a one night pre-cruise hotel stay that has a Park-N-Cruise package. The typical package includes 7 to 10 nights of parking plus shuttle service to the port and back again. The cost is normally the same as what you would pay to just park your car at the port. This way you get there with time to spare. No worries about missing the ship!

If you like to take excursions off the ship, consider ShoreTrips.com. They specialize in excursions for cruise guests and have a guarantee to get all passengers back to the ship on time. ShoreTrips is a highly reputable company offering smaller sized tour groups and wonderful guides.

Money-Saving Travel Tips

SummerPiggyBankTraveling doesn’t have to cost a fortune! Save money on your vacation with these great tips from Sheri Mruz, owner of Directions Luxury Travel in Ocala, Florida.

For airfare, I strongly recommend using Kayak.com as a search tool. It has great filter features and helps you find the routing, carriers, number of layovers and costs that you want. It is not a purchasing site but will direct you to the best place to purchase your flights. Kayak even has a fare history chart, a flexible date of travel search feature and allows you to sign up for alerts to let you know when flights go on sale. Whenever possible, purchase the actual tickets directly through the carrier website. This allows for clearer communication between you and the carrier and less hassle if/when you need to make changes or ask questions about your flights.

While touring a city, take the bus. Bus transportation is so common in the cities and so inexpensive in comparison to other options. If the city you are visiting offers a Hop On – Hop Off tour option, BUY IT! This is such a wonderful way to get the lay of the land and then go back and make stops at the areas that interest you most. Many cities, New York City and Chicago included, have package deals that include entrance to many attractions as well. These are packed with value. Check out citypass.com and grayline.com for more information.

If you know for sure that you will be visiting an attraction, check out their website before your trip to see if they offer online discounts. Just be sure you are not locked in to a specific date or time frame.

Travel Tips from a Travel Agent (Part 2)

Couple on a beachTraveling abroad this summer? Here are some awesome tips from Sheri Mruz, owner of Directions Luxury Travel in Ocala, Florida, to help you get the most out of your vacation!

SHOP SMART

How important are souvenirs? Nearly everything sold at the shops and kiosks in high tourism areas is made in Taiwan or China. Check and you’ll see. Focus on authentic items made by locals. Local artwork is always a great idea, especially if it’s easy to pack and doesn’t take up much space in your luggage.

Take pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. These are the best souvenirs as they preserve your memories of the trip and the sights you so enjoyed.

BE INVOLVED & PRESENT IN YOUR ADVENTURE

Sure, I just told you to take a lot of pictures. But you should also sit back and relax a bit. Take in your surroundings and live in the moment. Experience where you are, what you are seeing, hearing and smelling. Don’t just see everything through a lens.

Meet some locals. Visit some of the shops and restaurants that are off the beaten path.  Ask the proprietors where they go when they have a chance to shop and go out to eat. Do they have a favorite market or park? Enjoy the culture & learn something about the people.

Travel Tips from a Travel Agent (Part 1)

VacationTraveling abroad this summer? We asked Sheri Mruz, owner of Directions Luxury Travel in Ocala, Florida, for some helpful tips to keep you stress-free while you explore the world. Here’s what she had to say:

BE PREPARED

Be sure to make copies of your passport to have on hand in case you lose yours. It will help with replacement. Taking along extra passport photos from CVS or Walgreens isn’t a bad idea either.

Set up an international data and calling plan in advance of your trip. This will help you avoid unforeseen expenses that can quickly get out of control if you don’t have a plan in place.

Call your credit card company to advise them that you will be traveling. Find out if you will incur foreign transaction fees on your purchases. Also, ask them to let you know who their partner banks are abroad so you can withdraw local currency at an ATM without a fee.

Carry cash. Cash is king and always works, even during government shut downs or simple power outages. Carry it in a safe place like a Running Buddy magnetic pouch or money belt.  Avoid bags or fanny packs. These are magnets for thieves.

If you want to reduce your chances of getting sick while traveling, wash your hands often, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and use hand sanitizer.

PACK SMART

Pack your own medicine bag with small packages of pain reliever, cold medicine, anti-diarrheal, allergy medication, etc.  This will save you a bundle should you find yourself in need. It saves you the time of finding a pharmacy as well.

Pack light. I highly recommend a lightweight suitcase.  With strict limitations set by the airlines, every ounce counts. A lightweight suitcase can give you up to 8 additional pounds. There are wonderful products on the market now so do some shopping and find one that suits you.

If possible, don’t check luggage. I know it can be hard for many people, but try to fit all your belongings in a carry on suitcase plus the bag you can stow under the seat in front of you.  You can avoid the whole lost luggage ordeal and reduce your time at the airport.

One last item to pack, earplugs. Bring earplugs – you will be so happy you did.

Stay tuned for more tips from Sheri about shopping smart and getting the most out of your vacation experience!

Fun Things to Do This Summer in Central Florida

20-Ideas-For-Summer-Family-Fun.jpgFlorida is a vacation destination for a reason. From theme parks to beaches, we really have it all. As a local or tourist, the expense of enjoying Central Florida can really add up. So we’ve put together some fun, inexpensive activities the whole family can enjoy! You may even see us volunteering or giving out some goodies at many of these events too!

Orange County

Sports – Football! And I’m not talking about European Football, though it’s still a great sport. (Go Orlando City!) I’m talking about American Football. You might be thinking, “Football in June?” Yes! Check out the undefeated Orlando Predators Arena Football Team at the Amway Center!

4th of July – Don’t miss Fireworks at the Fountain in Downtown Orlando! Gather around Lake Eola for live music, children’s activities, food and more before the spectacular fireworks show at 9pm.

Et al ­– There is a ton of events going on all over Orange County, from Hunters Creek to Winter Park. Click each city to find local community events that will make you, your family and your wallet happy: Hunter’s Creek , Orlando, Winter Garden and Winter Park.

Seminole County

Food – If you’re like many of us here at Insight, you really enjoy food. Why not take a trip out to downtown Sanford and enjoy the Food Bazaar? You may need to bring a chair for this one, but you can also bring your dog to enjoy an evening out.

There are also plenty of Farmers Markets to check out all over Seminole, including Oviedo, Sanford or Lake Mary!

Sports – See some of the up and coming talent in baseball at a Sanford River Rats game!

Volusia County

Music & Festivals – From Daytona to DeLand, Volusia has a wide variety of events. You can enjoy the Watermelon Festival in Deland the first weekend of June or head to Daytona later in the month for the Annual Juneteenth Family Festival. You can also catch a Jazz Concert in August. Click here to learn more!

Lake County

Sports – The Villages has a new soccer team, the Villages Soccer Club! If you’re looking for a great time, come join us at a game!  If baseball is more your style, check out a Leesburg Lightning game.

Summer Nights – The City of Leesburg is putting on a series of events called Lake Front Nights that features gourmet food trucks and live bands right on Ski Beach! This series begins in June and ends in September. You can also catch a movie and delicious food at the monthly Food & Flick nights in downtown Leesburg! Click here for even more summer events in Lake County!

National Night Out in Clermont is this August! This community-building campaign promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make our neighborhoods safer, better places to live. It’s a great event and everything is FREE!

Fun in the Sun – Are you into classic cars? Check out the monthly Classic Car Show in Eustis! You can also enjoy the monthly Street Party!

Marion County

Music & Festivals Ocala may be horse country, but they definitely know how to throw a festival. If you prefer two wheels with your engine, check out the Ocala Bike Fest! There are also a few upcoming concerts that you can enjoy for very a reasonable price.

Citrus County

Music & Festivals Blues & Brews on the Bay and the Pine Street Jam Parrot Head Party. Need I say more?

Hernando County

Summer Nights – Imagine being under the stars, surrounded by oak trees, sitting in a lawn chair, eating home cooked meals and listening to music, stories, and poems by the locals. Music Under the Oaks at The Farm is an awesome put luck and open mic night you don’t want to miss!

If you’re feeling brave, you can also check out the Ghost Tours!

 

 

 

Cool Ways to Beat the Heat

Rubber DuckyWith temperatures reaching 90˚F and above this summer, it’s important to stay cool. Spending even a few minutes outside can leave you feeling sweaty and miserable. That’s why we’ve come up with a few activities that you can do outdoors while still keeping your cool.

Some Floridians have the convenience of having a pool in their backyard while others don’t. Many areas have a city or county pool that the public can access for free or a small fee. This offers a great place to go and cool off while under the watchful eye of a trained lifeguard. Oftentimes these activity centers offer special classes and programs for both children and adults. To find out if there is a pool near you, contact your local city or county office.

Tired of the pool? How about organizing a neighborhood car wash for a local charity? This is a great way to get your neighbors together to do something productive for your community. While you are socializing and washing cars, you are also keeping your cool and raising money for a good cause. This can create a sense of togetherness while teaching the importance of giving.

Do you have children on summer vacation that love to get outside? Try activities like water balloon dodgeball, slip ‘n slides or squirt gun battles. Supplies for these activities are generally inexpensive and can keep the family occupied for hours.

Remember to drink plenty of water and apply sunscreen thoroughly while you are enjoying the sun. Stay cool, Insight!

School Is Out! Are You Ready?

Summertime for teachers means a break from students, lesson plans and homework. But it can also mean a break in their paycheck. Some educators have their paychecks broken down into smaller amounts so they get paidGroup-Teacher-Student-000034003840-IS equally throughout the year. Others are not able to take advantage of that same program. When paychecks stop, there are many ways to make sure you are prepared for this change. Here are a few ways you can help bridge that gap in you budget.

Get a Summer Job
It might not sound glamorous at first, but how about trying something outside of the box? Many lifeguard positions are summer only, and who doesn’t want to work on their tan while getting a paycheck. If lifeguarding isn’t for you, tutoring or babysitting are two other great summertime jobs. There are a number of options to help get you through the summer with some extra change in your pocket and maintain a productive lifestyle.

Summer Savings/12 Month Pay Accounts
Many financial institutions offer promotions specifically for school staff. At Insight, qualified educators and school employees can receive up to $2,000 – up to the amount of your most recent net paycheck – and it’s paid back in just 12 months with no interest. These accounts can keep you afloat while your summertime funds dry up.

Good Ol’ Fashioned Frugality
Many school employees find themselves paying their summertime bills and then relying on the few remaining dollars to make it through. This method may work, but it doesn’t leave you much room for the unexpected. Even something like a clogged toilet can become a big deal when your next paycheck is 2 months away.

Whatever your method, you should always take a moment to evaluate your means of budgeting. No one is perfect and you may consider one of the other options for a summer to see how it works.