Over the summer after our trip to the Keys, I wrote a guest post for my sister, That Clever Chick, about vacationing on the cheap. I had done a little plug for it here, but I thought to myself, ‘why on EARTH would I force ALL of you to divert from the post you were already reading to read another post?‘ Especially because I know you, fellow travelers, and I know that you got so drawn in by my stories and descriptions that even though you thought, ‘I’ll read this post and then go to the guest post and get two posts in one day!‘ that you completely forgot to read it, didn’t you?
So, here it is, in all its glory. How to Have An Awesome Vacation While Not Blowing Your Budget.
My sister, Beans, has a great blog of her own, but every once in awhile I can convince her to throw some text my way so I can take a nap. Here’s her guest post about saving money on vacation:
There are many ways to go on vacation, and there are many ways to save money. For most people, these things cannot go hand-in-hand. That is because many people think that a vacation isn’t a vacation unless you splurge on everything that you wouldn’t normally splurge on. That is pure insanity to me, but…to each his own, I guess.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand if you are going to have a romantic get-away, and you plan on eating fancy food, drinking fancy wine, and getting massages every day. But usually people do not do these things on every vacation. Vacations don’t have to be a romantic get-away, because technically you should have romance all year long, not just in the jungles of South America, living in a bungalow for a week, getting waited on hand and foot. But that’s a rant for another day.
No, vacations mean travel, seeing the world and other cultures, and experiencing new things that you can’t experience by watching the Travel Channel (because let’s face it, the Travel Channel has just become a channel where you watch people eat weird “food” items now). There is a way to travel on the cheap and still have a great time, and I’m going to give you some tips on how to accomplish this!
The first thing Hubby and I do every year is pick where we are going to go. That is probably the hardest part anyway, right? I think the easiest thing to do when planning a vacation is deciding on the dates of travel, and putting it down on the calendar. If you write something down on the calendar, you are much more likely to do it, rather than putting it off for something else.
The next thing we do is book the plane tickets. And this is done MONTHS in advance. Every year we book our vacations in December and plan to go on them in May, so by the time the trip actually arrives, it’s almost like you have a free trip planned, because the travel has already been paid for. In fact, this year I had enough frequent flyer miles to get free flights to Key West, so it really was free to get where we were going!
Over the next month we book the hotel and the rental car, and pay for as much of it ahead of time as possible. Rental cars can’t be paid for completely in advance, but if you get the Loss Damage Waiver (which we do every time we rent, no matter what) then you can pay for that before you get the car, and that is usually half the cost of the rental car in the first place.
Another tip is to go before tourist season, if possible. Now, this has pros and cons, so this is mainly a personal decision. One benefit is that hotels are usually not full, so you can ask for a free upgrade for your room, and you can easily get a room with a view of water for instance, instead of a view of the parking lot. However, sometimes tours (such as SCUBA or Snorkeling tours) have a required number of people that need to be signed up for the tour before they can take the tour group out. So, since it’s before tourist season, you are risking not being able to go on the Ghost Tour of Seattle or something because not enough people signed up the night you planned on doing it.
Another great money saving trick is probably the simplest, but most people would never think of. FIND THE GROCERY STORE. Most hotel rooms have a mini fridge in them, right? And you probably never use the mini fridge, do you? This is the easiest, cheapest way to do several things: buy sandwich fixin’s and make a picnic on the beach. We even brought a collapsible cooler with us on our trip, so we could keep food and drinks in the car. Buy sodas, bottled water, and/or sports drinks to keep you hydrated while you explore the area and buy a small bottle of liquor to mix in with the previously mentioned beverages to relax by the pool.
Remember not to buy more than you will consume while you are on vacation. True, you can check your leftover beverages in your luggage, but if your bottle of tequila starts leaking under the plane, I have a feeling that the other passengers will not be happy with you when you land. It is easier just to go back to the store if you ran out of something. Also, keep in mind that some cities, like Austin, have banned plastic grocery bags, so maybe you would want to bring some reusable green bags with you too. Sometimes your hotel room will also have a microwave in the room. If that’s the case you just scored big, because that means that when you DO go out for dinner, you can bring your leftovers back with you for another meal! Or midnight snack, whatever. Either way, it saves a trip to the vending machines, right? Or you could be like my Hubby, and not even require a microwave. (He’s not a picky eater).
One of the most expensive parts of vacationing is the food and drinks. I know that when I was leaving for our last trip to Florida, several people told me to “drink pretty drinks!” I’m not saying I snuck away from the restaurant to mix a quick rum and Diet Dr. Pepper and then run back to the restaurant, but while we were relaxing by the pool or on our patio over-looking the bay (from our free room upgrade) I didn’t waste my time or money ordering drinks from the hotel bar, because I had my own adult beverages that I could mix as I pleased. The price difference? At the hotel bar, the mango daiquiris that I was drinking were about $6 each. The Kraken Rum and Diet Dr. Pepper that I mixed in the hotel room? About $1.50 each. Big difference, right?
We made a plan to eat most breakfasts and lunches in the hotel room, but dinners were usually spent out on the town. That’s the key to a good vacation – you can’t be worried about how much it is costing the entire time, because then you won’t have any fun. If you find cheaper alternatives, you can still indulge a bit, and save money at the same time.
Also, go to the Visitor’s Center for the city you will be staying in. They always have flyers for nearby attractions, and they usually have discount rates, coupons, or Buy One Get One Free tickets that they hand out like it’s Halloween. Trust me on this: the guy at the Key West Visitors Center really must have wanted me to get drunk, because he gave us about 15 Buy One Drink Get One Free tickets for various bars on Duval Street.
Be sure to check Trip Advisor too. This can be a big help in knowing what is and what is not worth spending your money on. My suggestion is to go through all the flyers in the Visitor’s Center and pick out some things that sound interesting. Then go online to Trip Advisor and check out the reviews for those places. Who knows, you could accidentally find a place that lets you hold orphaned sloth babies that is $300 a person to go to, but you may find out that it’s worth every penny, because with the purchase of an entrance pass, you get a free pet sloth baby. Some things you can’t know until you find out other people’s experiences.
Sometimes even free places aren’t worth the money it would take to drive there, so take other people’s opinions seriously, and consider your options. That said, because Trip Advisor is so important to travelers, be sure that when you get back to your hotel that you review the places that you went on your adventures, too. Whether they were good, great, or just plain awful experiences, people want to know what to expect. I know I have written some awful reviews of companies in the past, but I have also written glowing ones. YOU HAVE THE POWER.
Also there are Loyalty Programs – hotels, rental car companies, and airlines all do loyalty programs. If you travel for work, you will rack up free car rentals, free hotel stays, and free flights in no time.
If you are going to buy Souvenirs – I have quickly learned that most people don’t want a random crappy shot glass from a bar they have never heard of, from a city they have never been to. You don’t necessarily need to buy gifts for everyone in the family, or everyone single person at work. If you feel the need to buy something for work people, like if you are talking about your upcoming trip to a friend and the annoying guy in the office announces, “I hope you bring us something good, since we have to stay here and slave away!” then buy something small, consumable, and that everyone will like: CANDY. I’m sure every little town is famous for one thing or another. Key West is of course famous for Key Lime Pie. I was not about to buy and ship actual pies home for everyone at work, but I did consider Key Lime Pie Salt Water Taffy. I of course didn’t get my coworkers anything, but that’s beside the point. I still THOUGHT about doing it.
Many places are not cheap to visit, but if they were, then they wouldn’t be very good vacation destinations, because they would be packed with people all the time, right? So if you take my advice, hopefully you can plan out your next great vacation, and people can be jealous of you while you are getting a tan in the Caribbean, riding elephants in India, or petting wild meerkats on the African savannah. Who knows, maybe soon people at your office will start trying to predict your next adventure, like the people at my office do with me?
Clever Chick Note: Saving money is about priorities; you’re saving to do the things you want rather than thoughtlessly letting money slip through your fingers. If you approach your vacation the same way you can take MORE vacations, or more expensive ones. Have fun!