Everybody needs to get away from time to time but for many families and individuals that mean doing so on a budget. I am known for traveling as much as I can and I manage to do very well at budget traveling. For more tips on how to get the most bang for your buck, follow some (maybe all) of these tips!
How to make your travels economical
1. Plan Your Trip
This is a must for a number of reasons. The first is it saves you from the not knowing what-to-do or where-to-eat dilemma. I can give two examples of when this was not going well.
The first example I was on my own in New York City, traveling to a writers’ conference. I figured, hey, it’s New York City, everything is going to be good to eat, right? Wrong. I didn’t plan where I wanted to eat. I had some good meals, one was hosted by a company who was interested in us writing for them. They took us to the Red Rooster and it was amazing. The other was the Halal Guys. Besides that, I did not have a single good meal my entire trip. Best coffee I got was at Starbucks.
The second time was with my family. We went to New Braunfels, Texas for a weekend getaway. There is a lot to do in New Braunfels from Schlitterbahn to tubing and a beautiful park with a walking area. Yet, due to our lack of planning and the fact that it was cold and the waterpark had another week before it opened, we ended up walking around the nature park and going home fairly disappointed.
On the flip side of that, we went to Colorado last summer and did a lot of really fun stuff for a decent price because we came with several different ideas of things to do. We wanted to drive up Pike’s Peak, go to Estes Park, eat at Biker Jim’s, go to the United States largest independently owned bookstore and watch a show at Casa Bonita. The planning made a world of difference in our state of mind, so much so that our oldest daughter wants to live in Colorado now because she had such a great time.
Another reason planning is so important is because it saves you money. This is especially true for hotel rooms and food. Groupon is a great place to go to find ways to do things for less and simply googling what you want to do might help you find discount prices. I will go into ways to save on food and lodging next.
2. and 3. The Biggest Chunks: Food and Lodging
When you’re going on vacation, two of the biggest things you will be spending money on is food and lodging.
I grew up in a household where we didn’t go many places. My mother, who was a single mom, chose to spend her money on allowing my brother and me to do activities like dance and baseball. When we did go somewhere, we always went out to eat. So when I got married and I went on our first vacation with my husband’s mother and younger brother, I was a bit surprised when we stopped for lunch at a rest area and ate sandwiches. Now that is the norm.
Buying enough groceries to get you from your starting point to your destination is a good idea. Many of us already have a garden and it is easy to make yummy goodies from the garden, such as fruit roll-ups, homemade yogurt, and beef jerky. Bring water bottles and stuff to make a meal if it will take enough time to require meals on the road. This saves the gas station $1.25 for a regular pack of M&Ms or paying for a meal that would be much cheaper had you made it yourself.
If you plan to be gone for several days, I recommend getting a hotel room with a kitchenette in it. Last week we went to Ocean City and paid eighty dollars for a hotel room that included a kitchenette.
We only stayed for one night but when we got there the first thing we did was go grocery shopping. Our dinner was a roasted chicken, macaroni and cheese, and broccoli while breakfast was scrambled eggs with peppers (from the garden), onions, sausage, and cheese along with a side of English muffins. We bought a pack of water and some flavoring mixes and I picked up half and half to go with the coffee the hotel provided. Our total cost was forty dollars.
Had the four of us gone out to eat at a local restaurant nearby that evening there is a good chance we would have paid about fifty dollars for the meal, and dinner the next morning had we gotten something similar at, say McDonalds, would have set us back twenty dollars. Having the kitchenette ended up saving us thirty dollars or more!
And while we are on the topic of where to stay, here are some ways to save cheap. The first one is a given, if you know someone there that you are okay staying with then do that. There are also home swapping sites, if you are willing to let someone stay in your home while you stay in theirs.
If you want a house but don’t want to give up yours, there is Airbnb. You have the option of just renting out a room, which is great for meeting a local, or renting the whole place and most are cheaper than a hotel room. We looked at renting a two bedroom in Ocean City for about $500 for the week. It was on the ocean too! At less than one hundred dollars a night, that is a pretty good deal.
Another great aspect of Airbnb is you can find unusual items there, such as a place to park your tent that overlooks a city or a yurt in the forest, if you so desire.
Then there are the people who feel that a vacation is not truly a vacation without staying in a hotel. For those people, I recommend looking into hotels.com’s feature where you pick your amenities and price range, and they give you a surprise hotel. We have never been disappointed.
My mother used it all the time when she would come to Dallas. Recently she had one that she liked well enough for the price that she just goes on hotels.com and places an order for that hotel. Had she not done the “secret deal” she never would have known about it!
If you do not want to cook while you are on vacation and you are going to a larger city, such as New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, I would recommend checking out a hostel. Hostels are just like hotels except you do not have a bathroom in your room and you share one with the others on the same floor.
When I first heard of this, from another writer friend of mine, I envisioned college dorm room style hotel, where everyone had their own room and there was a bathroom with eighteen stalls and six showers.
For Pod51 in New York City, this was not the case. I had a nice hotel room that did look similar to a stylish dorm room but had two windows overlooking the city. Instead of the large bathroom, there was one bathroom centrally located on the floor. I stuck my key in the restroom just as I did in my room, and entered a small room with a toilet, sink, and shower. Like most hotels, they provided free wash and shampoo but these were large containers with a pump on the wall instead of in little bottles.
It was clean, fun, and there was even a small restaurant on site, as well as a roof top seating area. I paid about three hundred dollars for three nights, including taxes and would highly recommend hostels to anyone looking to save money and still be in the heart of everything. After all, when you are staying in a large city, you are typically not there to spend the whole time in the hotel room!
Last tip on the hotel and food scope- opt for the hotel with free breakfast but only if the breakfast is worth it. We have stayed at a hotel that says “free continental breakfast” and what that meant was carbs, carbs, and more carbs versus the hotel in Colorado which had a chef there that would make food to order and my daughter (yes, the oldest one) still talks about it to this day.
4. Remember Life is About Experiences
One of the neatest things I had ever seen was a couple who felt they had everything they needed to start their married lives together. I’m talking about the things that most people get as wedding gifts, such as kitchen aids, towels that say “his” and “hers”, ect… so they opted instead to have people pay for certain things on their honeymoon. One person paid for them to go ziplining, another paid for them to go to a nice restaurant, while another paid for them to get their pictures taken by a professional several times on their adventure.
In the same way, I like to get my girls a few things for Christmas but I always get them a “ticket” to somewhere in January. That month almost seems sad after the festivities of the previous three months, so this way the adventure doesn’t have to stop.
I also do it to show the girls that life is about experiences and not things. One thing to consider when saving for a travel trip is asking others to support your adventure dreams on birthdays and other holidays where gifts are given. This takes a little bit of the financial stress off of you and the stress of trying to figure out what you want from the gift giver.
5. Driving vs. Flying: Which is Cheaper?
This goes back to planning but I feel is important enough to be its own catagory.
BeFrugal.com has a great calculator to help you determine which is better for you overall. Yet other things must be calculated in.
For example, my mother chose to fly for about twenty dollars more than the eighty dollars I spend driving the nine hours between Dallas and Memphis. The reason for this is one, it’s just her flying whereas I have between two and three more people with me and two, spending that much time in a car is not good for her as she has fibromyalgia.
Take also into consideration if you will need a rental vehicle during your stay or if you will be at an all-inclusive resort, such as Disney World.
Also, look into the airlines rules about what you can bring and extra charges. For example, some of the thirty dollar flights make you pay an extra ten dollars for each bag you bring and then there are no snacks foods offered, whereas companies such as Southwest offer two free baggage as well as the one you bring onboard. In addition, there are mileage points that can eventually get a free flight!
6. Go off Season
I’m not saying go to the ocean in Maryland in December, but opt instead for the weekend after Labor Day. When we lived nearby we opted to do that one time and had a lot of fun, especially since they lacked people and the prices were drastically reduced since there was less of a demand.
Off season is pretty good sometimes, like in Costa Rica off season is our summer here in the United States, so you are guaranteed to get a cheaper price at a time when you may be able to get off.
One Last Thing on How to Make Your Travels Economical …
Remember a vacation is an adventure that doesn’t have to cost your entire bank account and then some. Get off the beaten path. Our adventure after Labor Day led us to one of the neatest discoveries I still talk about today – the towers that were used to protect United States soil during WWII sit in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware – happened because we wanted something to do and ventured to a new state park we hadn’t checked out at that point.
While I am all for planning, I am even more for fun. If you cannot go and have a great time, wait until you can. You only live once, travel and enjoy your time!