Vacation on a budget

Vacation on a budget.  Sounds kind of lame, right?  I mean, who wants to spend their vacation worrying about how much money you are spending and restricting yourself from doing the things that you want when you’re supposed to be relaxing and having fun?  I know I don’t.  

However, I can vouch for the fact that it’s much worse to come home and dread looking at credit card and bank statements to see what damage was done to the budget.  So let’s avoid both of those scenarios, shall we?

Let me break it down step by step.

Lodging

If you have a family member or friend that lives where you are going (and they are willing to host you, and you are willing to be a good host) by all means, stay there!  Make sure you contribute generously for food and a hostess gift because they will be saving you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.

If you have a large group that gets along, skip the hotel and rent a large house together.  This is super easy now with vrbo and airbnb. You can get some fabulous houses to rent for less than a hotel if you have the right amount of people to split the cost.  Even if it’s the same as a hotel, you will have a full kitchen so you can get groceries and save a fortune by eating in for most meals.

Sometimes a hotel just makes the most sense.  Having access to a pool is nice, especially with young kids.  I am not one to stay in a shady place just to save money, but here’s what you can do:

Use a rebate app.  All of them have offers through different travel sites.   Rakuten, Ibotta and TopCashBack are my favorites. 

Choose a rewards program and stick to it.  I had a hard time with this one, because the same chain of hotel doesn’t always work for me.  I ended up using Hotels.com. I can launch it through any of the rebate apps to earn extra cash back, and for every 10 nights I stay, the cost of the stays are averaged for a free night of my choosing. Not every hotel participates in the program, but plenty do.  

Getting from Point A to Point B

Driving

Driving is the cheapest way if you have several people, but if you are traveling over 1,000 miles and don’t have unlimited time, it doesn’t always make the most sense.  

If you are driving, make sure you have a GasBuddy card to save $.05/gallon.   The only time you shouldn’t be using this card is if you use a cash back credit card that you pay off every month that pays more cash back than $.05/gallon.  

Flying

Remember how I said you should join a rewards program for hotel deals?  Same goes for flying. Pick an airline and stick with it whenever possible. My personal choice is Southwest.  Lots of the cheap deals I find don’t add up once you add seat assignment and baggage fees. If you really like a different airline, or Southwest doesn’t offer service at your airport, get the airline credit card and use it enough to get upgrades for free checked luggage and seat assignments.  

Shop around and be flexible if you can.  The word on the street is that it’s cheaper to fly on Tuesdays and Saturdays.  I don’t know 100% that is true, but it typically works for me.

Eating

Plan ahead.   Find out if you have a refrigerator available where you are staying.  When we went to Florida this year, the first place we stopped on the way to the hotel was Wal-Mart.  Nobody felt like it, but it sure was nice to have snacks and drinks on hand, rather than buying them from an overpriced shop at the hotel or in a touristy area.

I am not a fan of getting extreme and making sandwiches on the dash of the car but I find if we can avoid eating out all 3 meals a day, it is a significant savings without too much effort.  If you snag a hotel with free breakfast (another perk to look for), and you can piece together lunch from things in your room, eating dinner out is much more enjoyable. If you do find yourself dining out twice a day, make sure one meal is somewhere inexpensive.  For my family of 3, doing this saves $30-$40/day. That adds up very quickly, so the pre-panning is well worth it.

Packing

Try not to forget any vital items.  Of course nobody means to do this, but it happens so often.  You forget something you meant to bring, or you realize after the fact that something you could have brought that would have been really helpful. 

How to avoid this?  Make a list before you start packing.  When you cross things off the list, you ensure that you have brought everything you meant to bring.  Call the hotel or airbnb host or family member before you go and ask if there are any unique things that you should bring that you might not have considered.

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