This year, I've decided to do the summer vacation thing better than before! Last year, I was very hesitant about taking the kids someplace, because I was concerned about saving money. We went with a co-worker of mine to Solomon's Island, MD and enjoyed a cool September day.
I really enjoy going to Ocean City, MD with the kids, so I want to try to make it a yearly thing, even if it's for a weekend. This year, I've been planning ahead and will probably take a week off from work either prior to or after our vacation weekend. We get paid days off and must use them before they expire. So...How does one plan some time away without breaking the bank? Vamos a ver...
Cutting Accommodation Costs:
One thing that I can benefit from is using my hotel employee discount. I'm able to find hotels all over the country (maybe even the world). I have to say it's a perk I am glad to have. If you don't work for a hotel, perhaps you know someone who does. Friends and family discounts can be pretty awesome. For Choice Hotels, they can be as low as $49 a night and as high as $69 (based on availability). I haven't used any discounts from friends at other chains, but you basically get to stay in a good quality hotel for motel prices!
Another way of cutting costs is to travel with a few people who will equally contribute. Some of my family recently went to Myrtle Beach and was able to stay in thousand dollar vacation homes because they had quite a few people to stay and split the costs.
If you are going some place where you have friends or family that don't mind you staying with them, then you should! Usually you can stay with people you know for free and you can save a bit of money on food.
Cutting Food Costs:
It's inevitable that you will have to eat while you're on vacation. I find the best thing to do is buy groceries (especially if you receive foodstamps). Make a shopping list and plan out your meals, so that you don't get too much or too little. Of course you should plan your snacks for the ride to and from your vacation spot. Many hotels will have a micro-fridge in the room and a continental breakfast. Some even have microwaves in the room or the lobby to use. Take advantage of all of it. Keep in mind where you will be and what would be appropriate to pack for lunch or to have for dinner.
Don't think that just because you want to save money on food, you don't get to eat out at all. Remember, planning is the key. Before you go, search for information on restaurants in that area. Keep in mind dining styles and prices. If you're going with kids, seek restaurants that are family friendly. If you're going with a group of people, look for places that have a good variety on the menu, so everyone can enjoy something.
You can use Restaurant.com to purchase gift certificates for local restaurants ahead of time and use them when you get there. I have scoped out 4 places in Ocean City that are family friendly and are not too expensive. Using the Memorial Day promo code, I was able to find some $25 gift certificates for $2. *Big Smile*
Cutting Fuel Costs:
This one is tough. If you are driving, then you should have an idea of what it takes to fill your tank. You should also have an idea of how much driving you can do before having to fill it up again. Create a fuel budget and save up that money on the side, to make sure you're not cutting into funds for something else (like, say food?). Also consider tolls along the way.
If you are taking another form of transport (plane, boat, train, etc.), then make sure you have enough for your tickets, and a little extra for other traveling costs (especially if you're unable to bring your own snacks for the ride).
If you are driving, be sure to have your vehicle's regular maintenance up to date before taking off. In my case, I need to change my oil and my front brakes. You can even look for coupons for auto services.
Cutting Entertainment Costs:
Depending on where you're heading and who you're with, you may need to have some money on the side for fun things to do. Since we are going to the beach, most of our fun will be in the sand or the water. We've been able to get away with not spending anything at the beach during other trips in the way of toys or souvenirs (or rather we could have...I usually can't help but to get a box of salt water taffy...).
If you plan to go to a show or see a movie, try to have an idea of what you want to see, and check for discounts. Yes, I don't think I can stress enough how important it is to plan ahead. Not so much that every minute of every day is thought out, but make sure you have made provision for as many things as possible, so that you don't feel unaccomplished when you return home. The main thing is making sure you have the money available. If you don't use it, even better. You won't return home more broke than when you started.
We like to take our own things with us, especially for the car ride. Coloring books and various toys keep little ones busy (along with the snacks that keep their mouths full and tummies quiet) and each one of us has a digital camera.
Had Enough Planning Ahead?
Well, I hope not! It makes it so much easier. The more time you have to plan, the better, as you won't have to worry about getting so many things done at once.
I like to make a list of things we will need and make a mark next to the things we already have. Looking for things that we don't have is pretty simple. I first check my local Freecycle group for anything that may be on my list. If I don't find it there, I check my websites...Craigslist, Amazon, Wal-Mart, and eBay. If you can find something for free, go for it! If not, don't pay retail!
Just a couple of weeks ago, I was looking for some beach chairs. Someone was giving 3 away for free on Craigslist. Unfortunately, I was too late. I didn't find anymore until today, when I decided to check my websites. Wal-Mart had the lowest price. $9.88 for a folding chair (with cup-holder).
Don't forget that you can also check thrift stores in your area. While I wouldn't buy a bathing suit from a thrift store, I will be going in search for some beach towels and maybe some sand toys. If you're pretty crafty, perhaps you can make your swimsuit or beach towel? I've found some pretty easy tutorials on sewing your own towel wrap. Just google something like "how to make beach towel wrap" and get inspired.
You can always google "free/cheap things to do in [insert city here]." You will be amazed at how many things you can do, without spending any money.
If you have any questions on ways to make vacation cheaper, ask away.
My next post will be a more in-depth look at financial planning resources.