3 Budget Friendly Vacation Tips
(This is an updated version of post from July 2014)
Where does the time go? As I was making an appointment, I realized that the summer is about half over. Of course, this does depend upon if you look at a glass and consider it half full or half empty. Time has a way of disappearing quickly and as we age the summer seems to slip by, oftentimes, without giving us a chance to relax and reflect.
Must you plan ahead in order to save money on a vacation?
Planning ahead gives you time to consider all aspects of a vacation and by booking ahead can save money, especially for airline tickets. However, anyone can still have an affordable vacation without spending days and weeks in preparation.
I took a cross country trip where I drove my friend’s car from New Jersey to Los Angeles during the summer of 2014. I drove almost exclusively on two lane roads avoiding the interstate highways. I had little time to prepare other than deciding on the main route and booked a super-saver first-class flight home using points from United airlines.
Traveling alone, staying in hotels, seeing sites along the way, and feeding the car with gas and myself with food could have been quite an expensive proposition. The total expense for the trip was about $2,500. Not too bad considering I was away for 16 days.
One the advantages of living in U.S. is that we have so many choices for just about everything. I, too made many choices during my 16 days. Some saved money and others did not. I made choices that were best for me, while keeping an eye on my overall budget. I cannot emphasize enough that everyone needs to make the best choices for themselves and their family.
Based upon this particular experience, here are my top 3 budget friendly vacation ideas:
1. The U.S. National Park System
Visit any one of the 417 areas which are part of National Park System. I am continually amazed at our national park system which incorporates 84 million acres. Most national parks charge an entrance fee and if you are planning on visiting several parks in a year, it may make sense to buy a pass. The pass will set back by $80 and is good for a total of four adult entries into a park. If you are over the age of 62, you can get a pass that will never expire for only $20. There is talk of increasing this fee, so if you are over 62, I highly recommend getting your pass soon.
The variety and beauty of our parks, monuments, and forests from oceans to mountains to the plains is unparalleled. Many are free to enjoy and offer ranger programs, hiking, water sports, and more. Great for any age.
2. Stick with a few chain hotels
Stay at mid-tier categories i.e. Hyatt Place, Courtyard by Marriott, Best Western. Stay close to the city you plan to visit, but not in the city. Usually outside the city, the rates are lower. Always ask for a discount, and be a member of their rewards program.
Reasons why I choose chain hotels are:
- While it can be a lot less expensive booking at the cheapest hotel, it may or may not live up to your expectations. If you have problems at a chain hotel, issues usually can be resolved by speaking to the front desk or by calling an 800 number. I had two separate problems with my hotel in two different states. Both times, I was able to resolve my issues and received a refund. All while still on the road.
- You can accumulate points for free hotel rooms and sometimes can double-dip, i.e. receive awards for more than one program. If you are checking in and out of hotels during your vacation, it may be possible to accumulate points and apply them during the same vacation.
- Being a rewards member can give you leverage and special privileges. In the past, I have received room upgrades, free water, and snacks at check in. In some case, only because I signed up for their program.
- Stick to the mid-tier category of hotels and you usually receive a free breakfast, refrigerator, free WiFi, frequently free parking and sometimes a microwave. If you stay at the higher tier category hotels, all these services are usually extra.
3. Avoid eating too many meals at restaurants.
I prefer not to spend my time in a restaurant eating when I could be exploring or experiencing the moment. Eating in restaurants can make a large dent in your vacation budget. It can also add extra pounds to your weight.
How do you avoid eating in restaurants? Here are few ideas:
- Drinks. I buy a case of water and keep it in my trunk. Each night I bring enough bottles to cool or freeze in the refrigerator for the next day. I travel with a soft insulated lunch bag that I pack each morning. The key to keeping drinks cold (even in very hot weather), is insulating the bag. I wrap an extra jacket and or shirt around the bag.
- Snacks. Buy snacks that will keep in a car and can hold you over until you have time for a larger meal. I buy my snacks in supermarkets and always get any discounts by either signing up for the rewards program or sometimes just by asking for it.
- Fresh fruit and vegetables. These can be purchased at farmers’ markets or supermarkets. I buy them the night before at a supermarket, wash, and cut if necessary, and store in refrigerator at night.
- Stop at a supermarket and buy all the ingredients for a sandwich. Make your own while sitting in a park.
- Don’t listen to your mother. Eat ice cream for dinner. Almost every vacation, I will buy a small container of ice cream or frozen yogurt for dinner. After all, I am on vacation, why not enjoy it?
Hopefully, these ideas and suggestions for a budget friendly vacation are useful and practical. There are endless choices as to how to spend your vacation dollars. You and your family can have a budget friendly vacation by making practical choices on activities, places to stay, and where to eat your meals. As a money coach, I encourage everyone to always spend within their means and never to incur debt for a vacation.