Friday, July 20, 2012

How to Have a Vacation on a Budget

We all need a vacation but none of us want the bill that comes with it. Is it possible to have an enjoyable vacation without putting it on a credit card or paying an arm and a leg? It's definitely possible as long as you are creative and think outside the box. Like all great vacations, a little preplanning goes a long way.

The first step is to assess what you really want to achieve with your vacation. Most of us would conclude that getting a break and making memories are a priority. A cruise or a trip to a gigantic theme park would be fantastic, to be sure. If that doesn't fit your budget, that's okay. There are lots of options out there.

Let's see, you need a break but it needs to be close to home so that you save on travel expenses like gas and eating out. Have you considered state parks, theme parks closer to home or a simple overnight trip to a nearby destination? One of the most fun times we ever had was a vacation to a local lake.  I'm
not sure a three day trip to stay in a cabin at a lake is classified as a vacation by some people, but we had a blast and it was inexpensive. The trip was less than thirty miles away from home but it felt like a whole lot more. Our only expenses were the cabin rental and the food we took, most of which was just taken from our own kitchen.  Hiking--or Exploring--as the Little Brother called it, playing on the beach, paddle boat rides, gathering wood for a fire (make that an accidental bonfire), making S'mores and eating outside were a blast. All of it was just ordinary fun, but it seemed exciting and extraordinary. Eating late, searching for constellations among the zillion or so stars not usually seen due to light pollution added to the memories. Sometimes even a day trip will work. My youngest relates to things in a great way. The last thing that happens is the thing that gets the most attention. I think a lot of us are that way. If we take a day trip to the beach,  play all day, picnic and then stop for ice cream on the way home, I guarantee he will tell his teacher that his vacation was awesome.  If you're going to a local theme park be sure to  eat and hydrate before you go to lessen your cravings for the more expensive fare. Be sure to budget for some sweet treats or a souvenier because you're there to have fun, not stick your nose to the windowpane and wish.

What if you want to go out of town? Consider off season travel. Our best times are never summer vacations. We had a blast going to a coastal town in fall while it was still warm and to an Aquarium during Christmas Break.  It may be easier to get your vacation time scheduled during the off season since most employees prefer the traditional summer break. Destination places will be busy but less crowded, prices may be a little lower because it's off season and you are less likely to feel rushed. Win-win. If you have kids, consider travelling during fall break, teacher work days, long weekends and part of your holiday vacations. You can pack a lot of fun in three or four days.

Look for as many Vacation Values as you can. We always stay in a business class hotel for this very reason. They are super clean, have breakfast bars (saving time and money), amenities like pools, posh lobbies  and fitness areas. Also be sure to stop by the hotel desk. This spring we went to a theme park about two hours from home and stayed overnight. The hotel was offering open-ended tickes to the same place for a very good price. Although, we already had ours we purchased more for a return visit. Our kids think we are rock stars. Hotels often have coupons for restaurants or City Passes that can be purchased once and used at multiple venues. Here's a surprise Vacation Value: Our local grocery store is offering a $50 gas gift card for $40. Sure it is only $10 but I'd rather have it in our pocket than someone elses. If you're travelling by car, stock up on water bottles and non messy snacks. No one wants melted chocolate in the back seat. Our kids appreciate the little things so we will make at least one stop at a convenience store for gum, chips,etc. Just once won't break the bank.

Figure out your spending plan and determine what you can afford. Great memories will be made no matter what you do or where you go. The extra bonus will be knowing you had a lot of fun and the bills won't be facing you when you open the mailbox. Instead of Keeping Up with the Jones, try Keeping Up with the Budget. I guarantee no one will ever look back and say, "Well the campfire would have been more fun if we'd paid more for it."

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