I started learning how to save money on vacations years ago when we took a trip to Washington DC. We were saving money to take a 5 year anniversary trip and I saw a giveaway for a 7 day hotel stay. I tried for it and I got the hotel!!! I was so excited, but we didn’t have a ton to spend and going cross country is not cheap! This was something we had been planning on doing for years so we were determined to make it work.
From that trip we learned some tricks and have spent the next few years tweeking and adjusting as we took smaller trips on a tight budget.
On this trip I learned a few things on how to take trips on a budget. It takes some planning but it is something that can happen and I think you should always have goals and to treat yourself on occasion when you work hard to be frugal. Now I don’t mean that you should go overboard and spend lots of money treating yourself. You still need to be within budget, but if you don’t budget some play money into your budget life can get very boring and mundane. So have fun within your budget but be sure you have fun.
1) The biggest thing I learned this trip was to plan ahead. We stared planning this trip 8 months before we went. We started to look for plane tickets and ask our friends if anyone had seen any great deals on tickets. We had a friend tell us about a great deal on round trip ticket on Delta from San Francisco. We waited 5 days to get our tickets by then it was $30 higher a ticket. Still an amazing deal, but not as good as it originally was, so be sure when you hear about a deal on tickets to get it soon after you hear of it.
2) Use all your resources. The airport is about 3 hours from our home but my husbands brother lives close to there so we could drive there and he could take us to the airport and we could leave our car at his house. This saved us a couple hundred dollars a ticket. Well worth the gas and drive it took to get us there. If we hadn’t used our resources in this occasion it would have cost us a lot. So be sure you look at all your resources. Ask yourself, who do you know or where could you pull some strings to save you some money in your travels.
3) Utilize grocery stores in the area. While we were in DC we had to have food for all our meals. Since we were in a hotel we had no fridge either. We decided that we would bring all the food we could that was not perishable. We brought granola bars, crackers, fruit snacks and anything else we had already that we could use for lunches. We also brought instant oatmeal and used the coffee pot ( be sure to wash it out really well with hot water to be sure it is clean) and make hot water for our oatmeal each morning for breakfast. When we got to DC we went to a grocery store in the area and bought some bread, peanut butter, and jelly. We also bought a small styrofoam cooler for our room. We got ice from the ice machine and used that as our little fridge in our room. This helped us to only have to buy dinner each night from restaurants in the area which helped us spend very little money on food while there.
4) Bring your coupons. Now I don’t mean bring all your coupons, but bring those you may use. Also bring any coupons you have for restaurants or places to eat out. I accidentally left my coupons at home when we left, so I can’t say I did this, but we have compared the amount we would have saved, if I have remembered the coupons, this would have cut out about $50-$60 that we had to spend. I had planned on bringing all our Quizno’s, Subway, Panda Express, and a few other coupons I had found on the internet for local restaurants. This will bring down your costs dramatically!
5) Travel with cash only. This may sound crazy, but we left the house with $300 in cash. We had it separated in 3 different envelopes and had each envelope in a different bag so if 1 bag was stolen or lost all our money wouldn’t have gone with it. We carried only a portion of that cash with us each day. This helped us to be aware of how much we were spending each day. We knew how much we had left and each purchase we made we thought about. We only bought things we really wanted and ended up under budget for the week.
I am amazed at how little this trip cost us overall and I am planning on doing another big trip like this in a few years (probably to celebrate the graduation of my hubby from law school). It will take planning and preparation and saving money but it is possible and should be done if you can afford to do it debt free. We started our trip with $300 cash and came home with just over $60. So we purchased all our food for 3 meals a day, for 8 days, for 2 people and got TONS of souvenirs and gifts for family with that $240. All this from planning and remaining frugal as we traveled.