Vacation Cost Savings 411
1. Plan Your Own Trip
A lot of people don’t want to deal with the hassle of planning their own vacation. I get it, there’s only so much time in the day between work, family, cooking meals etc. But seriously, spend the time and do it. Travel agencies and tour groups are a business. You are paying a premium for the convenience of them managing all the logistics of your trip. These companies also have arrangements with hotels, restaurants, transportation companies etc. to give them your business. Again, at typically a higher price than if you booked the exact same thing on your own. You will be told that you are getting a great rate or a $ amount off from the typical cost. It’s a ploy. I have found better hotels and tours, than what was recommended, at a cheaper cost. This is your time/cost benefit analysis. Decide is it worth paying more to not have to deal with anything, or do you want to pay less, do a little work, but get an amazing trip.
Now, a caveat to this, if you are planning to go to a 3rd world country or somewhere that isn’t considered very safe, please please please use a reputable travel company. One that has credentials and affiliations (ex. BBB) This is the time you SHOULD have someone help plan your trip. You can still give them suggestions or things you want to do on your travels. But they will coordinate everything (including drivers) and give you peace of mind so you can enjoy your holiday. Remember, your safety is the most important thing. Places that we have used travel agencies; Africa (for safety purposes), Thailand and Costa Rica trip one (only due to laziness).
Honestly, I love planning my own vacation, because it gets me super excited for the trip. It makes me feel invested. I start to Google all the must do’s, begin to learn more about the country than my prior knowledge, read all the TripAdvisor reviews, and then from my research, I make a list of all the things I want to see. Next, I plan out a mini itinerary to make sure there is enough time to actually do everything I want to do. Unfortunately, there usually isn’t enough time, especially if you are going to different areas within the country. Pick and choose. The worst thing is feeling rushed because you packed too many things into your day. You can always come back if you fall in love with the country and feel like you missed out.
2. Follow Discount Flight and Hotel Sites
Begin signing up for emails and follow flight and hotel sites. Examples of companies we’ve used in the past; Kayak, Expedia, Booking.com, Trivago, Travel Zoo, Agoda, Travelocity, Skyscanner, CheapOair etc. I’ve found that AirBnB has been getting crazy expensive (as soon as you add all the cleaning fees) than it was in the past. We kind of stopped using them entirely.
***IMPORTANT*** Do your flight and hotel research in 'Incognito Mode'.
Sites can't monitor your browsing history and cookies. By doing this, prices will not change as frequently.
These companies will flood your email with deals and things. I use these emails for two reasons; First, to give me ideas of where to go, what to do, and how much approximately it will cost. Second, to book only portions of my trips. I never book the whole thing through these companies. Again, it’s a business and some parts may be cheaper (how they lure you in) and then other parts more expensive (when you’re already hooked).
Caution. Read the fine print! Read the deal in its entirety.
Some things may not be included (ex. flights, taxes, resort fees etc.) which all begin to add up.
A trip you thought was going to cost you ‘X’ is now actually going to cost ‘Y’ prior to meals, activities and other purchases ‘Z’.
Still too expensive? Look into Hostels! You might be thinking "eww, no thanks". For some reason they have a bad connotation in our culture. It’s not as scary as it sounds. There are actually some really great ones out there that you would think are just normal hotels. Traveling is more like a right of passage for the rest of the world, unlike the US. People straight out of college or those that just need a break from the real world, take sabbaticals all the time. How do they afford it? Hostels! The world is full of them. Just do your research. Double check if it is a private room vs. a bunk room. Look into private bathrooms vs. dorm style. You can find every variation out there. It is also an avenue to meet cool people just like you! People who want to experience, to live.
3. Sign Up for Free Rewards Programs
Regardless of if you want to travel or not. Sign up for any free rewards programs that you can. You’ll save so much money in the long run. You might be saying, “well, I don’t use it much, why bother.” It all adds up! You eventually will have enough miles for a free flight, a free night at a hotel, a free train pass etc. without even trying. These are the most expensive parts of your trips (lodging and transportation). A free thing here and there saves money.
4. No Annual or Foreign Transaction Fees Credit Card
As you can tell, I am all about points and rewards. Make your money work harder for you. Get paid for spending money you were going to spend anyhow. Choose the cash back! Get a Credit Card that does not have annual fees or foreign transaction fees. This will save you a ton of money traveling. All those little fees add up every time you swipe. Cash back is the way to go!
A trick I use, is that I do not touch my cash back. It’s money I never had anyway, so I never count on it. There are only 2 times that I touch this money; 1) Christmas presents for family 2) As a mini Travel Bank. You’ll be surprised how much racks up. You’ll be saving up for these expenses without even realizing it.
5. Stock Up at the Local Bodega
Eating and drinking for over a week straight adds up fast. Coffee here, Coffee there, lunch, dinners, ice cream. I loveeeeee food. But there are so many ways to combat the expense of food. Obviously don’t deprive yourself. Eat what you want and go to dinners, but don’t eat every meal out. In reality, it’s not even the food that’s expensive, it's the drinking. Everyone drinks more on vacation, and why not? But each cocktail comes at resort prices. You get the bill, and your mind is thinking, “Yikes... Ah, screw it, it’s vacation!”
People, this is the biggest trick in the book. Go to a Bodega after you get settled in. Grab a bunch of booze, snacks, fresh fruit, breakfast items etc. You’ll save soooooo much money.
If you are staying at a hotel that does not have a poolside bar/restaurant, most places will let you BYOB to the pool and/or sitting areas. Just walk out with drink in hand or throw them in a bag. If you are at a place that has the bar, I’ve definitely just been a little sneaky and no one has ever said anything. Don’t be too obvious though. If you are at a true resort, sorry, you’ll have to pay for the real deal. Also, the best thing is to just enjoy a drink on the balcony of your room looking at an amazing view. A drink that costs ¼ of what it would from room service, is even better haha. Having a few drinks available to you is also perfect to take on a walk if you want to sit off somewhere and relax.
When it comes to food, there are a few tricks as well. I don’t know about you, but I have to have something for breakfast. Best trick, book a hotel that provides free breakfast. You can filter to that option on a lot of sites. If breakfast isn’t an option or if you have to pay for it, grab breakfast things from the local Bodega. Fruit, juice, pastries, whatever you want. Usually it's so much cheaper and a lot of the time fresher as well. Also, buy a bunch of snacks (granola bars, nuts, pretzels, etc.). We’re usually so busy anyways during the day exploring and doing activities that just a little something can usually get me by until dinner. Dinner is usually where I splurge. That’s where I want to try all the local cuisine and have a fancy drink or two.
6. Take out Cash in the Local Currency
Having local cash is super important. Depending on where you go, some places do not take credit cards. Obviously your hotel accepts it and places like that. I’m talking about the mom and pop restaurants (which usually have the best and most authentic food), pop-up carts, markets, places to grab souvenirs/gifts, smaller shops, peddlers etc. Better safe than sorry. Also, cash is used for tipping. Tipping isn’t like in the US. It’s usually just a little additional as a courtesy 'thank you'. Most importantly, having cash in hand allows you to keep track of your spending. The credit card on the other hand is like magic money. It doesn’t matter until you get that bill at the end of the month. That’s when you have that 'oh, crap moment'.
7. Make a Budget. Have Some Wiggle Room.
This is the biggest tip… make a budget that is realistic. Do you research on how much things really cost (with activities) as well as a meal allotment. It’s not about being frugal or not doing something because of the expense, but being realistic. You don't want to have buyers remorse or have put yourself in a difficult financial situation. But remember, you only live once and some places you are going to, you will never see again in your lifetime.
I had the privilege of meeting an amazing family in Costa Rica a few years ago. The entire family was there, from grandparents all the way to toddlers. The Grandparents told us that every few years, they take the whole family on vacation somewhere different. Something the Grandparents said really resonated with me, “We’d rather create memories and experiences with our family, than just pass down money after we’re gone.” That philosophy is something I intend to live by.
Regardless if you agree with that mindset or not, do your homework, and make a realistic budget. Then have a little bit on the side as your ‘rainy day travel fund' so you can do those things that you are second guessing yourself on.
8. Carry On, Don't Check Luggage
Many airlines are beginning to charge again for Checking Bags. You also have to pay both ways. Outside of the US, it’s not cheap! There are additional fees for going over the weight limit too. Another sneaky thing some airlines do is charge more if you Check Bags at the airport instead of preselecting Check Bags during your reservation online. Again, additional expense that isn’t needed. I’d rather spend that money on the actual vacation. The answer, pack less! Consolidate. Think through your bag allotment and what gives you the most space. Let’s be honest ladies, half the clothes we pack we never even wear.
Also, you save time! You don’t have to wait at the Baggage Claim for another 15-30 minutes for your items to arrive on the carousel. You don’t have to risk your bags being messed up or even worse… getting lost. It sucks. It has happened to me. You arrive on a tropical vacation and your bags don’t. No Bueno.
My secret sauce to baggage is the following; a small crossbody purse (used for all activities as needed), a good sized backpack (aka the shoes, hair appliances, electronics and liquid toiletries/make-up bag). This gives you easy access going through security. Finally, a soft shell duffle bag (mine is a plain navy Vera Bradley and I love it!). The duffle bag is flexible with fabric that gives, so I can squeeze all sorts of stuff in there with ease. You can also squish into tight luggage compartments in airplanes. Sometimes you may be on a small plane or an older one, without a lot of luggage room. Yes, you have to actually have to physically carry everything. Sorry : )
9. Reallocation of Discretionary Spending
Stop making the excuse that you can’t afford to travel. You can, you know you can. You might just have to spend your money differently than you are now. You may have to cut back on miscellaneous spending that isn't essential. That $5 Starbucks drink, 3 times a week, adds up ($780 per year). That’s your lodging or round trip flight right there! Ordering out dinners or going out to eat every weekend adds up. Even if you only spend $50 a weekend on dinner, that’s $2,600 per year. Buying those new clothes that you really don’t need adds up. Little life pampering all adds up. Don’t get me wrong, it’s your money, you’ve worked hard for it, spend it how you choose. You deserve to pamper yourself here and there! But, do not let this excuse get in the way of creating memories and discovering the world. Just allocate your spending a little differently than you currently do.
Make a Travel Rainy Day fund, repurpose that swear jar, save your Cash Back from your credit card, whatever works for you! Years ago, Steve and I stopped buying each other Birthday or Christmas gifts. We will still go out to dinner for Birthdays, but no gifts. That money that we would have spent, we put towards a trip. We aren’t really ‘things’ people. We are ‘experiences’ people. We are 'live in the moment' people. Again, this works for us. It might not work for you. If you are passionate about beginning to discover the world, you will figure it out.