When I decided to begin this journey of becoming a blogger (wow, feels weird even writing that) one thing that really motivated me was my desire to help others achieve their vacation goals. I had been sharing, OK probably over-sharing, on Facebook for years and would often get asked how I planned our trips. Do you use a travel agent? Is there a specific website you use? You get the idea.
So I am going to try and give some of my tips for vacation planning. Now I’m not an expert by any means but I have taken some pretty awesome trips and have learned a lot over the years. And since I’m not independently wealthy I’ve had to learn some tricks to make travel affordable. So I hope these ideas will help you in planning your upcoming dream vacations.
1. Plan, plan, plan!
This is the most important detail, in case you couldn’t tell. Last minute, spontaneous trips are fun but for me planning is vital for having a dream vacation, especially when on a tight budget. First of all, as a disclaimer I have to admit that I LOVE the whole planning process. It is truly like a pre-vacation for me. Reading about local activities and must-see locations to visit really builds the anticipation and excitement regarding my upcoming trip.
But even if it wasn’t part of the fun for me, it would still be vital for having the ultimate vacation experience.
2. Be Flexible
Now I’m not talking about flexibility in the downward dog yoga sense of the word, but being willing to adjust your trip in order to get the most bang for your buck. When I plan any trip I usually have a few possible locations in mind and then after comparing travel expenses, hotels and activities available, I will then make my final decision.
When we went to Puerto Rico last year my only real requirement was that I stay on the beach. I had looked at Florida, California and even North Carolina before Puerto Rico was suggested. After comparing these different locations it was really a no-brainer.
When traveling on a budget you have to decide what’s most important. Regarding choosing a hotel, is it having a beachfront location or staying within walking distance of attractions? Are you planning on spending relaxing days at the hotel so having a great pool and spa are a must? Or is the hotel simply going to be someplace you crash at after a full day of fun?
After making this decision I typically will turn to Priceline.com. Now I’m sure any travel site will work, but this is just the one I’m most familiar with. Once I know the when and where I will enter this info along with filters to help narrow down my search.
Recently I was wanting to stay at a hotel with a great pool. So I put that into the filter along with the star rating I wanted. This narrowed my search down greatly. I was able to find a hotel that looked perfect. But since I wasn’t quite ready to book I just kept an eye on it for a few days. And low and behold! One day when looking the exact hotel I wanted was listed at over 50% off! Score!!!
4. Bargain Shop
We like to experience as much as we can while vacationing. We love to eat at local restaurants and see all of the touristy spots. There are countless websites out there that offer discounts and coupons. Groupon and Tickets at Work are a couple I have tried. When in Oahu we went on a fishing excursion that I purchased for 50% off on Groupon.
After airfare and hotels, food is probably the next biggest expense on most trips so this is a place that money can also be saved. Believe it or not, we actually brought food with us on our recent trip to Hawaii. It’s a good idea to have extra space in your luggage to bring back souvenirs so why not fill that space with snacks on the way there? On our recent trip to St. Louis we even brought a cooler with water, juice and soda because the hotel didn’t have a fridge.
We try to eat out only twice a day so breakfast or lunch are usually eaten in our hotel room. And if the hotel has a mini-fridge and microwave you are really living large! Doggie bags at restaurants become tomorrow’s lunch and fresh fruit from local markets make a great breakfast.
Another trick that I sometimes use is the Name Your Own Price option at Priceline.com. Notice that I said “sometimes” because it isn’t always the best option. By using filters you can usually narrow your possible hotel choices to just a handful, but you can’t be absolutely certain which hotel you will get. Sometimes a “downtown” location can actually be a few miles away from the concert you had hoped to walk to. Also there is almost no flexibility in room choice. You may want a king bed but you’re stuck with 2 queens. Sometimes the hotel will be nice at check in and try to accommodate, but not always.
5. Pay Ahead
I’m a terrible money saver. I mean really awful. So I have learned for me I need to pay a little at a time before going. I will pay for the airfare then the following month book my hotel. After that I also like to pay for as many activities as I can in advance. Whether it is tickets to a concert, ballgame or amusement park, a lot of these can be bought before your trip.
6. Use Cash When Possible
The whole reason for taking a trip is to get away from the real world for a while. So who wants to worry about money or bills? Not me! I try to bring more money than I think I need because you never know. There might be a special souvenir that you just MUST have or maybe you want to spend an extra day at that amusement park.
Speaking of souvenirs, this is another area where planning helps. When we traveled to Oahu for our 25th wedding anniversary I had done a lot of research and knew that I really wanted an Hawaiian quilt. So it was easy for me to walk on by some of the other souvenirs that I really didn’t need as I searched for the perfect quilt to help me remember our trip to paradise.
I hope these tips help you as you plan your next getaway because my desire is for EVERYONE to just keep collecting memories as you go.