Vacation is a much needed reprieve from the strains of normal life. A time to laugh, spend time with the people we love, give ourselves a chance to relax, and just have fun. Vacations can be “just what the doctor ordered”. Laughing lowers blood pressure. Sunshine boosts serotonin levels. If you vacation right, you can accomplish all of this and avoid post vacation guilt from spending too much money! Besides, who wants to spend the rest of the year paying off that one week of fun!?
First thing’s first.
Since we can’t seem to get a break on gas this year, a savvy traveler must think ahead. Pack a cooler of food and drinks to bring along. Find a park to stop at along the way to have a picnic in. I have found that making some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids the night before and freezing them in sandwich containers works great, they’re thawed and ready by lunchtime. For the adults, bring some sandwich fixin’s–you’ll get a lot more bang for the buck. Throw some stasher bags or resealable containers in your cooler too, this is a great way to keep snacks contained in the car. I’ve found that it works well to bring larger containers of nuts, dried fruit, crackers, fresh fruits/vegetables, etc. and then divide them up into containers as we travel–it is much more economical than buying snack sized portions. (Plus the produce in your home refrigerator will likely spoil while you’re gone, so you might as well bring it along.) Packing your own food for vacation is not only budget friendly, it’s health conscious, it can really improve the odds of sticking to your healthy eating plan, it may even be essential if you have certain dietary restrictions.
Consider visiting the library to get some entertainment to help pass the time on your journey. Borrowed DVDs, music, or even audio books can provide great entertainment for all ages. Many libraries have an app that allows you to download audiobooks straight to your phone. Try Googling some fun car BINGO print-outs or coloring sheets to help entertain little kids for a long car ride.
A bit of research and asking the right questions can save you a bundle when it comes to what you spend on lodging. Consider traveling in the off-season, or looking up an amusement park’s slowest days of the season (there are charts online). Maybe it’s time to cash out some reward points you’ve built up from staying at a particular hotel chain? Many hotels offer discounts to Veterans, college students, and AAA members–you just have to ask. I know some folks who used to drag their pop-up camper all over the continental US and Canada to save on hotel fees and they had a blast.
This category can either put you in debt or put you into “Boss” territory. If the entire vacation was planned around a particular out of town event, concert or attraction; this will likely be where the bulk of your vacation funds need to be allocated and that’s ok, as long as you know ahead of time. Consider buying your souvenirs ahead of time. Hear me out on this one, I know a family that bought their Mickey Mouse ears pre-vacation on ebay for pennies on the dollar. The kids were none the wiser and the parents achieved “Boss” status.
If your vacation is focused more on being in a location than attending an event, you might be able to save big on entertainment. Free entertainment does exist. If your resort has an App, it might be a great resource for the free offerings happening throughout the day (kids crafts, exercise classes, even the opportunity to learn a new skill for free). Ask the front desk attendant in the lobby, they are a great resource for what is happening not only where you’re staying, but around the town. Maybe you’ll check out some live music, explore the beach, find a nature center, go on a scavenger hunt, tour a museum, or just hang out by the pool. Look up reviews before going to attractions that charge admission, to help decide if it is really worth it.
When it comes to what you eat, splurge on the right thing. If you received a recommendation for an “out of this world” restaurant- go for it! Or, if you’re meeting up with a group of family or friends for a meal or two while in the area- splurge. The rest of the time, it doesn’t have to be that fancy. We’ve found that traveling with children isn’t always glamorous, especially at meal time. During a 2020 trip, we rented a condo with a furnished kitchen. My husband would go and grab us a to-go order (no restaurants allowed indoor dining) while I cooked the kids Ramen noodles or macaroni and cheese. Everyone was happy. We’ve done similar things in hotel rooms, just pack and plan accordingly.
Vacationing on a budget, doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice anything! Go ahead and budget to splurge on things that matter–an important restaurant, a great tour, a terrific photo-op, or something that’s been recommended to you. Everything else can probably be trimmed down a bit. Here’s to a fun vacation with no post-vacation regret.
What are your cash saving tips on vacation? What categories do you splurge on?
Sara Lynn, RN, BSN
“If you don’t invest in your health, no one else will.”