During these uncertain economic times, families are combing their budgets in search for extravagances or amenities they can cut.
One large, traditional yearly expense--the summer vacation--seems an easy place to save big. After all, a week at the beach can buy a lot of bulk food and electricity! But instead of saving money by sacrificing your sanity, a few simple changes can keep that much-needed getaway within your reach.
Stretch your summer vacation and make more memories by thinking beyond the standard a week at an amusement park resort or on a cruise ship.
Enact these cost-saving measures this summer to add coins in your pockets and snapshots to your scrapbook.
- Brown bag it: This is a big money saver. Planning out your breakfasts and lunches and making them yourself can easily cut $5-$10 per person per day from your trip incidentals. For a family of four on a weeklong vacation, that's at least $140--or a couple of tanks of gas and few souvenirs. It’s also a time saver: for my family, vacations meant early wake-up calls and long days. Your exciting day at the Grand Canyon can start in the much cooler morning hours if easily-transported granola bars and fruit are the morning fare.
- Dine in nature: Picnic lunches let you enjoy the natural surroundings and ensure you have more control over what you’re eating (we all know restaurant food, while tasty, can be loaded with more sodium, fat and other nutrients we should consume). Who wants to wait in long lines at the Yellowstone cafeteria when you can eat your PBJ or ham and cheese sandwich while watching Old Faithful go off?
- Forget room service: While room service is pricey, hotels often have affordable restaurants attached. Some even offer meal deals for guests with children. Always inquire about these potential deals before booking a room. When kids eat free, you'll have a little extra for those Mickey Mouse ears! If you want to dine inside the room, consider booking a room with a microwave and a mini fridge. Canned soup and sandwiches are a cheap and easy hotel-room meal, and you can even heat up restaurant leftovers the next day.
- When in Rome…: Packing breakfast and lunch means you’ll really appreciate that sit-down supper. Instead of heading to the first popular chain restaurant you see, look for a local dinner option. Often, these local favorites offer bigger portions at better prices than their nationwide counterparts. They’re also a great way to experience your destination, the people who live there and the local specialties. Which sounds better: a drive-through burger and fries, or sitting down to a lobster roll--the local specialty--with a side of a history on the area? Ask at the hotel or do some research ahead of time.
- Lather up: This writer has a ziptop bag full of fancy shampoos, conditioners, body soaps and countless other bath items for which I paid nothing. I haven’t bought fancy shampoo in more than a year--since my last vacation.
Take a similar tack on your trip. The shampoos are there for a reason — for you to use. This means you can skip the mess of pouring bath products from your large home bottles into smaller, airline-safe containers and save a little money, too.
- Go by land: Consider a traditional road trip. Airfare adds up quickly for four or five. A trip from Pennsylvania to the Atlantic beaches in Florida is about 1,000 miles. It costs about $200 round trip for the gasoline. That pales in comparison to the airfare and rental car fees you’ll pay to get there by jet.
Taking a road trip also makes the travel part of the vacation. It’s easy to stop and see attractions or natural wonders that you’d miss by flying, and the possibilities of learning more about different parts of the country are endless.
- Rough it a little: Consider camping as a lodging option. Does the price of travel, lodging and food have you scared to leave home no matter how much savings can be had? Consider a week-long camping trip. Most camping sites at state and national parks range from $20 to $50 per night for multiple tents. (Compare that to two hotel rooms at $150 per night!) Some national parks out West don’t charge for primitive camping (without running water or electricity).
Camping means travelers save on lodging, restaurant costs and even entertainment. Hiking and building a campfire costs just a few dimes, and nature is always free to enjoy. The photos and memories you take from the trip will be worth more than any $10 souvenir from an amusement park.
- Keep it local: Eschew the cross-country trip for one closer to home. There’s a good chance you haven’t visited the majority of interesting sites and experiences in your own state. While “tank of gas” trips were all the rage when fuel cost more than $4 per gallon, investing in two tanks right now can get you far enough away from home to take in new sights and sounds. There are so many different sites to discover and explore in this country that one need not go the traditional route to sit on a beach or stand in line at a theme park.
- Coupons, promotions, affiliations: Still want that blowout vacation at your favorite attraction? Many amusement companies and resorts are doing whatever they can to attract families to their friendly confines. Disney World, for example, is offering free admission to guests on their birthday. Other attractions offer discounts to American Automobile Association members and affiliated guests. Check with any credit card companies or professional organizations you might be affiliated with for other possible deals.
Vacations should be about relaxing, trying something new and getting away from it all. With these tips in hand, you can accomplish all those things and more--without taking on a second mortgage or going into debt.