Spring break season is already upon us and summer vacation will be right on its heels, so now is a good time to start thinking about ways to cut costs on your next vacation.
Travel in a Pack
It can be difficult to make travel arrangements for a group of friends or family due to conflicting work and school schedules, but if you can manage it, the benefits can be huge. My family has perfected the art of pack-travel, sometimes migrating in groups of up to 30 people of all ages. There are several advantages to this type of travel: saving on lodging, saving on meals, privacy, and companionship.
For example, on numerous occasions we have rented houses for our travels instead of a block of hotel rooms. Each family’s share of the house works out to be much less than a hotel room for the same number of nights. Having a kitchen at our disposal allows us to eat in and reduce or eliminate trips to expensive tourist restaurants and also to prepare foods for those in the group with special dietary needs. Lastly, having a house to ourselves affords privacy (at least from strangers) and allows us to share a new adventure with familiar faces.
Most rental houses are not residences and can be booked online like regular hotels. But today more and more people are renting their homes on craigslist.com and other sites, especially when there is a big local event, such as the Master’s Tournament in Augusta, Ga. Some states and municipalities restrict the renting of private residences, so check carefully to ensure the rental is legal before committing.
Groups may qualify for discounts on transportation, meals, park or museum fees, souvenirs, and more, further reducing costs.
Sure, April in Paris sounds grand, but you might wind up paying through the nose if you elect to travel at times of peak demand. For example, hotels in Costa Rica normally have three room rates: green (low) season, high season, and peak season (Dec 15 to Jan 15). Rates for high season are typically 50% higher than green season, and peak season rates can be more than double the low season rates. Weather during most of the green season is glorious, so it doesn’t make much sense to book during high season, much less during peak.
Airfares, like hotel rates, are also subject to peaks and valleys depending on demand. You may be aware that Fridays and Sundays are the most expensive days to travel domestically, but did you know that Wednesdays are cheapest? When you are researching fares online, be flexible, and always try out several departure and return dates to capture the combination that results in the lowest fare.
Dare to (Gasp!) Skip Disney
I know it borders on heretical, but consider skipping Disney for your family’s big vacation. Disney World and Disney Land and all the Disney-related parks do an amazing job on the collective consciousness of the American public, making us nearly powerless to say “no thanks” to their relentlessly marketed attractions. Children have a near-universal expectation that they will be taken to Disney at some point, and peer pressure reinforces this expectation.
Once, and with great dread and foreboding, I caved in and took my children to Orlando. I found it to be overpriced, overcrowded, and full of unhealthy food—in short a poor value for the money. I know the Magic Kingdom is dear to many hearts, but for my family one visit was more than enough.
Instead of shelling out money for steep entrance fees, expensive hotels, and bad food in Orlando, we now opt for an amusement park (Kings Dominion) that is closer to friends and family in our home state of Virginia. The entrance fees are a fraction of the cost of the Florida theme parks, the rides are as good or better, and the lines are much shorter, especially in the afternoon and evening hours.
By watching out for special deals online, we were able to snag deeply discounted tickets last year. We stay with friends and family and turn the trip into a mini-reunion. What is really nice is that my children (now 8 and 10) understand the value of this choice, and even feel empowered by it. They frequently make comments about how “our park” is better than Disney.
Editor’s note: I have to agree with Laurel about Disney World. Our family went last year and it was fun, but been there done that! If you decide to go, be sure to check out our list of Disney savings tips and lessons learned. Lots of good reader tips in the comments there, too.
Rather than fly to an exotic vacation destination, investigate local options that you can reach by car. Many of us are guilty of never visiting the major attractions that are in our own backyards. Sometimes these less-frequented spots provide the most memorable vacations. For example, the Lost Sea in Tennessee is an impressive cavern system with the largest underground lake in the United States.
There are thousands of similar attractions all over the United States and Canada. Go to state tourism board websites or local Chamber of Commerce sites to find visitor info for your state and neighboring states. Many of these sites also have special packages and discounts that will make planning a local vacation even easier on your wallet.
This article was written by contributing author Laurel Gray.