Friday, May 14, 2010

Vay-cay the frugal way

I don't really consider summer "vacation time" but to the majority of people it is. I like to have my off time when it is freakiin' cold here and I can go somewhere like...oh, I don't know...Jamaica. That was my fave spot so far. Breathtaking. And warm. LOL Now that's what I am talking about. But this is Frugal Friday so you know where I am going with this.

First things first: Ask yourself "Can we afford this?" Now don't close your eyes, put your hands over your ears and start singing row row row your boat. We are all adults here and believe it or not, vacations are a luxury not a right. I know, hurts to hear doesn't it? Vay-cay time is here and you have planned an amazing trip so go on and ask yourself that big question. Come on, you'll feel better afterwards...can you really afford it? No? Then it's a good thing you are here! Vacations should never be taken on the credit card. Ever. Honestly, do you really want to be paying it off a year or two down the road? And with the interest, instead of costing you $3000 it costs you more like $4200 depending on your rate. That's where that whole instant gratification thing comes in and it can get us into a lot of trouble. So whether you are craving a hot sunny beach, a long roadtrip across the border or a quick weekend at the lake here are a few hints and tips to get you started within your own realistic budget.

Overseas excursions

*The internet is a wonderful resource for trips like this. My first stop is always to check out the reviews of different places before I choose. Then when I sort of have in my head where we want to go, I give Dawna a call at Yes, that was a shameless plug but that lady seriously knows what it means when I say budget. You wouldn't believe the last deal we got to Mexico. Wow. In short...research, research, research. Going by the seat of your pants can be very expensive in a foreign country. Now, I am talking familiarize yourself with the area and what you want to do. Don't go buying everything up on the internet. Which leads me to my second point.

*Isn't it enough that you are in a beautiful location with delicious food, fabulous entertainment, a warm beach and great company? Do you really have to swim with the dolphins? Go ziplining in the jungle? Drink all day on a catamaran with a bunch of strangers? I'm not saying don't have fun. But choose your fun wisely. And in all our travels I have learned a valuable piece of advice: ask the locals. If you are bent on going scuba diving, horseback riding, whatever, we have found it's cheaper to ask around in town before committing to anything. And don't fall for all the excursions the reps try to sell you the morning after you arrive. I listen politely, smile, put my sunglasses back on and saunter out the door after the meeting is over. My beach chair is lonely.

*If you do an all inclusive, stick to the resort when eating. You've already paid for it so why go somewhere else? And lots of places have so many restaurants to choose from you can't possibly get bored.

*Take advantage of each and every single thing your resort has to offer. City tours? I am in! Spanish lessons? Si, por favor! Dancing? Let's cut up that rug baby! See what I mean? You can make your own all inclusive fun.

So enough about that...because we are talking frugal holidays here. How about roadtrips? The lake? Camping? What do you like to do? I've done it all and loooove it all! I am a traveller through and through. Let's start with the fabulous:

cross-country roadtrip

*Probably better when your kids are older and can appreciate all the interesting stops. What interesting stops you ask? Oh, I hope you googled your map before you left! Your fun here relies on research {is there a theme happening?} If you map out your route ahead of time and check out the spots along the way you will be fully prepared with a long list of free to cheap fun to keep your vacation rockin'! Check out local points of interest, parks, recreation sites, pools, museums, etc. It doesn't always have to be the huge touristy spots that are the most fun. And you know they are usually the most expensive.

*Bring on the food! Restaurants every meal, every day can blow your budget faster than a diamond tennis bracelet. But there are grocery stores everywhere. Plan a few special meals out at restaurants and come on people...get interesting! Don't go to the same old thing you can find at home. Then for other "on the road" meals make sandwiches, cut up some fruit, veggies and dip and good old fashioned jerky will keep your crew happy! A plug-in cooler for your vehicle is a very sound investment. Watch the flyers for sales at this time of year, they are worth their weight in gold.

*If you are travelling in the USA, be careful where you buy gas. They actually have competition there! I know, shocking isn't it? You can find gas at one price and then 2 blocks down it will be a few cents cheaper.

*A well tuned car is a happy car. It will be cheaper for you in the long run if you are nice to your vehicle and get it looked at before you leave. Get an all points inspection, oil change, fluids topped up, etc. These services don't have to be expensive though so make sure you are well aware of what you are getting for a set price before you commit to anything.

What about the shorter roadtrips? A weekend at the lake isn't expensive, is it? Wrong. A weekend at the lake can break your bank if you are not careful. So let's talk

camping, cabins and the lake

*Research. Again with the research! But really, it's the best way to get the best deal. If you aren't a roughin' it type of family be realistic about things. Don't decide that this year is the year you teach your teenagers how to camp and go clean out Canadian Tire. Be honest with yourself about what will be fun for your family. But then also be realistic about your bank account. Renting a cabin can get pricier than a resort hotel without the all inclusive meals! Be sure you know the reputation of the site, what it includes, what you need to bring {some places require you to bring everything but the kitchen sink. Even your own toilet paper. Be careful!} and at what price before you sign on the dotted line. This is where it pays to know people. Ask around and see if someone is willing to lend out their cabin. Ask, ask, ask.

*There are some wonderful out of the way campsites in our fair province. It just takes a little {say it with me now} research. Camping rates can vary by a lot. And it's no fun taking your little ones for a quiet weekend at the lake when there are a bunch of partying teenagers 2 sites down ripping up the campground on ATVs. Ask a bunch of questions of the site manager. If they are not helpful, they obviously don't want your business that badly.

*Friends and family are a wonderful resource. Have they been anywhere good lately? Did they like it? What were the pros? The cons? Would they go back? Keep in mind that places often up their prices yearly so don't rely on Uncle Buck's price quote from 1997. Hop on the computer or get on that phone. Many places have comprehensive websites with virtual tours and everything.

*So you've decided on a campground. Do you have tents? A trailer? What are your sleeping arrangements? Is it fully equipped for the needs of your family? And now the big question: Where to park yourselves? Over the years I have learned a number of great tips when at campgrounds. And again, it all comes down to grilling the manager upon booking. {People love me, can't you tell?} Are there any large groups there that weekend? You want to be far away from that. Where are the bathrooms? Are there pay showers? Where are the outhouses? {Being parked next to an outhouse in +30 weather=well, you can do that math}, is it a long walk to the beach? Does it even have a beach? Study the map and choose the best parking spot for you.

*Here is the most important phrase I will teach you. "Do you have any discounts or specials?" Don't be embarrassed to ask. Ask. Ask some more! "We are a family on a budget, do you think you can do better than that price?" Prices are rarely set. Hotels are famous for this. For our mini honeymoon right after our wedding we went to Edmonton and stayed in 2 different rooms at the FantasyLand hotel over 3 nights. For around $180. Not a night. Total. We went from Tuesday to Friday and even got a bunch of passes and coupons thrown in for free. All I had to do was ask.

*Spend a little to save a little. Often there are sports teams or other charities who sell coupon books for your area. They are anywhere from $25-$50 and are an excellent investment for some good summer fun. But of course buyer beware...flip through it before you purchase it! Lots of 2 for 1 dinners and passes that can be used on your vacation.

*Keep in mind vacations do NOT have to break your budget or be very far away. There are campgrounds within the city limits {I like Holiday Park} with fab golf courses. Do you enjoy the links? Book a room for 2 nights during the week {discount!} and play a round, see a show or hit a pool. It's still a vacation. You don't have to take out the garbage, make the beds or answer the phone!

*For a fun, silly little getaway trade houses with a good friend across town or in a different town. Have you heard of those trading holidays? Check out the movie The Holiday. You can google this topic all over the place. There are whole websites dedicated to people trying to find others to trade with. I don't know how I would feel about strangers staying in my house but wouldn't it be a fun project with the kids to set up like a little bed and breakfast with mints on the pillows and swap houses with your friends for a night or two? It's practically free but still out of the ordinary!

What I am saying here in my loooong rambling is that we need to rewire our brains about what defines a "vacation". Ask questions, find the deals. If you are dedicated to saving money and getting yourself out of any debt you may be in, it's important to be realistic about what you are able to spend. No need to keep up with the Jones'. They are probably drowning in debt and you just don't know it.

1 comment:

Jerri-Lea said...

Wow! You put a lot of info in this one!! It'll probably be a summer at home for us after our winter trip, though a couple of day trips around the city will be our 'holiday'. We have a lot of great parks and perks here in the city & I'm always checking out saskatoonevents website for all the free activities going on all year long. Love the movie 'The Holiday' but don't think I could have strangers in my house either. Thanks for the info Kate!