As you read this, my husband and I are just days away from a romantic, kid-free vacation in the Caribbean. Since we weren't able to take a honeymoon, we spent the last few years saving like maniacs in order to have enough money for this special trip. We reached our savings goal in June and decided to take advantage of an early booking discount on Expedia.com. Since then, we have been eagerly counting down the months, weeks, and days. It's cold where I live, and I am more than ready for our adventure to begin!
Vacationing on a budget
My love for vacation is deeply rooted in my past. My parents always made it a priority to take our family on a vacation at least once each year. Since my mom was a stay-at-home parent, our single-income budget was often tight. This meant that my parents had to think creatively in order to be able to afford to take us on trips. Luckily, my mom has always had a knack for stretching each dollar into something amazing. Therefore, getting the most out of her vacation budget was no different.
Aside from one vacation to Disney World, our bigger trips were mostly to the beach. Since cost was always an issue, we would often rent an oceanfront house with my aunt, uncle and their three boys. This made for tight quarters, but we didn't care. We were too busy exploring our ocean paradise without a care in the world.
Flying was too expensive, so we always drove from Indiana to southern Florida. Like many other families, my two siblings and I were crammed in the back of our station wagon. I can recall so many details from our travels. I vividly remember the frustration I felt when my parents made us eat sandwiches out of a cooler instead of stopping at McDonald's. I also remember the astonishment and wonder I experienced upon seeing the ocean for the first time. Growing up in Indiana meant that I had never seen anything as big or as beautiful.
The downside of being an adult
Now that I am an adult, I have a slightly different take on vacation in general. The main difference is that I have to pay for it. This unfortunate fact tends to take some of the carefree wonder out of the equation. Traveling, especially with kids, can get quite expensive.
However, being in charge has its perks. Now that the bill is mine, at least I get to decide where we go and what we do. I also get to decide whether or not we bring a cooler and eat those dreaded homemade sandwiches. It's funny how something that made no sense to me as a child makes perfect sense as an adult. Since the tables have turned, I find myself turning into the parents that I once resented. These days, I am the one with the bag full of cheap snacks in the car.
But, like my parents, I want to travel with my children. Despite the costs, I want my kids to experience some amazing vacation memories of their own. I love watching them experience new things and see new places. It is important to me that we take a vacation together as a family each year, regardless of the cost.
We all have something that is important to us. Unfortunately, having a hobby you are passionate about can cost some serious money. Since my expensive passion happens to be travel, I have made saving for it into an annual goal. Planning ahead and saving appropriately is the key to reaching any financial goal. Saving for vacation doesn't have to be any different.
With Spring Break just around the corner, many families have already started planning spring or summer trips. Here are some of the money-saving tips I have learned along the way.
- Open a special savings account just for travel. Having a targeted savings account for travel can be a fun way to save for vacation. It might also help you stay on budget and keep you from taking money out of your regular savings goals.
- Start saving early. Saving small amounts of cash regularly can help you reach your goals over time. It's important to only book and plan a vacation if you have the cash in hand. There is nothing relaxing about vacationing on credit, only to return home to a giant bill waiting for you. Save weekly or monthly until you have enough money to pay for the vacation of your dreams. It will be worth the wait.
- Make sure that your vacation budget is comprehensive. There are many travel expenses to consider in addition to lodging. Make sure to consider other expenses like transportation, entertainment and food. Plan ahead and keep your spending within your vacation budget.
- Be flexible. Sometimes, just being flexible can save money. Our current vacation was initially going to be from Sunday until Saturday. After fiddling with the search tool, I found that we would save 30 percent by vacationing Monday through Sunday.
- Eat at home. When possible, renting a vacation condo or hotel with a kitchenette is a great way to save money. Go to the grocery store upon your arrival and make the majority of your meals at “home.” Going out to eat is fun, but it's also expensive. Eating some of your meals at home can help you keep your expenses down.
- Check out online sites. There are many online vacation sites that have great deals. Check out Expedia.com, Travelocity.com, or Priceline.com for specials and deals. If you are looking to rent a condo or house, you can browse options at vrbo.com.
- Share accommodations if possible. If you have family or friends with whom you would consider vacationing, it's a great opportunity to save money and bond with those you love. Split the cost of a condo or beach house with friends, and you will all reap the benefits.
Now that we are out of consumer debt, our vacation plans have become more of a priority in our life. Sure, we are still obsessed with getting rich slowly, but living a frugal lifestyle has opened an entire world of possibilities for the money we used to waste. Now that we are living within our means, we can afford to enjoy the fruits of our labor on occasion. And for that, I'm thankful. After all, if we don't take the time to enjoy life, what are we really working for anyway?
What are your favorite money-saving vacation tips? Do you have any upcoming vacation plans?
Author: Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson is a credit card expert, award-winning writer, and mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. In addition to serving as contributing editor for The Simple Dollar and writing for publications such as Bankrate, U.S. News and World Report Travel, and Travel Pulse, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love.