Yes, it really is possible! I know, because I did it last week. You may be thinking you don’t have $50 per month to put away in savings, but if you take a hard look at your bank statement, you are likely to find places where you COULD if you WANTED to… Are you a Starbucks fan at around $5 per specialty drink? Do you drink at least 10 of those drinks every month? Or, do you swing through the drive through for lunch several times a month, and could choose to pack your lunch instead?
You get the idea. I will list the framework here as to how we did it, and you can add to this with tips of your own!
1. Travel out of season to “less touristy” destinations. We went to North Myrtle Beach (which is around an hour and a half drive for us) in September. It was perfect weather- water still warm, temperatures in the 80’s, less crowds and traffic. We don’t like Myrtle Beach itself because it is so crowded and not as family oriented. However, the beaches next to it- think Garden City, Surfside, North Myrtle, and Cherry Grove- are very family oriented and you won’t have to slide anyone over on the beach to find your own spot on the sand! It helps that we homeschool and are able to take advantage of the off-season, of course, but if you have preschoolers or year-round-schoolers, this is likely still an option for you as well.
2. Remove the middle man. We used www.HomeAway.com this time, but there are other similar reputable sites where vacation rentals are offered directly by the owners and there are no realty mark-ups. The reputable sites will remind you to call the owners directly and not to give credit card information until you have confirmed they are real people! Home Away has many rentals which accept PayPal as payment, a much safer option in my opinion, and it also allows payments to be broken down into two or three installments without penalty. Be sure to read the fine print as well as any additional fees which may be added. We were able to find a 3-bedroom place for $600 which included the cleaning fees, linens, towels, fully furnished kitchen, beach chairs and toys… and it was located on the waterfront with a gorgeous balcony view and a swimming pool! Amazing. Yes, you will have to spend some time looking through your options and contacting the owners for info, but it is well worth the money you can save simply with a little research.
3. Take another family with you. It is more fun this way, and splitting the cost of the rental is not so bad either! Our kids had so much fun playing with their cousins, and we didn’t have to deal with the “I’m bored and lonely” or “He’s annoying me” issues we sometimes encounter when we are at home. They always had someone else to play with and made memories they will cherish for the rest of their lives. As we were checking out, the children were already talking about next year and how they MUST vacation together again!
(Side note: I asked my kids if they would rather have their own beds and we could go with just our family or if they would rather invite their cousins, even though the younger boys would need to sleep on the floor in sleeping bags… and I was pleasantly surprised when they unanimously and quickly voted to have their friends/cousins there and forfeit a comfy room of their own! I was even more pleasantly surprised when they did not regret their decision- My son said sleeping on the floor was one of his favorite memories of the trip! Go figure.)
4. Vacation where the fun is FREE. We had a pool, the ocean, and the sand. Really, could we have needed anything else? My sister-in-law and brother-in-law did take the kids to play miniature golf one day and had a coupon for $1.50 off per person, but we were still well within our budget for spending for the week. If you know you want to do some touristy things, plan ahead and search for the coupons! The local chamber of commerce will usually mail coupons to you with a visitor’s guide for free if you will contact them!
5. Take more food, less clothes. No, I am not encouraging you to go naked, but choose a rental with a washer and dryer and wash a load of clothes a day. It isn’t hard and will leave you more room to pack groceries! Plan your menus in advance with the other family who is joining you, and take charge of half of the week’s menus and let the other family take charge of the other half. Make your grocery list, not forgetting easy breakfasts, lunches, and snacks, and shop at Aldi (or somewhere similar) a few days before you leave. For $150, I bought everything we needed for my half of the week of menus, plus some! I took a cooler and insulated bags with the frozen/refrigerated items and avoided the horrible prices of a tourist trap grocery store… while saving valuable time I did not want to spend grocery shopping on vacation. Yes, you will still find you need to run to the grocery store a couple of times for more milk, bread, etc. but it will be far less expensive and draining if you shop and take everything you can with you as you go! If you live too far away to haul frozen/refrigerated items, find an Aldi in a quiet town on your route that is closer and shop there.
5. Plan your entertainment. Rent Redbox or Netflix movies if your rental has a DVD player. Visit your local library and load up on books for the entire family. Shop the dollar store for sand toys (or kitchen items which work better than sand toys), travel journals, arts and crafts projects and the like. Keep your eye out all year long for these things as they go on clearance and place a vacation storage box under your bed to stash things as you find them throughout the year.
If you do all of this, you should still have some money left over for miscellaneous items like sunscreen and boogie boards, and of course you must plan for the gas to get there! If your budget is especially tight, keep this in mind and choose a more local vacation instead of a cross-country one. Remember, children don’t need all the extras during vacation the tourist traps would like for you to believe…such as water parks, amusement rides, and expensive restaurants. They want to make memories with the people they love (you!) and enjoy a break from the routine. Not only that, but by traveling in a frugal way, you will teach them to be careful with their own money and to invest in people… not stuff.
If you find these ideas helpful or have any of your own frugal travel tips to add, leave a comment here or on my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/returning-you-to-your-life. I would love to hear from you!