The Best Ways to Save on a Vacation
Who loves vacation? Everyone! Who loves feeling like selling a kidney to pay for a vacation? No one! It doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways to save money on a vacation.
I mean, a LOT of money. Thousands of dollars worth of money. No exaggeration at all.
This year my family of five is going to enjoy a vacation with our whole family, and spend $700. I mean it. We’re heading 450 miles south, staying in a 10 bedroom mansion on the beach with a pool and a hot tub, and we’re spending $700 total! This vacation, if I wasn’t such a cheapskate, would be worth $10,000!
You should never every have to go into debt to afford a great vacation. If you’re struggling and there’s just no way that you can swing a “real”vacation, you might want to try out one of these Staycations.
These are the best ways to save on a vacation that I’ve learned through years of making vacation one of the things that I always keep in our budget. If we’ve been able to travel the 900+ miles round-trip to North Carolina every year while making $17,000 for our family of four, I’m telling you that will a little creativity, you can too!
1. Go with another family (or families)
The more the merrier… and less expensive! Sure, you’ll need a bigger vacation rental, but with more people chipping in, you can still all pay the same amount for a bigger house. Plus, the bigger houses often come with swankier amenities like a pool, hot tub, private beach access, maybe even an elevator!
The more of you there are, the more people there are to help out with everything that comes along with a vacation rental. Who knows, maybe one of your friends has connections with a vacation rental agency and can get a killer discount (if you know someone like this, you’re going to be my new bestie)!
2. Get vacation insurance.
Especially for a beach vacation, you want to look into hurricane insurance. If you’re at the beach during a hurricane, you’ll want to get out of town quickly. But you’ll also want to make sure that you don’t just flush all of the money that you’ve spent on vacation down the drain.
Nothing scares me more than thinking about saving up all year to afford vacation only to have it ruined by mother nature. As much of a bummer it is to lose a week of vacation no matter what you paid for it, at least with insurance you won’t need to worry about the financial aspect of it as well!
3. Shop the week of
If you want to go during peak season and are flexible on which beach you want to stay, check out the local realty companies’ websites on Tuesday and Wednesday the week that you want to go on vacation. The realty companies have houses that aren’t rented out for the following week and slash the prices because some rental income is better than no rental income. You can find different houses in different locations and different beaches for less the same price that you’ll pay in the off-season.
4. Bring your own food to cook
Going out to dinner when you’re on vacation is so much fun, but it’s also incredibly expensive. If you bring your own food to cook, you will save more than 50% of your food costs. You can start prepping for your vacation in the months before you even go. You can start buying snack foods in bulk little by little so that you won’t need to drop an additional week’s worth of groceries before you go on vacation.
If you’re traveling with a group of friends or family, set it up so that each family cooks on different nights. This way, everyone is chipping in providing food as well as with the food prep.
5. Borrow gear instead of renting it when you get there
Surfboards, boogie boards, kayaks, paddleboards, canoes, beach chairs, snorkels, tubes and everything else that you might use on vacation are all so expensive when you rent them. A rental for a single surfboard for a week can run from $100-250 or more depending on the location and the quality of the board. That’s insane when you consider that usually you’ll need to rent more than one.
Save money by asking around your friends to see if anyone owns gear that you can use while you’re on vacation. It’s much cheaper to bring your own gear.
6. Go in the off-season (or at least off-peak season)
The dead of summer or over holidays is the peak time for a vacation rental. If you can be flexible with your vacation dates, you can get a real deal on an amazing house. We go to the Outer Banks each year, and the difference between the last week in July and the last week in August is more than 50% off. A house that might be $10,000 a week in the end of July is $3,000 in the first week of September. Same house, different timing, big price difference.
Shop around at houses that you like and look at the price difference during the peak season and off-peak season. It’s staggering!
7. Fuel up before you get too close to the beach.
The closer you get to the beach, the more expensive gas gets… by a lot! Check your GasBuddy app for the cheapest gas around and fill up before you get where you’re going. If you’re vacationing on an island, chances are good that the price of gas is higher. Why? Because they can! If you need gas, and there’s only one gas station for miles around, they could charge $10 a gallon and still get people to pay for it.
8. Avoid expensive tourist traps and souvenirs
Guided tours, “pay to get your picture with…”, kitschy shirts that say “I heart [this place]” are all great ways to lose a lot of money without realizing it. Guided tours might be fun, but you can go exploring and find the same places and more when you go by yourself. If you do a little bit of Googling, you can find the “best things to do” without having to pay for anything.
If you want to buy souvenirs, set a strict budget and stick to it. I allot $30 each year to buy my sons shirts on vacation that they can wear during the family picture. But that’s it! Let’s be honest, as funny as some of the shirts might be, would you wear a lot of them?
True (slightly crass, but it’s not my fault!) story: there’s a franchise in the Outer Banks called “Dirty Dick’s Crab Shack” (yes, I mean it). They have a whole line of T-shirts that say “I got crabs at Dirty Dick’s.” As funny as it might be, when on earth will you wear that $30 shirt that you just bought? Probably not very often if at all. Think before you buy!
And don’t be afraid to look around for the best souvenir shop prices! While the shops might all look the same, some shops have better deals than others. All of the shirts are the same in all of the shops, so see where the best deal is and buy from there.
9. Make sure that you come prepared!
Everything is more expensive when you’re on vacation. The same principle that applies to gas prices applies to everything on an island. Make sure that you have all of the sunscreen, towels, clothes, bathing suits, diapers, shoes, and anything else before you get where you’re going. And don’t forget to pack snacks for the car ride instead of stopping to get snacks on the road.
10. Know what comes in your vacation rental or what the rental company can provide before you get there.
Are you expected to provide sheets? Do they have a pack and play for a baby? Do they have bath towels? Are there dishes in the kitchen? Is there a coffee maker or Keurig? Does the rental come with boards and kayaks? If you know what’s available before you arrive, it will eliminate the need to go out and buy things when you get there, and will also eliminate your need to overpack if you need the trunk space.
11. Shop around for houses
Make your list of “needs” for a vacation house and then your list of “wants.” From there you can find a compromise that will make everyone happy.
Your “needs” should include things like price, number of beds, number of baths, pool, pets (even if you don’t have pets, if you have allergies, you need to know this policy), smoking (even if you don’t smoke, you should know this before you walk into your rental and have an asthma attack), proximity to amenities, proximity to the waterfront, etc.
Your wants can include specific locations, pool, game room, hot tub, etc. These are things that can be compromised as you start your search. Does the house “need” to be oceanfront, or is ocean side ok? Because oceanside saves much more money than getting an oceanfront property. Can the house be on the same block as the beach or is an extra block away going to work as well? The savings are extraordinary if you’re willing to have a bay-/ sound-front house instead of an oceanfront house.
Check other realty groups as well. If you can’t find a rental that meets all of your needs and your budget, check with other rental agencies or on Airbnb to see if you can find some place. Finding a house that fits your budget instead of making your budget fit a rental is very important. You don’t want to be looking at $10,000 with $1,000 in your budget.
It’s very possible to make a vacation work for your family no matter what your budget. You should never need to go into debt to go on vacation. You will need to compromise on a few things, and prepare ahead of time, but in the end, the memories on vacation with your family will be worth it.
Where’s your favorite vacation spot?
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