Over the last few years, we have worked hard and saved. We have counted pennies, used coupons, and made most of our meals at home. One by one, we have payed off almost all of our debts. We have nearly paid off some legitimate expenses, such as our car and home improvement loans. We have also had to pay off some of our mistakes – like our credit card debt and the Kirby vacuum we financed for one year. During this time, we have built up our emergency fund and paid off all non-mortgage debt. Included in that mortgage debt would be our rental homes. However, these loans are a bit different because the income that they create pays the mortgage and expenses.
Now that the smoke has cleared and we have put our mistakes behind us, I think it’s time to enjoy life a little. We want to broaden our horizons and have a little fun. After some thought, we have decided to start taking two vacations a year. One of these trips will be a family trip including our children. The other trip will be child free.
I feel like we have earned this, and it is time to start enjoying the fruits of our labor. After all, it’s OK to enjoy some time off, right?
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However, this new-found freedom can not become a financial black hole for us. Although we would love to take two vacations per year, it is our goal to stay within a clearly defined vacation budget. Vacation inflation can work for us as long as we don’t go overboard. We have taken many frugal vacations before, and here are some tips on how to take nice vacations while not breaking the bank.
How to Vacation on a Budget
Rent a condo. We often rent a condo in our favorite beachfront community, Gulf Shores, Alabama. Renting a condo provides several advantages over a traditional hotel room. First, a condo will come with a kitchen which allows us to eat many of our meals at “home.” We buy groceries when we get there which saves a ton of money on food. Also, the additional space that a condo provides can allow for more than one family to stay in the unit. Therefore, if you don’t mind spending your vacation with friends or family, you have the option of sharing the cost of your stay.
Ask around. The condo we rent is rented directly from the owner. She lives locally and owns a condo down south and gives a discount if you rent directly from her. See if you know someone who rents out their condo in a resort community. You can also check “rent by owner” sites online, like vrbo.com.
Check with online travel sites. I am currently price shopping for our “adults only” vacation next spring. Prices vary wildly between travel sites for the same vacation. Check around for the best deals, and not only with the resorts themselves. There are a plethora of different online travel sites like Expedia that may be able to get you to where you want to go for a lot less money.
Be flexible. You can save a lot of money just by being flexible with the month or even the days of the week that you go on vacation. Trying different combinations of days (ie: Tues-Tues) might help you save. Be willing to go a few days earlier or stay a few days later if you need to.
Take advantage of “cheap” entertainment. Going on vacation to a beach resort? Spend time laying on the beach. Is taking a mountain vacation more your style? Make sure you spend time enjoying the sights and sounds of nature by hiking the trails. Most vacation destinations have plenty to do and see that won’t cost you a dime. Taking advantage of these frugally fun attractions can not only be enjoyable, but will keep you “on budget” as well.
Look for deals. Most vacation destinations have a “Welcome/Visitors Center.” Not only will these centers provide you with lots of different entertainment ideas and options, but they will provide you with some great deals as well. Typically, these centers have dozens of brochures and coupons that are there for your use. Often times, you’ll find great deals at “expensive” places that you would never have known about had you not visited the center. While you’re there, ask the employees where there favorite spots are in town. Usually, the employees are local residents who may be able to point you to some hidden gems in the area that many tourists will miss.
Collect and Use Points. Traveling for free by using points and miles has become my new favorite hobby. We have traveled all over the world on points – including London, Paris, Rome (this Fall), and all across the Caribbean. If it wasn’t for credit card points and miles, we never would have been to half of the places we’ve made it to. I can even help you find the perfect way to earn points and miles for your next trip!
Personally, taking a vacation is important to my mental health. It is also good for my marriage and for my relationship with my kids. I love getting up with them and eating breakfast each day, knowing that we don’t have to get ready and go to work. Some of my best memories from my childhood are memories of our beach vacations. By living frugally the rest of the year, we are able to spend our hard-earned money on what really matters to us – spending quality time with our family. By living frugally and consciously spending, you can spend on what matters most to you as well.