I love to travel. I love to take road trips, I love to go away for weekends, and I absolutely love to go away for full-blown vacations, but unfortunately, my husband and I do not make millions of dollars a year meaning travel, while being something we are blessed to do fairly often, is not something we can just do without a little planning.
For this reason, any time I know we are going to go away I consider our situation and resources; evaluate our budget, and what we value as vacationers, and get to work. Here are some of the things I consider for a Weaber family trip.
Now obviously there are things you don’t have MUCH control over; the price of gas, hotel cost, etc. But there are some things you can do to either, alleviate the monetary damages, or get some upgrades. I cant tell you much about gas, that is certainly up to this volatile economy, but as far as lodging goes, there a few tricks I have up my sleeve that either can get me a better rate, earn more points, or score a sweet room for the price of a not-so sweet room.
1. Shop around.
In Philadelphia’s case (I will use this for example since I just left!), there are 598345983753 hotels. There are chains, boutique, 5-star, small, bed and breakfast, a ton of options. If I hadn’t been attending a conference held in a hotel I probably would have gone to a travel search engine (I like Kayak because it compares all the major travel sites rates) and put in my specifications to find what hotel I liked that fit my budget. Often there are packages that include breakfast, free internet, parking, vouchers for meals or tourist sites…all these things get factored in when picking a place to stay. Don’t just select a hotel that gives you a free tray of chocolate covered strawberries because there is the word FREE in the deal. Honestly think about it….do you even really like chocolate covered strawberries? That room may be $50 more than one without a gift, but has the same exact features.
2. Determine what is important.
If you don’t care that you are within walking distance of center city, don’t pay the extra money. Get a hotel on the outskirts and drive in. But I will warn you, that may add up even more when you consider parking fees. This may seem like a lot of work but you have to think about other expenses that may incur because you chose to stay in a cheapo motel 25 miles away…gas, parking, public transportation, a potential ticket….these things cost too, sometimes way more than an actual room fee.
3. Ask about a fridge!
A lot of hotels have refrigerators on hand that they will happily put in your room. I will touch on this more later but seriously, take advantage of this perk!
4. UPGRADE YA!
When you arrive, or when it is very close to your arrival, ask if there are any upgrades. This works anywhere…hotels, cruise ships, rental cars…a lot of times places are not fully booked so there are plenty of vacant rooms. Which category room do you think is most often not used? THE EXPENSIVE ONES! The worst they are going to say is no, so get the courage to ask. You may have a nice big beg, or Jacuzzi tub for the weekend!
5. Join rewards programs!
A lot of the major chains, like Marriot, Radisson, Sheraton, etc. all have free rewards programs, or credit cards that offer incentives. We are Radisson Gold Points members, which is a free service that earns points every time we stay in one of their hotels or affiliates. It did not cost us anything to enroll, just about 5 minutes to fill out the paper, and we have gotten upgraded for free, earned discounted nights, and were offered non-public specials, simply for being a part of their community. Neither of us have a special credit card for a specific hotel chain, but we do have one that earns us Disney points…For every hundred dollars we spend we get 1 dollar to spend at Disney, in their stores or online. This doesn’t seem like a lot but they do have 5X point opportunities, bigger point values for certain items, and special discounts just because we have the card. I don’t know how all credit card services work for their incentive programs, but Ryan and I both have been with Disney for about 5 years and we DEFINITELY use every dollar we earn. So maybe if you are looking to get a new credit card or switch, consider what rewards mean to the most to you.
6. Go at the off season.
We looked into going to Avalon NJ this year for a weekend. It was more than double to go on a weekend in between Memorial and Labor Day. If we wanted to go in late September, when it is still pretty warm, it was less than $100 dollars a night. If you do not have restrictions on when you can travel, consider what times of year are best for your particular destination.
What can you control?
1. FOOD and DRINK!
This one is a no-brainer for me. I probably look pretty silly but I always have a major cooler on car trips. It is filled with soda, seltzer, snacks, sometimes wine and beer, and then an accompanying bag of more snacks and a re-usable water bottle.
This weekend I enjoyed many of the treats in my swag bag, but I also brought a few cans of diet soda, some seltzer water, a few pieces of fruit, and Clif bars.
This is a pretty taboo subject in the healthy living world but I totally drink a diet soda a day. The caffeine, the carbonation, I don’t know, it is just a bad habit (ha, one of the many) I cannot seem to break. Instead of spending $2 every day I am gone, I pick up cases (only when they are 4 for $11) at the grocery store, and throw a few in my bag. Easy money saved.
The same thing with water! You can almost always find purified water on a trip. Most hotel gyms have those nice little water coolers that are perfect for refills any time. Double bonus, saving the environment as well! How can you NOT bring your own bottle?!
Snacks are essential! We are a total snack family and I especially need something before I work out in the AM or my workout would be tremendously weak. I also have a nighttime snack. Do you think I was going to run down to Starbucks and get a pack of nuts that cost $3? Nope. I was going to bring my bag of granola bars, packets of Barney Butter, or fruit that I already had at my house! We also bring items like bagels, English muffins, baggies of cereal, etc. to supplement breakfast. There is no sense spending money on breakfast that consists of some of the most marked up food products in the world, when you can easily pack some bagels and a jar of peanut butter without thinking twice. Nutritious and delicious! And if you bring the cooler I sneak a few greek yogurts in, as well. Hello, there is always an ice machine at the end of the hall.
2. The REAL drinks…
Seek out a BYOB or bring a bottle of ________ (insert favorite here). Again, the ice buckets work fabulously for chilling spirits, and BYOBS are always just as great of restaurants, and way less money on the check (if you drink, of course)
3. Look for deals.
I am not super familiar with Living Social or Groupon since I live in a pretty small town and we are almost never featured on those sites. But if I were traveling to a big city, I would definitely look to see if there was anything of interest. Similarly, if you check a restaurants web site, it will often list if they have any specials going on. Many have happy hour deals, price fixe menus, or special night savings that could fit your plans. It never hurts to look.
4. Travel on foot!
What a way to get exercise and save some dough! See if an attraction is within walking distance of the hotel. If so, put on some comfy shoes and head on out. Often this will allow you to see and appreciate more of your destination and save a few dollars in transportation fees.
5. Think lunch.
Many restaurants offer similar menus for lunch and dinner, but with smaller portions and smaller prices. If you are staying in a place without a refrigerator, you cant take leftovers with you anyway. Consider going to a fancy lunch and choosing an alternative activity for the dinner hour, then pick up something quick, or at a less swanky place. This way you aren’t missing out on some of the great, more expensive restaurants, but you certainly are saving a few dollars.
This may seem like a lot of work, and maybe you don’t want to put this much effort into thinking about your finances when you are supposed to be de-stressing in your time away, but I look at it like this…the more I save on this occasion, means I might get to have another trip even sooner. So please, share with me anything I may have missed because as you know, I LOVE a good vacation, and although I was just away this weekend…Ryan and I are definitely in need of some spring ideas!