This summer my hubby and I celebrate 20 years of marriage! So we decided to have a nice getaway celebration out to California. I have to tell you it was a wonderful trip. We stayed in San Francisco a few days, then drove over to Yosemite National Park and then spent a few days in Napa before heading home. We had a blast.
There are ways to have fun on vacation and still save money. Here are a few of my favorite tips.
Driving vs flying – Consider taking a road trip with the family instead of enduring the cost of a flight. If you can drive to the location you want, you’ll save on tickets for the entire family.
Buying plane tickets – Try to buy your tickets at a minimum of 40 days out. If you wait longer than that, the best flights might sell out and the prices usually increase after 40 days. You can set up price alerts with places like Kayak and you’ll be notified when the prices change. Buying roundtrip tickets usually help you save money as well. If you can be flexible with your travel dates, you can travel on cheaper days. Play with the dates and see if you can save money leaving on a weekday vs a weekend. Southwest also lets you see rates for your destination on their calendar. Even if you’re not flying Southwest, it can give you an idea of what days are cheaper in general and you can try those with the airline you want.
Hotels vs Houses/Condos – Hotels can be great if you’re staying for a short bit of time. Look for places with free breakfast (if the cost is worth it). You can even try to get a room with a mini fridge or micro and make your own breakfast. If we are staying longer we try to get a place with a full kitchen. If you’re road tripping and don’t really have a plan, check out the app Hotels tonight and see if you can get a deal on a room.
Local transportation – We like to walk whenever we can. Sometimes we even choose a hotel further away from all the main attractions because it’s cheaper. Then we can either walk or take public transit. When we visited Washington DC, we stayed in Maryland and took the Metro line into DC. Our recent trip to San Francisco we did tons of walking and they have hills :). 3 of the days we were on vacation we logged over 50 fights on our fitbits! We walked UP Lombard street. And when I say up, I don’t just mean where the ‘tourist’ part starts. We started at the very bottom near Columbus Ave. This is when you’ll appreciate packing water!
When renting a car, check the weekly rate and the daily rate. Renting the car for the entire week may be cheaper. Also compare apples to apples. One company may offer unlimited mileage and that can be a huge savings. In San Francisco we took a few Uber rides. Try doing an Uber pool. The drive can pick up your party and another, all heading in the same direction. Not only is it cheaper, but you aren’t always guaranteed a pool, but you’ll still pay the ‘pool’ price. If you do get a pool, take it as an opportunity to meet new people. Hubby and I met 2 other groups and they all had tips on places to visit and eat!
Pack your own snacks – If you’re on a road trip, pack a cooler with drinks and snacks. This will save you from stopping and spending a fortune on food. Plus it’ll help you eat healthier….maybe. The same goes for when you’re flying. We take protein bars and trail mix whenever we fly. We also take an empty water bottle. You can fill it on the other side of security. Airport food can be expensive, especially when you’re buying for more than one person. Whatever snacks you don’t eat can be used later on hikes or bike rides. We always make smarter food decisions when we are starving!
Take advantage of hotel free breakfast – Many hotels offer free breakfast when you stay. Keep in mind it may not be worth it if you have to pay MORE for that hotel. But it’s always a nice bonus for Momma when she can sneak down and get a cup of coffee before everyone else is awake. Even if you’re hotel doesn’t over breakfast, see if you can get a mini fridge in your room. You can mix your own oatmeal with hot water from the coffee maker or buy muffins for everyone.
Cook at your lodging – If you can get a condo or house with a full kitchen you can cook most meals at your home away from home. Cooking is much less expensive than eating out and you can have everything you like to eat. Plus it’s more relaxing to not have to rush out for food when the kiddos get hangry (hungry and angry).
Eat out during lunch instead of dinner – We all know eating out is expensive but it’s still nice to do while you’re on vacation. Trying eating out for lunch instead of dinner. Generally the prices are lower and they are less crowded.
Check out my previous post on 10 ways to save money on food while on vacation.
Take advantage of daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social. Not only can you find deals on restaurants but also things to do. Just looking at these sites can give you an idea of all the entertainment the city has to offer.
Limit tourist options – Taking part in the touristy stuff can be expensive and you should avoid them if you can. However if you can get a deal or choose 1, your trip could be amazing. We rented bikes in San Francisco and it was the most amazing thing we did. We did price several locations, still trying to decide if we wanted to do it. After walking away from one, they handed us a coupon in case we decided to do it. And guess what, it was the cheapest after coupon and we took advantage. We rode across the bridge at our pace, taking stops for pictures and to enjoy our water and snacks :). Once other side of the bay we caught the ferry back (included in price). I got a workout that day, but the views were amazing.
Look for free – I’m always looking for free things to do. These may include beach days, hiking, free tours. Chocolate factories for example love to give free tours and samples! Check out things like this to entertain the family.
Take pictures instead of buying souvenirs – Pictures will last a lifetime. Souvenirs probably won’t. One of my favorite things to take on vacation is a tripod. This phone tripod folds up and fits in my pocket. I can set it on a wall or table and hit the timer on my phone camera and take great pics! I took the photo at the top of this post with my tripod. If you do need to buy souvenirs, try getting them ahead of time at the dollar store or Walmart. Even in your destination city, you might spend less by checking out those stores instead of within the tourist areas.
Other discounts to consider – When booking flights, cars, hotels, tours etc, always ask for discounts. Student, Military, AAA, AARP for example.
Coupon Booklets – Be sure to pick up coupon booklets in hotels and around town.
Reward programs – Companies love loyal customers and will reward you. Sign up for free loyalty programs with airlines, hotels etc. You never know when you’ll get a free flight, hotel stay or upgrade.
(Foot bridge of Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park)