When you're running your household on a tight budget, the best way to plan anything is to plan ahead. This is exactly why many people start planning vacations soon after the New Year. The more time you have to prepare and save money for the excursion, the better. In fact, some people make vacation planning their go-to hobby, constantly researching things to do, places to see, and ways to save money while having the maximum amount of fun.
Whether you're planning the family summer vacation or an anniversary getaway, it's important to know how to plan an amazing(ly frugal) vacation. Here at Strategic Consulting, we know a few helpful tricks for planning a vacation that you can really enjoy without the traditional vacation overspending.
Make a List
The first step is to define a great vacation. Most people waste money doing 'vacation stuff' that they don't actually care about. If you want to make your money go the furthest, only do things you will really enjoy. Prioritizing was never more fun.
Make a list of all the things you really want to do on vacation. Then separate that list out into three categories:
- Things that need to happen for it to be a vacation for you
- ex: Ordering room service and eating in bed, sunbathing by a pool
- Things you really want to do on vacation and are planning to schedule
- ex: Get a Massage, Go to a History Museum, Ride a Roller Coaster
Wish list Goals
- Extreme or Unrealistic stuff that you'd do in a heartbeat if it were somehow possible
- ex: Skydiving, Swimming with Dolphins, Going to Paris
In fact, have everyone going on the vacation make this list to help you keep your goals in perspective. Skip or skimp anything that doesn't make a list. You might be surprised what your whole family could do without. And what they care most about
Don't Go Far
Now for the tricks. For our first trick, we suggest not actually traveling very far from home. The act of travel helps us feel separated from our normal-life worries, but you don't really have to leave the country or even leave the state to have a great vacation.
Instead of budgeting for expensive plane tickets, luggage fees, and distant hotels you can save a ton of money by just driving one or two cities over. The road trip will help you feel like you've left your life behind to 'go on vacation' but your -total- travel costs will be gas and maybe lunch along the way.
As for lodgings, there are a ton of surprisingly affordable options. Here's where you want to consider what you want out of a vacation. Maybe Airbnbing rooms on a goat farm would delight everyone on your vacation. Or maybe you need a hotel suite with room service for the vacation to feel right. Look for the best prices on lodgings that will really make you happy. Not just conform with vacation traditions.
Most people over pack for a vacation. Then realize, too late, that they're just fine living on four outfits out of a suitcase. We, as humans, don't actually need that much to be comfortable on a vacation. Especially if you book a place with laundry facilities or know how to handle a laundromat.
Making a list is a good idea here as well. If you need one formal outfit, pack that carefully. Possibly even sealed in a plastic bag for safe travel. Then pack two to four outfits with interchangeable pieces. Plus a few extra sets of socks and underwear for good measure. That, plus your toiletries and device chargers, should be all you need.
Plan for Self-Sufficiency
One of the best ways to save money on vacation is to eliminate late-minute expenses. Having to buy toothpaste or a bathing suit while on vacation almost inevitably costs more than having everything already packed. Careful planning can help you have all the right clothing items. And a little forethought can take care of the rest.
We suggest building a road trip kit that includes back-up toiletries along with a number of useful travel supplies.
Here are some essentials we think you might want to include
- Paper towels
- Baby wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Extra water bottles
- Surface cleaner
- Contact solution
Take Advantage of the 'Off-Season'
Every town has a tourism season and an 'off-season'. During the off-season, vacation venues like hotels and theme parks, museums and many restaurants see a serious drop in customers. So they lower their prices to keep the doors open. If you can learn to vacation during the off-season of your destination (usually winter and fall, but not always) then you can save up to half the cost of your total vacation budget.
Sign Up for Loyalty Programs
If you want to save money on vacation, you probably know you should be looking for deals. Hotels, resorts, and attractions are always having seasonal and holiday-themed discounts and package deals. And some of those packages might be exactly what you're looking for. But actually keeping an eye out for deals around your vacation destination can be pretty challenging.
The most effective method is actually to sign up for discount alerts instead. Make a new email account just for vacation planning and use it to sign up for 'updates', website accounts, and loyalty program memberships for all the hotels and venues you're considering for your vacation.
They will then, quite gleefully, send you updates on all their latest deals and future offers. This gives you a direct alert for any offers that you might actually be interested in. And you can quickly delete or archive the rest. All while keeping your personal and work emails clean of the clutter.
Book Months Early
Finally, remember to book early. Except for unpredictable last-minute deals, this is the most traditional way to get good deals and rock-solid reservations for everything you want to do on vacation. But that's also no need to rush your planning. Take a few weeks to complete your research and know exactly what you want to do. In fact, you should probably run your final draft by all vacation participants before paying for anything. But your ultimate goal is to book early to avoid 'surge pricing' if the hotel books up more than expected later on.