When times are tough, one of the first things to go in a family budget are funds for travel. Sometimes travel seems like too much of a luxury when you are having a hard time making the regular bills. But life is short, and there is so much wonder and beauty in the world to see, that you sometimes have to make a sacrifice to make sure that you¸ and especially your children, have the opportunity to enjoy travel experiences that are so broadening and enlightening.
How do we do this? As with most ways of saving money, it takes time, effort and imagination, but there are ways of saving while still getting the most of the travel experience.
Analyze your cost of getting there
Unless you are traveling overseas, you usually have the choice of getting to your destination by car, plane or public transportation such as bus or train. There is no set answer, since bargains can be found with any of these methods, depending on destination and time of year. So once you have decided where you want to go, calculate the mileage cost by car (number of miles to travel divided by your vehicle’s MPG gives you approximate number of gallons your vehicle will consume; multiply that by the price per gallon of gas). To this, you must add tolls and any appropriate parking fees. Then, do a net search on airfares. To the total airfare, add airport parking (unless someone drives you) and car rental, unless you are staying in a city center and can walk to sights. And for bargain travel, don’t discount taking the train or bus. You may have to bring less luggage, but if you are headed towards a beach destination, you don’t need much in the way of clothes, anyway!
Be imaginative about lodging
Daily hotel or motel rates can eat up a lot of a travel budget. Can you visit friends or relatives on route to save money? Just don’t overdo it, and offer your place for their next trip. It is usually cheaper in the long run to stay in a cottage or condo than a hotel, where you pay by the week rather than the day, and you also have to opportunity to take many of your meals at your lodging instead of always eating out. Another great idea for inexpensive, or even free lodging, is using one of the home exchange or private rental sites that are popping up lately. Homeexchange.com lets you stay in someone’s home at your desired destination while they stay in your home. It helps if you live in an interesting area that vacationers would be attracted to. Many of these exchanges don’t have to be simultaneous, especially if the party on the other side is offering their vacation home. Airbnb.com offers homes, apartments, or even a room in someone’s home for very reasonable rates. And of course, there is always the perennial family cheapo vacation, camping. There are plenty of camping spots in some of the most beautiful vacation areas in the world.
Keep the food budget low
Unless you are on a gourmet vacation, eating is not usually the main point of a vacation. One of the best ways to get the total experience of a new place is to live like a native, and this usually means eating cheaply. In New York City, have a hot dog or a gyro for lunch and wander the streets with the natives. Many towns have street fairs on weekends, or farmer’s markets, where you can eat home cooked foods, or fresh snacks and fruits for lunch. There is no law that says you have to sit down in a restaurant every day on your vacation. Find out what a specialty of the area is and track it down. One memorable meal my family had was picking up calzones, sausage heroes and zeppoles at the Italian fair, and sitting on the beach in front of our condo, piggin’ out!
Compare costs, be imaginative, don’t be afraid to try different things, and you will not only save money, but have a more memorable vacation.
Before staying at a stranger’s home, do a free people search. Even if finding a rental or home exchange from a reputable site, you can never do enough to ensure your safety.