Vacation travel can be one of the year’s largest single expenses, but there are ways to dramatically reduce the cost of your vacation without sacrificing fun and comfort. Here are some practical ideas for having a great vacation that won’t break your budget.
1. Plan a getaway that is closer to home. Unless you have your heart set on some distant locale, you can save a lot by staying in the Inland Northwest and driving, rather than flying, to your destination. Even with the rising cost of gas, driving a reasonable distance with two or more people in the car is almost always less expensive than flying anywhere. You don’t have to go a thousand miles away to “get away from it all,” and the Inland Northwest offers diverse choices to please any traveler.
2. Play from a good “base camp.” Rather than staying in numerous hotels, find a place to stay that is centrally located in relation to the attractions and events you want to experience and create day trips. Some hotels offer discounts for weekly stays. Be sure to ask about specials for multiple day stays, such as third night free specials, when you book your reservations. Staying at the same hotel for your entire trip also has the advantage of allowing you to relax and settle in rather than packing and unpacking several times.
3. Consider choosing a condo, extended stay hotel, or rental house instead of a standard hotel room. Staying in a place with a full kitchen, dining room, and separate bedrooms, like Stratford Suites in Spokane, can save you a bundle on food, especially if you are travelling with children! Think of the cost difference between buying groceries for pancakes, sandwiches, burgers, and stir fries and buying these items in a restaurant (and don’t forget the tip). Having a separate bedroom for mom and dad is an added bonus.
4. If you do fly, research rates and travel light! Travel sites like Kayak.com, Expedia.com, Travelocity.com and Hotwire.com can help you find the lowest rates. Remember to read the fine print for hidden fees, and try to limit your luggage to a single carry-on as most airlines are now charging for checked baggage. If you are going away for a week or more, you can use the laundry facilities at your hotel to avoid bringing clothes for every single day (Stratford Suites in Spokane and most other extended stay hotels offer guest laundry facilities).
5. Save with travel packages. Booking your airfare, hotel, and car rental together can save you a lot of money. Most travel websites offer packages (see #4), or ask your travel agent to find you the best deal for your needs. Calling the hotel directly also often results in discounted rates that seldom show up on travel websites, especially locally owned or regional chain hotels. As one example, Stratford Suites discounts monthly stays by 40%.
6. Minimize eating (and drinking) out. Really, it is fun to eat out, but wouldn’t you rather experience more attractions that are specific to your destination than indulge in a lot of restaurant food? If you follow tip #3, you can make your own meals and pack picnics (always fun and almost every city has a nice park) and snacks. Buy snacks from the grocery store, and buy your own beverages. Soda and alcoholic beverages are three to five times less expensive if you buy your own in stores.
7. Plan ahead to save on fine dining and attractions. A month or more before your trip, sign up at Groupon.com to have emails sent notifying you of deals in the area you will be visiting. Most Groupon offers are at least 50% off regular prices. Spas, restaurants, and symphony groups are just some of the options. Restaurant.com is another money-saving site where you can purchase $25 gift certificates for $10. However, Restaurant.com certificates have a lot of limitations, so they work best for mid-week dining. Be sure to read the fine print!
8. Do a little research on discounted attractions. Museums and art galleries frequently offer free admission days, and many attractions of all kinds charge less on weekdays and early times. Find out when they are, and plan your events accordingly. If you are a senior, student, federal employee, in the military, AAA member, whatever—work your discount! Don’t be afraid to ask if you qualify for a better price.
9. Travel during the week. Flights are less expensive mid-week, and you will save time and gas by avoiding weekend traffic when possible. By the way, if you are flying, pack your own food! Airport food is outrageously priced. You can also bring empty water bottles through security and fill them at a drinking fountain or in the restroom on the other side.
10. The more the merrier—vacation with friends (and their kids). Car pooling and renting multi-bedroom apartments or townhouses can be significantly less costly than separate lodging while still providing plenty of privacy. If you are worried that spending so much time on the road with friends might strain the friendship, remember that you don’t have to spend every moment of every day together. The group can split up and go to separate events located in the same area.
To help you plan your getaway, check out the calendar of shows, events, and fairs, etc. on this blog.