More people than ever before are asking me how to have a cheap vacation. I’ve touched on this subject in some articles. In this one, we’ll go more in depth.
In my opinion, it is possible to go almost anywhere in the United States on a budget. So far, my family and I have visited 80% of the states in the U.S. In June 2009, my daughter and I will be leaving to take an even longer trip. This time, we will go from Tennessee to Alaska and back. As always, the trip will be on a shoestring.
To take a trip (especially a long trip) requires advance planning. You need to have a destination in mind that will please the family. It also helps to be somewhat flexible with the destination.
Travel during an off-peak time. Smaller crowds mean paying less for motels and food. It saves you money on gas because you are traveling instead of sitting in a traffic jam.
Buy memberships with reciprocal value. One of our favorite cheap vacations was when we went ape – literally! We found out that the membership to our local zoo reciprocated with other zoos. That summer we went from our hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee to St. Louis, Missouri and stopped at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky on the way back home.
Science museums and children museums sometimes reciprocate too. These also help make for a cheap vacation.
Purchasing the membership months ahead of time allowed us to save money on vacation. There were no admission costs to the other zoos. The zoos were different enough that neither daughter complained of boredom. We controlled costs and had a great time.
Much of our food on a cheap vacation comes out of a cooler. Green salads with chicken breast strips, sandwiches and wraps can be put together easily at roadside stops. Breakfast is usually a simple cereal bar or cheese and fruit. Besides saving money your family can stick to their regular eating schedule. This can be important if you have to take medications at a certain time.
When we do eat out it is most likely for lunch. Lunch portions are smaller and less expensive. Another thing that we do is split meals if we are going out for dinner. If you are still hungry later you can have a piece of fruit out of the cooler or order dessert.
State and National Parks and Trails make good add-on stops to existing cheap vacation plans. Fees (when charged) are usually small. Stopping at parks provides a good opportunity to stretch your legs, have a picnic and sometimes learn some history.
The year that we “went ape” we combined park visits with zoos. The big thing we wanted to do was go into the St. Louis Arch. The zoo in St. Louis was free (membership). We found a free parking space. The park around the arch was free. Lunch was out of the cooler. We used the money we saved and went to the top of the arch and enjoyed the breathtaking views.
The biggest expense on a cheap vacation is either gas or motel rooms. Rest area coupon books can provide big savings on motels. You still want to check with the motel chains directly in case there is a better deal.
If your family is ok with a tent a campground may be a good option. State parks offer campgrounds at competitive rates. Plan your route ahead of time and call the state parks along the route for campground information.
At night, we used inexpensive motels. For this trip, we only wanted clean rooms and comfortable beds. The less expensive motel chains without swimming pools were fine. Except for St. Louis, we didn’t spend more than 2 nights in the same room.
Gas is the one factor that you can’t do much about on a cheap vacation. There are websites that can help you find the lowest price. This is great if you have a laptop and WI-FI connection. But, a lot of people don’t.
We found that by driving off the interstate exit a few could save money. In one instance we found two gas stations in a price war about two blocks from the exit. The two blocks saved us .13 per gallon. On a fill-up that’s noticeable.
One absolute must for taking a cheap vacation is to keep your car in good shape. Having good tires with the right pressure will help with gas mileage. It also lessens the chances of a tire problem. Keeping the oil changed and the fluid levels checked helps too.
With these tips in mind your family can have a great cheap vacation too!