I’m a traveler at heart, and my husband has become a traveler at heart once he left the country for the first time on our honeymoon. I like to try to go to more exotic places – once in a lifetime kind of trips. We don’t lay by the beach or pool but we go to museums and try to combine all the things he loves (food and mountains) with what I love (culture, trees and water). This has made for some great trips with amazing stories, but as you can imagine, they add up fast.
We try to make our travel as affordable as possible. We set a budget about a year out and contribute to a vacation fund. This budget is dictated by the total cost of our trip, including spending money. As the account grows, we purchase different parts of our trip. I scour kayak.com for airfare first, and once we have our seats I try to book a car from Costco (we saved about $200 off travel site’s price for this last trip). We often book hotels as we go, but I always book the first night through a savings site like kayak.com or groupon. I double check the hotel website because they frequently will match lowest prices and have extra specials – I got $1 parking in the heart of San Francisco a few months ago this way, and an adorable boutique hotel for $60 a night.
Our travel plans are also based on the cost for our toddler (we did U.S. travel when he could fly on our laps for free) as well as trying to do the “off” season to save money. A few years ago we went to Spain and France in the winter, when travel was light. It was amazing to be at the Eiffel Tower the day after Christmas and to spend New Year’s Eve in Madrid – and cheaper because of that time of year, too.
Once our destination is set, I keep an eye out for websites and iPhone apps that allow me to look at reduced rates for events. Our local museum and zoo memberships get us nice discounts across the country, so we try to utilize those. But I often also look for free events, like egg hunts and art fairs.
With a toddler, much of our time traveling is dictated by FOOD. This means we’ve added a grocery store stop to our first day in a new city to load up on toddler supplies that might be expensive or inconvenient to travel with. This way we have less spur of the moment spending on snacks for the two year old who is melting down he can’t have the $14.60 pretzel at the carnival. The toddler and food issues have also shown us another way to save money (and sanity) while traveling: order take out. One of the most amazing family meals we’ve ever had was lakeside at sunset. It all happened by accident, but we were relieved afterwards to have saved the cost of the tip as well as soft drinks.
Travel doesn’t have to be far or expensive to be memorable…but planning ahead can make a world of a difference.