My wife and I recently took our first cruise, and thankfully we were well prepared for it. We did a lot of research, and we got some great advice from her parents who have gone on several cruises.
Based on our recent experiences, there are 5 things people can do to spend less money, have less stress, and ultimately enjoy their vacation more:
- Plan your vacation
- Search for deals
- Prepare the right way!
- Be a mindful spender
Plan Your Vacation
The most important thing one can do before going on vacation is to make a plan. Knowing where you will go and what you will do will make your vacation more enjoyable and easier to prepare for. Whether you are planning a whirlwind trip around the world or staying in the local area on a staycation, a plan allows you to start saving money in advance and spend less money in the end.
Here are some planning tips:
Benefits of booking your vacation in the off-season
Save Money on your trip. My wife and I looked at Mediterranean cruises at several times throughout the year, and finally settled on late September/early October. We chose this time because the tickets were much cheaper, there was more availability, and we wanted to make sure we would still have nice weather. We contemplated going around March/April, but realized the weather would still be a little cool, and possibly rainy. The months following that were much more expensive because people were no longer in school and were vacationing during the peak season. By booking later in the year, we saved over $1,000 per ticket.
Avoid crowds. Almost as important as saving money is avoiding large crowds! Most Americans build their vacation schedules around the school year and take vacations during March and April for Spring Break, May-August for extended summer vacations, or around Christmas and the New Year for winter trips. Many Europeans also have a similar holiday schedule, and some countries, like Italy, take almost the entire month of August off. These are the most crowded, and expensive, times to go on vacation. Planning your vacation around this means fewer people (especially children), more space, and a more enjoyable experience.
Greater availability. Fewer travelers means more available airline tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars, and other travel related items. Some tourist attractions require booking tours several months in advance during peak seasons, but reservations can often be made a few days in advance during the off season. It is also much easier to find local services such as tour guides, restaurants, taxis, and more.
Steep discounts. Fewer people means less money being spent at local businesses. Some places will slash prices in order to gain your business. This is common at restaurants, souvenir shops, and popular attractions. Some places even have different price lists depending on the season. Use this to your advantage – the best time to haggle on the price is when the store is empty!
Stay in the local area on a Staycation
Many people enjoy exploring their local area, especially if they didn’t grow up there. A staycation can be as simple as staying at home and taking off a couple weeks to visit friends and family, enjoy some relaxing time at the pool, or explore nature. Some people take this a step further and actually book a hotel room so they can get away from the temptation of housework and other distractions. However you do it, a staycation is likely to cost much less than driving to a location several hours away.
Find creative ways to see the sights
Bus tours offer excellent value. My wife and I had a stopover in Barcelona when we took our honeymoon. We discovered the most efficient and cost-effective way to see the city was on the double-decker tour buses. A 2-day bus pass was priced at €23 each (about $32 at the time).
The bus tours offered a lot of advantages, including easy access to all the major attractions, transportation all over the city, flexibility in your schedule – you decide when and where to go, convenient hours (around 8am – 10pm), frequent stops – both in number and frequency, and audio in multiple languages. Our bus tickets also included color-coded maps and coupon books, which helped us save money on certain attractions, such as museums.
Plan Your Budget
Make a budget, then add 10% just in case! Seriously, no matter how well you plan your vacation, something unexpected will come up. Make a budget and stick to it, but be prepared to have a little extra money just in case!
Plan for small expenses – they add up quickly! One area where I always budget extra is for small items that I either forget to pack, or that we intentionally leave at home. We find it easier to travel with only carry-on luggage. But that means we are limited to the sizes of toiletries we can take with us through security. So we make it a point to schedule a stop at a local supermarket where we can buy items such as snacks, toiletries, sunscreen, and other small items. Knowing these expenses up front and having them in our budget gives us a true handle on what the costs will be.
Search for Deals
Deals can always be found for just about every kind of vacation. Great deals can be found through a travel agent, on-line travel companies such as Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, or through the actual company providing the service. Sometimes package deals are the best, but other times they are not. For example, my wife and I saved almost $1,000 by booking our own airfare for our cruise instead of booking our airfare through the cruise company.
Take advantage of last-minute deals. Another tip for purchasing cruise tickets is to check in a couple weeks before your departure date. You can often find discounts. Some cruise lines will even upgrade you for free if they have availability because it’s often easier for them to sell the lower-priced tickets at the last minute. Last-minute deals are also a great way to get rock-bottom prices.
Preparation can include proper clothing, foreign currency, access to funds, a raincoat, food, maps, etc. If you are traveling in the spring or fall months, or to multiple locations, be prepared for different weather situations. Also, make sure you have proper documentation, you bring your medications, your insurance will cover you overseas, you can charge your electronic items if necessary, and you are prepared for anything else that will affect your health, well-being, and vacation enjoyment. Being prepared also saves you from having to buy items at the last minute – often at a huge mark-up.
Bring your GPS. A GPS will be very handy if you will be renting a car. A standalone GPS can be purchased for less than $100, and can be used in a variety of locations, including overseas (maps for other countries can often be purchased and downloaded from the manufacturer’s site). Many people also use a smartphone’s GPS features. Just be aware of your data and roaming limits – especially if you are out of the country!
Skip the Tourist Locations for Shopping
Here’s a universal truth: vendors in tourist locations charge 2-5 times more than you would pay at a local store. Sometimes it is even more. If you can find a local grocery store, department store, or restaurant outside of the normal tourist areas, you will save a lot of money. Vacations are expensive enough as it is. You can save more than a few dollars by purchasing items off the beaten path.
A little planning can go a long way toward helping you enjoy your vacation. Remember – vacations are about enjoyment and leaving stress behind. A little work up front can save you a lot of stress and money at a time when stress is the last thing you want to have on your mind, and money is at a premium. Use these tips, and enjoy your vacation!