Sunday, January 13, 2008

Planning for a frugal vacation

I confess I rarely take vacations. Truthfully, I enjoy taking time off, spending it at home and maybe getting a to-do project done. This may be unacceptable to some but I like to do it as there is little I have a burning desire to visit. My recent trip to Germany was partially happenstance. I would like to visit the United Kingdom, but not enough I pursued all my options. Three years ago, I did take the step of purchasing a passport so I had the option of leaving the United States without waiting for a passport to be printed. That came in handy planning the trip to Germany since my parents had to order their passport and waited over five months to get it with the backlog of many others needing to get it for travel to Canada and Mexico.

However, for those who want to get away, how can a vacation be made frugal? The first step involves planning. This planning portion includes saving the money for spending on the designated vacation, where to go, what sites to see and how to travel. Other than the trip to Germany, which I saved money each pay period to pay for my trip including airfare, hotel accommodations, fees, food and spending money, I had only one other vacation that required me to fly. I used the internet to find a good deal, visited a friend in Florida and stayed with her, saving on hotel costs, and asked to go to specific sights while in Florida. My budget was only $500, but I managed to keep it in that number with little difficulty.

Otherwise, my vacations were taken with my family and involved driving to local siteseeing spots. My dad was limited in the time and distance he could go for our vacations. He is a farmer and as such, is tied to the land. Our family vacations were never longer than a week, involved the entire family from when there were two children and up to five in one vehicle and meant a lot of planning. There was a camper early in the family vacation sagas, but later, my parents reserved a hotel room. And yes, two adults and five children slept in the same room during most vacations. Snacks were purchased prior to the trip, but Mom and Dad did take us children out to eat. It may have been McDonald's or Denny's but we ate as frugally as possible.

I know Mom and Dad also took a specific amount of cash along. Most sites did have entrance fees and I know the numbers multiplied by children could add up even with lower fees for children. I now appreciate learning about my state's history (and the sites in nearby states). I can talk to people about where I have been, but many residents have not even visited the sites of the Underground Railroad or villages of early settlers here in their home state. My family lives in the upper Midwest/Great Lakes area so we have even ventured into Canada on family vacation.

So what are the lessons my parents have for other families?
*Plan your route. My dad would examine maps for the routes between the sites my parents had chosen to visit. He would estimate time of arrival, make reservations for a budget motel for the night or nights we were staying in the area and bring the relevant maps and brochures along to ensure he drove us where we planning on going. Plus, he could plan for gas expenses with some idea of the miles being driven prior to taking the trip.
*Have a budget in mind and stick to it. My parents took a specific amount of cash along for most expenses. The credit card was only used for the accommodations. Saving a little bit each month for the family vacation makes that credit card bill less stressful since a balance is not carried nor is money taken from the emergency savings account.
*Take snacks and sandwiches along. Feeding a family is not cheap. Feeding a family on the road is downright expensive. Trips to the grocery store to get sandwiches, chips and soda, a rare treat in our family, serve as well as eating out at a family diner. Packing a family lunch or two in a cooler will also cut food costs.
*Have something for the kids to do in the car. I know my parents' temper flared more than once when we children fought during long car rides. My siblings and I were encouraged to bring toys, games, book or other items to keep us occupied. More than once, I brought a notebook to write in. Have only a few items per child or too much space is taken with toys rather than clothing or tolietries. You might consider a game of "I Spy" or counting blue cars or different state license plates, whatever is age appropriate, to help engage them.
*Enjoy your time. Vacations are meant to be relaxing, for getting away from the grind and maybe learning something new. Hopefully, you do not feel further stress at the end of the vacation. If you do, reevaluate the trip, see where things could be improved or where things went well. Use that new-found knowledge to plan for the next trip.

Happy vacationing!

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