Guest post from Sarah Robinson
With the rising cost of gas, it is getting harder and harder to get very far away from home for a vacation. Our family likes to have a get-away at least one week each year. It really recharges your battery and makes life seem a bit simpler.
Now that we are a large family, with 6 kids in tow, it has become even more important that we cut corners so that we can still take these trips. Last year, we traveled from Kansas to Washington, DC after a short 2 day stop in the Smokey Mountains.
How exactly do you save money on vacation? Isn’t vacation all about spending money? Here’s some of the ways that we do it.
- Go Camping – One year we bought a pop up camper on Ebay for a really, really cheap price. We decided to go to Michigan to pick it up and that became our vacation that year. Typically, you will need to stay in a State Park or a National Park in order to save the most money. We stayed in a National Park while visiting DC and paid only $16 per night to stay there. Other local campgrounds were going to charge $40-$70 per night.
- Hotels – If you have to stay in a hotel, try naming your own price on Priceline. Or compare prices online using services such as Travelocity, Priceline or Hotwire. While in Nashville, we were able to stay at a 3.5 star hotel for $40 per night. I’m not saying that is always possible, but it’s so nice when that happens! Keep in mind, the 2 star hotels tend to offer free contintental breakfasts while the 3 star + hotels don’t.
- Timeshares – If you have a family member or friend with access to a timeshare, call them and see if they would like to sell you some of their time. We have vacationed in luxurious accommodations by doing this.
- Timeshare Presentations – If you have the time and you’re in a tourist type area, like Branson, MO, sign up to view a timeshare presentation. We have earned $100 by attending one which went a long way in our vacation budget. Don’t let them pressure you into buying unless you’re truly interested. Do your research before you go, so you know just exactly how much you can get a timeshare package for 2nd hand. They sell for cheap on Ebay all the time!
- Cook for yourself – This is easiest if you happen to have a fully equipped kitchen, but it’s still possible to cook for yourself even from a hotel room. Plan to bring a slow cooker and/or an electric skillet along with you. If you need ideas for some super easy meals to cook, check out my Freezer to Slow Cooker section on my personal blog.
- One Dollar Menus – Obviously we can’t live from the dollar menus the whole vacation, but if you know you don’t want to cook, be aware of who has the dollar menus (McDonald’s, Wendy’s, etc.) and how you can get enough and not spend an arm and a leg. Our family can get by with each person getting 2 items off of the dollar menu and then supplementing with fruit that we keep on hand throughout the day.
- Kids Eat Free Restaurants – Before you leave, do your research of which restaurants have the kids eat free specials. I will make a list of what each restaurant offers on which day before we go, so I know what our options are. I usually do a google search for (Kids Eat Free “name of city, state”)
- Coupons – There are many, many restaurants who give you coupons for registering with them on their sites. They will also send you coupons for your birthdays or anniversaries. Figure out which restaurants are in the area that you plan to visit and sign up with them at least 3-7 days before you leave. Give them time to get an emailed coupon to you (but not too much time because they also expire somewhat quickly). Then, print your coupons before you leave and keep them available in times that you are ready to eat out! This works especially well for the nicer restaurants.
- Entertainment Book – This only works if you’re going to be near a big city, but if you purchase that city’s entertainment book, you can save all kinds of money on dining. A lot of the coupons are Buy One Get One Free or Buy One Get One Half Off on any adult entree. They also have money saving coupons for lodging and attractions as well. It’s usually well worth the money spent on it.
- Museums – Sometimes museums have certain days that they allow you to go for free. If you’re a large family, you could possibly qualify for a group rate. If you’re a homeschooler, they may allow you to sign up as a field trip. Think outside the box a little.
- Zoos – Sometimes if you buy a zoo membership, they will allow you to go to other museums and attractions for free. Check into what benefits come with that zoo membership and how that will benefit you. Sometimes this works for museums, too.
- Find the Free Things to Do – Every area has something for free to do. You can walk nature trails and climb mountains in the Smokey Mountains or visit an old Fort in downtown Nashville. Almost all of the museums in Washington, DC are free to go to. There’s a fun nature center to go to in Springield, MO. Do a Google search to see what people can do for free in your vacation spot. You’d be amazed at what you find. Tailor your trip around these things. (If you’re planning to travel to the Springfield/Branson area, check out this post for 9 things you can do).
- Buy a Season Pass to a theme park – We live close enough to Branson, MO where we alternate years of going there instead of the farther away places. When we know we’re going to be in Branson several times in a year, we’ll buy Silver Dollar City passes and make our vacation all about going there. If you plan to go more than one day, it is well worth the cost. It’s so nice to know you don’t have to stay all day and be exhausted by the end of the day. When you have a pass, you can come and go any time you please.
- Coupons – Check websites of the attractions you’re interested in and see if they have any coupons you can print to save some money. Do a search for those places online to see if anywhere else has coupons for it, too.
- Ball Games – Check Craigslist or Ebay for cheap tickets. Check the team’s website to see if they have any promotions going on during the time you will be able to attend. Sometimes, they’ll be giving away free t-shirts or memorabilia if you choose the right day to go. For instance, we went to a Kansas City Royals game and found out that they offer 1/2 price tickets to all veterans of which we qualified for!
I bet you didn’t think I could tell you how to save money on gas, did you? It’s hard to get around the amount that you’re going to consume, but there’s some ways to save a little.
- Check Gas Prices – Some states have cheaper gas than others. For instance, Kansas taxes gasoline at a higher rate than Oklahoma does, so we always fill up when we’re in Oklahoma. Never fill up in downtown areas, they’re always out of sight!
- Tune up your car – Be sure that your car is ready for a long trip. Make sure the oil and air filter are changed for best fuel efficiency.
- Slow Down – I know it’s easy to go really fast so you can get there already, but if you’re not flying along at 80 mph, it’ll be cheaper. Speeds between 30 and 60 have been known to be the most cost effective so long as you’re keeping a steady, even speed.
- Use Cruise Control – This will help to keep your speed even, so you’re not speeding up and having to use that gas pedal a lot. The more you use your gas pedal, the more gas you’ll consume.
Do you plan to take a vacation this year? How do YOU save money on your trips?
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