For anyone who has followed the blog for any length of time, you know that it's clear that travel is a passion of mine. I love it because it's an opportunity to make memories away from the things that sometimes interrupt memory making at home. No work, no school... just you and your family.
Like many, I'm also very budget conscious. I often hear snickers when I say that because we make a yearly trip to Orlando. How could that be budget conscious? Because I pride myself on being a travel bargain hunter. I wanted to share some of my tips and tricks. Keep in mind, not all of these tips are ideal for everyone so you have to keep in mind what are your "must haves" when it comes to vacation planning.
Tip #1 - Gifting "experiences" instead of "things".
My husband and I decided a long time ago that we would stop giving each other "stuff". Now don't get me wrong, on occasion, we will purchase some small gifts, but we stopped saving up and buying multiple gifts at Christmas. We have carried on this tradition with our daughter. Although, full disclosure, we still buy her some gifts... more than we buy each other... but they are relatively small, and we usually try to stick to things she needs, like clothes or books, and a few small toys.
Instead of gifts, we use money that would have been spent on those things to set aside for our yearly vacation.
Tip #2 - We do sacrifice other "small vacations" for the sake of our one "big one".
Think of any time during the year you travel for the weekend, a few days, or even just a night. Think about how much you would spend on hotel and activities for those getaways. By us giving up a couple weekends away, we save hundreds of dollars!
Again, this is one of those tips that is not for everyone. It's not easy waiting all year for that one getaway, so it takes discipline. We make up for it by planning little "staycations". There are lots of things to do around your own city/town that you may not have thought of before. It's a great way to learn more about where you live.
Tip # 3 - We share accommodations.
We've traveled with family on each of our vacations to Florida. We rent a property through sites like AirBnB or VRBO and split the cost. One of the property's we've gone back to consistently has 4 bedrooms, a games room, 3D TV, video games, private pool, hot tub, and more, and we spend less than what we would have for a hotel room.
Just as an example, we traveled during March Break this year. Hotel rooms with with 2 Queen Size beds in a 3 to 4 star hotel were going for roughly $150/night. The 4 bedroom house we rented was $110 a night.
The other advantage to renting a property is having your own kitchen. I don't know about you, but as much as I like not being the one constantly cooking, I also get kind of tired of restaurants. It's nice to be able to prepare our own meals. Bonus - it's not frowned upon to eat in your bathing suit!
Tip #4 - We have a dedicated "vacation bank account".
I have a regular Canada Savings Bond withdrawal each paycheck that we use for our holiday. You could also set up a savings account for this purpose and have automatic withdrawals from your checking account that coincide with your pay days. If you haven't done this before, it's an adjustment. I recommend starting with a small withdrawal each paycheck and gradually increasing it. It's not as noticeable that way.
If that would be too disruptive to your current budget, there's another money saving option. A change jar. This requires discipline, also only works if you use cash - I rarely carry cash these days, so it likely wouldn't work for me. But, at the end of each day, you empty your change from your wallet/purse in to a change jar. Everything. Toonies, loonies, etc. If you pay for your coffee with a 5 each day, all that change can add up.
You can also try other cost cutting measures like making coffee at home instead of buying it and setting aside the money you would have spent on coffee.
It all adds up!
Tip #5 - Research, research, research.
For many people I have talked to, this can often be the least enjoyable tip I share. I search airline websites, Expedia, VRBO, Priceline and many other websites frequently. Several times a week. I keep an eye on trends, and I'm ready if a flash sale comes up, I'm ready to pounce. Prices can change daily, so it may sound like overkill, but sometimes it pays off.
For our most recent trip, I searched on a Monday morning at flights from our home airport in Saint John, New Brunswick to Orlando, and the flights were hovering around $600 round trip. Tuesday evening at 11 PM, I found flights for $369 round trip, taxes included. Amazing. You never know what you may find!
Some general tips - I have found the best dates to fly are Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The best prices I have found, I have found when searching on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday. It goes without saying that if you can travel outside of holidays, you will get a better deal. If you can leave a few days before and come back a few days after a holiday, that's one way to cut down on the price of a trip over the holidays (Christmas/March Break).
- For rental cars - if you are not travelling at a popular time (Christmas, Thanksgiving, March Break), I have found the best prices 2 to 4 weeks before your trip. As someone who plans in advance, this is a difficult wait, but it has paid off many times for me. Also, search out discount coupon codes. A simple google search will bring them up, but beware of the fine print. If you're using a code that requires you use a Visa, they can charge you a higher price at check-in if you decide to pay with a different card. Also make sure that the coupon is not for particular employers, unless you work there.
Tip #6 - Be as flexible as possible.
When I plan a trip, I have a general idea of when we want to plan, but I always make sure I'm flexible within a day or two for either side of my travel dates. That way, if we find a great deal that are different than our intended dates, we can make changes.
Even better, if you are flexible on a destination, you can sometimes get amazing last minute travel deals.
Tip #7 - Use your travel rewards wisely.
If you're like me and use travel rewards towards your trips, be sure to compare how many rewards points/miles you need to use for your "reward" versus how much you would pay cash. As an example, When we were considering whether to use our AIR MILES® towards a rental car or flights, it ended up that it would cost us 3 times as many miles to redeem for a rental car (we were travelling during a time of high demand) than one of our airline tickets, and if we were paying cash, they were roughly the same price.
Another tip - Flights leaving from Canada are expensive. You can get some amazing deals in the US. So we used our AIR MILES® to fly from our home airport to a US hub airport (Chicago O'Hare), and were able to get a flight from O'Hare to LAX for $49 Canadian, taxes included with United!
I also keep an eye on "bonus offers" to earn more AIR MILES®. I answer surveys, I go through airmilesshops.ca™ to purchase from websites I generally would shop from anyway, and I pay with my AIR MILES® card and pay it right off to earn miles on my regular purchases. Bonus offers exist for other travel rewards programs too, so be sure you're familiar with your program!