Travelling on a Budget Series - Part 1 - Accomodations

My family and I have been fortunate to be able to travel regularly.  I often get asked about how we can afford to travel.  I'm going to share my money saving tips to help you reach your travel goals.  I have a lot of information to share so this will be a series of posts.  In this, part 1, I will be sharing my tips specific to accommodations - I will follow up with tips on flights, eating on vacation, activities/entertainment, and rental cars.

Before a continue, a little disclaimer - It's important to have an in depth understanding of your own budget.  It's important not to travel "beyond your means".  So that being said - Understand that in addition to my regular full-time job, I have taken part-time jobs in the past (fitness instructor, paid contributor to blogs, etc) to help us save for vacation.  I am not a financial adviser or any kind of financial professional, but my best recommendation is to go through a budgeting exercise first, before you start planning for vacation.  We revisit our budget every year (sometimes more frequently, especially if circumstances change). 

Now, with all of the above in mind, I will share some general tips for saving money on vacation.  These tips are not specific to any particular location, so I hope they will help you in your planning.

Accommodations

When my husband and I were dating, most of our vacations involved hotels, with the occasional camping trip.  This was often the most expensive part of our vacations.  Over the years I've identified a few ways to save money in this area.  Not all of these options will be ideal for everyone, so be sure you consider all your needs before booking:


  • Hotel Reward Programs - Most major chains offer "rewards programs" of some kind.  These programs are typically available from the chain's website.  Some examples include Marriott Rewards, Best Western Rewards, IHG Rewards, etc.  

    • Not all rewards programs are created equal, so be sure to review the terms and conditions of each.  Often the "down side" to these rewards programs is that you do have to share your personal information - this information varies.  Some programs simply need your name and email address - others require mailing address or even your credit card number.  
    • When you provide your contact information, it typically means that the hotel will email you with offers and "program updates".  I've actually found out about some special offers through these emails, so they can be useful, but I know not everyone likes those emails.
    • The benefits range from program to program.  Some chains offer a "member's discount", some have you accumulate points to eventually earn free points or other benefits (free upgrades, discounts on room service, etc).
    • There are similar programs offered through "discount travel" websites like Expedia, Hotels.com and others.
    • A few tips on what to look for in a rewards program:
      • Do they have properties in the areas you typically look to travel?
      • Are they asking you to disclose personal information beyond what you feel comfortable providing?
      • Are the discounts they are offering to members better than discounts you may obtain through other means (if you have a discount through your employer, if you are a Air Miles/Aeroplan or other points program that offers discounts on hotels, or discounts offered through organization or credit card memberships)?
      • If they are awarding you points per stay - are the points you earn awarded in a way that benefits you more than another program/site would offer if you didn't book through your member account?  People usually ask me what I mean by this - Here is a hypothetical example:
        • You book a night through your membership you have through a particular hotel chain - you earn 1 point for every $50 you spend on your stay.  The room is $100 per night.  The points can be redeemed for a free night's stay - but you need 10,0000 points for a free night stay.  If you booked through a your frequent flyer program, you would earn 50 miles per stay, miles can be redeemed for hotel stays, airfare, car rentals, goods and/or services.  For a hotel stay, you roughly need 2,000 points for one night.  In this example, the frequent flyer program is a better value.
    • Something else to keep in mind with hotels - watch for whether you need to pay for parking and whether there are additional fees (resort fees or added fees to use on-site facilities like "water parks").
    • READ REVIEWS - I cannot stress this enough.  A deal is only a deal if you stay somewhere you enjoy.  If there are negative reviews - that's not always a "deal breaker".  Review the negative reviews to see what the complaints are about.  If the complaints are about lack of parking, noise, or (worse yet) bugs or mold... RED FLAG!  But if the complaints are because it took 20 minutes for room service to arrive, or that someone didn't like the pay per view movies that were available - decide if that's important to you or not.
  • Airbnb, VRBO or other rental property - This is one of my favourite accommodation options.  This is a particularly attractive option if you are travelling with a group that would typically require more than one hotel room - you can usually get a condo/apartment/house with multiple bedrooms for much less than paying for multiple hotel rooms.  I also love having your own kitchen.

    • While I say this is my favourite option - it's not for everyone.  You don't typically get things like housekeeping, parking sometimes isn't included (depending on where you are staying), and there may not be facilities like a gym or pool.
    • Once again - I will emphasize - read reviews.  Similar to above, evaluate whether the complaints are about things that are important to you.
    • With these sites in particular - you can usually get pretty great deals on "newly listed" properties.  But a word of caution - if there are no reviews, it means you are the "guinea pig" for the property.  It's a big risk.  You can check out the property owner's profile to see if they have other properties listed and what the reviews are on those properties as a guide, but again, no guarantee.
  • Camping/RV - This option is very often (although not always) cheaper than the above options.  As a general guide - tent sites are cheaper than RV sites, and are frequently more available (we've often been able to get tent sites pretty last minute - depending on the campground).  

    • RVs do offer some additional warmth/protection from weather and dampness - so tenting may not always be appropriate.
    • Again, read reviews about the campgrounds - we had one experience where we tented at a campground that was very swampy - we didn't read reviews beforehand.
    • There are "serviced and unserviced" sites - the serviced sites usually have better access to things like water and electricity.  Some campground even offer "overflow" tenting - which are even cheaper, however, it usually means a longer walk to bathroom facilities.
    • If there is a campground map available, it's a good idea to refer to it when booking a site.
    • Note that Parks Canada campsites often require that you pay for your campsite as well as park admission, so something you need to consider when booking.  I will say, however, that Parks Canada campsites that we have stayed at are often very well maintained, and they offer programming in the park (campfires, plays, guided hikes, etc).... so you do get value for paying park admission.
    • You can also book campsites or "Glamping" properties through Airbnb.  Note - for those who don't know - "Glamping" is often a fancy tent with a "real bed" or larger than usual - a great option for those that want to "tent" without the "hassle" of setting up the tent, and enjoy comfier accommodations than the typical air mattress and sleeping bag.
  • Timeshare/Resort Certificates - I will start by saying, I don't actually own a timeshare but I have attended a timeshare presentation.  There are benefits - but again, they are not a great option for everyone.  We don't travel enough to make the commitment worth it for us, but it may be worth it for you.  With timeshares in particular, you can sometimes receive a benefit before signing on - such as a discounted stay or "free" tickets for parks or other entertainment, but in exchange for the discount or free items, you have to sit through a presentation on the timeshare, and a meeting with a salesperson.  These can often (but not always) be high pressure meetings.  The timeshares involve a commitment of regular payments for a fixed amount of time.  It can frequently be cheaper than owning a vacation property, but you need to weigh whether it's worth it for you and your family.  And if you're "only" attending to get the free items or discounts they are offering, consider the value of your time, as some of these presentations can be very lengthy.
    • Some timeshares offer a discounted stay at their property for you to "try it out".  I have done this before.  Some require you attend a timeshare presentation, and some don't.  If you don't have to commit to a presentation, these can be a great way to get inexpensive accommodations.  
    • With these certificates/timeshares - be absolutely clear as to what is required of you.  Remember the old saying "nothing in life is free".  You don't want to lock yourself in to something you don't want.

Those are some of my accommodation tips - I, personally, have had some of my best deals through Airbnb/rental properties - but again, it depends what you are looking for.

Interested in trying Airbnb?  Check it out through my referral link here: 

Want to hear more about any of the above accommodation options?  I'm happy to share specific posts about some of my stays at each of the above options.  Let me know in the comments or connect with me on social media!

And stay tuned for Part 2 of this series!!


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