How We Can Afford Multiple Vacations Every Year
We all know that frequent traveler Facebook friend, the one that goes on vacations every three weeks. You may sit and stare at the screen full of jealousy and wonder how they can afford multiple vacations back to back. At least in the case of my friends list, this requires amassing credit card debt and/or dating/marrying rich. While we have yet to reach a six-figure combined income and we proudly admit we don’t carry balances on our credit cards, we still manage a few trips each year (five in 2015), and I’m going to let you in on our secrets.
Make travel a priority both financially and with scheduling time into your life. As of now our two main financial goals are to pay down student and car debt and to travel. We do not jointly save for travel, we do so out of our own individual accounts, I plan to set aside $250 every month for travel. I seem to not have an issue leaving that money alone while in the same account as my spending money. I tend to have the opposite problem and use my “spending money” on extras for traveling. Just what I specifically set aside for travel adds up to $3000 each year. If that is not doable for where you are, that is totally ok. Just figure out what you are comfortable doing and stick with it. Mr. LLB has airline rewards in addition to his savings. We plan our trips really far in advance, not necessarily the specifics but we pick the location and general time frame we plan to visit. His work schedule complicates things a little bit, but it usually just requires some extra advance planning on our part.
We choose a general time that we plan to visit and try to be as flexible as possible. This doesn’t always work when you go into a city for an event, prices are higher and your dates aren’t flexible if that is the whole reason for your trip. We recently saved over $1000 by going to Disney World one day sooner. Be flexible with your dates but also types of transportation and your must have amenities. Taking an indirect flight can save hundreds, or look into bus or train options. One amenity I personally do not like to skip is the continental breakfast, but if the price difference is more than $20 a night for a comparable hotel, it is more cost-effective for us to stay at a hotel that leaves you on your own in the morning. Always be sure to compare prices to determine the best bang for your buck.
Plan ahead and do your research
Our next big trip is Las Vegas. We are both Vegas newbies, but we have been looking for ways to save money on a Vegas trip. Luckily, Vegas can be done fairly cheap. We can find flights for a couple hundred bucks, hotels for about $100 per night right on the strip and plenty of free activities. Not to mention tips we have been given on how to get discounted show tickets, bundling attractions tickets, and free drinks while gambling. Every city has free things to do. Reducing the number of meals that you eat out can save major cash. Find a local grocery store and get food that you can keep in your hotel room for breakfast and lunch so you only have to pay for dinner. If your hotel room or lobby has a kitchenette, then maybe even a few dinners too. This strategy also applies to alcohol, buy some at a nearby liquor store and drink in the room before you go out. It will be just like college all over again.
Use your resources
Last year we visited Chicago and went camping for super cheap, because we stayed with people that we know. Reach out to people you know that may have moved away, tell them you are thinking of visiting and many times they will offer a couch to sleep on, potentially allowing you to return the favor at some point. (PSA: Don’t be “that guy,” make sure you pass it on.) For our camping trip we packed all of our food so the only “extra” cost was gas money. Its only about 2 hours from where we live, so even that was a minor expense. Chicago was a little more expensive, that city knows how to eat well! If you don’t look at how much we spent on hitting all of our favorite spots and how much we spent at the bars, we maybe spent about $150 for the two of us for a three day weekend of events and sight-seeing. I also took a girls weekend trip that totaled about $50 per person (before alcohol and food). We took a trip with his extended family and got a group rate $70 per person for the weekend which even included all of the meals for the whole weekend. That adds up to less than $400 for four trips. All of these trips were less than a five hour drive from our house. Don’t discount nearby places, they can still be amazing getaways without getting too far away. (Full disclosure: Disney World ate up the rest of the travel budget, but you’ll have that.)
Enroll in rewards programs
There are rewards programs everywhere for everything. We flew Southwest Airlines to Disney World and when we got home we had an offer that would have given us more than 50,000 rewards points. However, we ultimately decided this was not for us. It is quite the deal for anyone that wants to travel often on Southwest Airlines. We already participate in another airline’s program and unfortunately Southwest doesn’t fly out of the nearest airport. I have an account with Hotels.com, when you sign up and book ten nights through their website, you get a night free. There are people that fully fund their travels with these programs. Anyone can do it, but be careful anytime you have to use a credit card to rack up points. As a matter of fact, we are attempting our first travel hack with our Vegas trip. Stay tuned for a post on how that turns out. Many vacation destinations have their own programs, like DVC for Disney. If you religiously go to Disney every year, you should look into it. If not you will need to make a judgement call if it is right for you and your family. I am a AAA member and that membership gets discounts on a variety of things, including travel. There is usually an even deeper discount on hotel rooms when you pay in full at the time of booking.
I hope this list helps you to be able to travel as much as you would like, or at least gets you closer to your goal. What other tips do you have for budget travelers? Are there any other rewards programs or ways to save money that can be used regardless of the destination? How do you afford multiple vacations in a short time frame?