Ah, it’s about to be vacation season.  I’ve got four camping trips planned from now until December, and I’m waffling back and forth on what I want to do for my actual VACATION vacation (requirement: must include scuba diving, snorkeling, and awesome photo opportunities).  This year, I’ve already been on a cruise to the Carribean with my folks, spent a week in the woods, plus a five day trip to do IM Texas in April.  I have the wanderlust and I have it bad.

The company isn’t quite so colorful at home.

I drop probably more than my share of income on it, but I also buy all my clothes from a thrift store and hang onto things until they are so worn out they’re not useful.  It’s one of my priorities.  I don’t remember most of the crap I’ve bought in the last 10 years, but I have vivid memories of my vacations.  I can be underwater with pretty fishies in blue water, which is not something I can do at home.  I can completely relax and let go, which is hard to do at home with one more chore or to do and the internet and the television all handily accessible.

I’ve made the mistake of thinking everyone is like me, but I know differently now.  I know some people who go five or even ten years without taking a vacation.  I’ve heard tell of people, ADULT people, who have never left their hometown.  I’ve also known a lot of people who only vacation to visit family or friends.  While that’s a wonderful thing, I love family and friends, and for those of you that aren’t (or have a spouse that’s) allergic to anything with fur, it can be a much cheaper option to get out of town for a bit.

However, you can miss out on some of the things that make a vacation a vacation.  You can’t completely let go and unwind when you’re staying in someone else’s guest room that’s going about their daily lives.  Also, unless your family is in Hawaii or Iceland, or somewhere else that you’d actually WANT to vacation, it’s really a visit.  Which is cool.  But it’s not a vacation.

What, your first idea for an excursion in Alaska in September ISN’T snorkeling?

How many new experiences would I have missed out on?  If I didn’t travel, I would have never been motivated to learn to scuba dive, which is now at least my third favorite hobby and one of the motivating factors on where I choose to roam.  I would have never climbed to see one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen, Hanging Lake, or ran up a mountain in Juneau.  I wouldn’t have scaled the Colorado National Monument or up the Klondike Highway in Skagway (ok, partway…) on bikes.  I wouldn’t have snorkeled in Hawaii, Alaska, or any damn where you put an ocean or even a mildly pretty lake.

I love food and drink.  If I didn’t travel, I would have never had a REAL Belizian meat pie.  I would not have a sick obsession with Publix subs.  I would have never eaten Nepalese food in a little town in Colorado.  I would have never known the joy that is bean, bacon, and cheese breakfast tacos cooked over an open camp fire in the morning.  I wouldn’t have sat in a swim up bar in Jamaica drinking boozy banana drinks. I would have never had an (in)famous hand grenade in New Orleans and I would never have tried the fast food restaurant Krystal after having a few too many of them.

This is the stuff of dreams right here.

“Hey,” you say, “I get it, I want to travel!  But money’s tight, y’know?”

I got you.  If there’s a will, there’s a way.  Here’s ten tips to make travel more affordable/better so you can get the heck out of town and still have enough money to enjoy yourself.

1. Plan your trip when the air fare is cheaper. I am notorious for taking my vacations in early December because travel prices are at rock bottom.  We usually cruise in early March before spring break or on mother’s day weekend because it’s affordable.  Generally, if there’s a big holiday/event coming up, 2-3 weeks BEFORE and AFTER is the best time to travel.  Are the kids in school? Probably cheaper than spring/summer/winter break.  For those of you that have kids: I know my parents busted me out of school for vacations.  You’ll travel cheaper AND you’ll be your kid’s hero.

2. If you have set dates, consider being flexible with your destination.  For example, I knew I wanted to take a vacation for a specific week in December out of Florida.  Instead of doing a Key Largo trip (over 1000$ just for the condo), we took a cruise instead (less than 1000$ for both lodging and food and entertainment).

Condos are awesome because you have extra space and you can also make homemade meals from local food that look like this…

3. Consider staying at a condo/house rental vs a hotel.  Typically for the same prices as just a single room or maybe a little bit more, you can get a full kitchen, living room, patio, seperate bedroom (or two), a washing machine, and sometimes other cool amenities like a grill, a bike to ride, or even toys/games/dvds.  Besides being awesome for comfortability reasons, the grill/kitchen means you can cut down on food expenses.  While I love experiencing the food a location has to offer, I’d rather just have an easy breakfast and sometimes lunches I make at home.  And there’s nothing better than grilling some fish on the patio of your condo (that you biked a mile up the road to purchase from a fish market on the water)!  Some of my most memorable Key Largo meals were cooked that way.

4. Some things pay to book in advance, some are left best to the last minute.  For example, if you want to do a cruise excursion with the ship, book it ahead of time and it will cost less.  But, for the cheapest option, show up on the docks with cash and haggle.  It works the same way for vacations – usually planning ahead will save you money, but if you can be impulsive and flexible, you can get some super great last minute deals (for example, a 10 day South American cruise for 299$ per person is happening right now 😛 – and yes, that is room AND food for 10 days…).

8 days in Bonaire, because we were flexible about the time of year and the days we traveled, ended up being less expensive than two long weekend getaways somewhere in the states.

5. Taking your vacation in larger chunks will save you money.  If you take one two week vacation, vs four long weekends, you’re saving 3 round trip flights (or you can go somewhere four times as cool!).  Booking a condo for a month is sometimes just a little more expensive than a week.  If you have the flexibility, go long!

6. A lot of times, the direct flight option, if there is one, is the cheapest (plus you get there quicker, so its a win win).  Always search for the direct flights and then compare it to the cheapest (and see if it’s not worth spending a few extra dollars to take it to actually be on vacation a little longer).

And being here longer is typically better.

7. Consider the RELATIVE cost.  A cheaper flight leaving a day before means another night at a hotel.  A more expensive hotel room in the city may mean you can use public transport and save on a rental car.  A more expensive hotel room with a free breakfast means less meals out.

8.  A great way to “sample” a new area is to combine 2-4 seperate destinations that are nearby.  Cruises are great because you spend about 8 hours in each port.  Some, you don’t care to return to (Grenada).  Some, you fall in love with and spend a week there (Bonaire).  You can do this on land by hitting up a few different towns in the same region.  For example, we did a weekend in Portland, took a bus and spent a few days on the Oregon Coast, and a quick cheap plane flight took us to the Bay Area before we headed home. It would have been WAY more expensive to do these as three separate trips.

I got to wear a jacket in July and kiss crabs.  The Oregon Coast was surreal!

9.  Leave and come back on Saturday if that’s an option.  It’s usually one of the cheaper days to fly, PLUS you get a full day off to decompress and unpack (if you work a typical schedule).  Tuesday and Wednesday are generally the absolute cheapest but that means you have to split up a week off which can feel like you get less time off.

10. Super broke but still want to get away?  Go camping!  A weekend pass to a campsite is about 30 bucks (for improved camping with power and water).  Even if you have zero gear, you can rent a tent from REI for 40 bucks (or buy a super cheap one but I DO NOT RECOMMEND that – rent or buy a good one, but I covered that here), an air matress is 20 bucks, stuff to light a fire is 10 bucks, and from there, all you need is hot dogs, makings for smores, and a case of cheap beer and you’re set!

Not a bad view from your patio for 20$ a night, hmmm?

It’s easy to talk yourself out of taking a vacation.  The actual TRAVEL part of traveling is a hassle.  Then there’s packing, getting everything everything at home and work taken care of while you’re away… and it costs money, no matter HOW great of a deal you get.  I promise, it’s worth it.  Go forth and vacation (cheaply)!

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