Living on a teacher’s budget, and going through medical school has made planning vacations pretty interesting. Needless to say, Andrew and I have yet to go on any extravagant get-aways, but we have tried to go on a trip every year and have gotten pretty good at keeping our spending in check when on the road. Admittedly, we are a pretty low key couple. We are pretty content spending our days going on walks, or hiking, and just being active outdoors. That means for the most part we spend very little on entertainment. Regardless, we have figured out a trick or two to keeping our spending in check. Here’s our game plan.
Consider renting a home instead of a hotel. We did this when we went to Colorado with my family and I have no doubt this is how we travel when we have kids of our own. The nightly price to rent a home can be a little more than a hotel off the bat, but you will save tons of money if you buy groceries and cook at home. When we went to Colorado, we ate out three times. Twice on the way there, and once on the way home. Otherwise we cooked at the house. Honestly, this was refreshing to us – we both love to eat out every now and then, but would much rather eat fresh food for the most part. The other major perk of renting a house is the ability to spread out. I cannot be the only one who starts feeling cramped around day 3 of vacation, granted my family vacations often involved 9 people so the odds were definitely not in our favor. I can confidently say though that things stayed pretty mellow and I truly think that was due to having personal space and freedom throughout the trip. Family time is awesome, but having some time to yourself has major benefits.
Go for a package deal. Last year we flew out to Philadelphia because I had to take the practical part of my boards there. We decided to take an extra few days to explore the city. I kept an eye on flights and when the price came down enough, we booked the hotel and airfare together. We saved almost a thousand dollars doing this alone. I booked this trip through Expedia. It does take some comparing to figure out who to book through, but this time Expedia worked out the best. Groupon is also a great site to look for package deals. We haven’t ever booked a trip through them, mostly because the trips often have limited days when you can travel and my schedule hasn’t allowed it. Now, you have to be careful, because sometimes hotels will offer three days for the price of two, flights will be cheaper booked directly through the airline, etc. It definitely takes some number crunching, but the work pays off (pun intended).
Check flight prices early and often. Our trip to Philly was in July and I started checking prices in November. I checked every Tuesday (long reported as the best day to purchase flights), and then on the weekends. Many places will tell you that the best time to buy tickets is 57 days out, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. We found cheap tickets at the end of February, about 200 dollar price cuts per ticket. If you think you’ve found a solid deal, pounce on it. It’s hard to predict how prices will change. Some flights will end up being super cheap at the last minute, but that’s not always the case and I’m not one to gamble.
Consider traveling in the off season. Traveling during Spring Break, Winter Break, etc. are always going to be more expensive. If you can offset the dates by even a little bit, it can make a big difference. A few years ago, we took a family trip to Miami and went on a cruise. We left the day after Christmas. If we had gone two days later the prices would have been significantly more expensive. If you have the flexibility, check out some different dates and see how the numbers change.
Figure out transportation. For the most part, we have done road trips, so we haven’t had to figure out transportation. However, when we went to Philadelphia, we used Uber and loved it. It was way cheaper than taking a taxi, and we weren’t comfortable driving through the city. If you are flying and are going to do a lot of driving, renting a car will probably pay off, but if you are just going to drive to and from the airport and then walk everywhere, using a cab, Uber, public transportation, etc. will be a better way to go.
Plan out your meals. Andrew and I are total dorks when it comes to this aspect of our vacation. Before we leave, we look up our vacation spot and research well-reviewed restaurants. We’ll plan where we are going to go each day. This helps us a lot because we can look for local deals, be well aware of the restaurant’s price point, and make sure we are eating somewhere we’ll like. Nothing is worse than blowing money at a place you weren’t happy with and having to spend more later because you’re still hungry.
Book a place with a fridge and bring food. Andrew and I generally limit ourselves to one meal out max per day. We always bring fruit, veggies, crackers, etc. so we have plenty of food to munch on throughout the day. We also look for a place with a continental breakfast or happy hour. Not eating out for 3 meals every day can save the two of us 50 dollars a day. That adds up fast!
Look for happy hour specials. Full disclosure, Andrew doesn’t drink at all, and I probably have two drinks a year, but I have looked at a drink menu, and drinks are expensive! A lot of restaurants will advertise their drink specials online. Eating and drinking a little earlier can be a lot easier on your wallet.
Look for coupons for entertainment. Sites like Groupon and Living Social advertise local deals. Not only is this a great way to figure out things to do in the area, but you can save money on things you wanted to do anyway.
Hope this gives you guys some new ideas! If you have any ways that you curb costs on a regular basis, leave a comment! I’d love to know about it!
XOXO – Emmy Lou Lou