Trim your food expenses. Food is often the most expensive part of a vacation, and perhaps the one you plan for the least. You go from eating at home most days to eating out for every meal, and that can add up considerably. There are a few steps to take to trim food expenses on the road.
- Think of food when picking a place to stay. If possible, book a hotel with a kitchen so you can cook a few meals or pack lunches. It may not be possible or desirable to hoof it back to the hotel every time you get hungry, but if nothing else, eat a large breakfast and bring a couple snacks to get through the day. If you do get hungry (and I realize that many people may get hungrier than me) grab some street food or an appetizer to hold you until dinner. If you find an affordable Bed and Breakfast--take it! Unless you think B&Bs are gross and cutesy (and they can be, but not all are), take advantage of that breakfast. I've stayed at B&Bs in the UK that offered a huge, delicious breakfast that left me stuffed for the rest of the day, for the same price as I would have paid for a regular hotel. Plus B&Bs are cozier.
- Shift you meals. Instead of eating three meals a day and spending so much time of your vacation sitting at a table, eat two larger meals and skip lunch. As I mentioned above, you can make a large breakfast in your room, and bring a few granola bars or other snacks along. Depending upon how early you had breakfast, you might even opt for an early dinner and cash in on a deal that way.
Save upfront. Depending upon where you want to go, you have a number of options for whittling down the cost of travel itself.
- Travel in the off season. Cruise vacations peak from January-March, but it's just as nice to get away in April. You can often book airfare and the cruise itself for considerably less because they just want to fill the boat. Likewise European travel peaks in August, but if you go over in May or June, it's still quite lovely, cheaper and less congested. Be mindful though when booking a Caribbean getaway that often it's cheap because it's hurricane season--do a little research first.
- Consider a stay-cation or a mini break. There are tons of destinations within driving distance of my city, and I don't get large chunks of time off work since I work part-time. I manage to sate my wanderlust by taking short daytrips or overnight stays. This past weekend, we went to the Berkshires, stayed with BF's aunt and uncle and visited one art museum and two author homes. It was a fantastic time, and the biggest expense was gas. Even if we had gone and stayed at a hotel, it would have been very reasonable because we only stayed over one night. When traveling locally also try to find some local deals before you set out. I mentioned before that my area has museum passes that offer free or discounted admission when checked out (for free!) from the library.
- Don't neglect your National Parks. I am a huge National Parks nerd, it's true, but they are "America's Best Idea" for a reason. What's better than natural, unspoiled beauty that you can enjoy for practically nothing? I've never met a park ranger who wasn't eager to answer all my questions (no matter how inane) and tell me things I never would have thought of. I'm not a nature girl by any stretch, but I intend to visit every national park before I die. With 58 parks in the US, there's no excuse for not trying it out--you'll be surprised what you might find.
- Don't forget about your house. Unless you have someone staying at your house while you're away, turn off your water, turn down your water heater and make sure everything is sealed up. A unexpected rainstorm while you're gone can destroy house and possessions, and why pay to heat water you're not using? The savings may seem negligible if you're not gone very long, but savings are savings.
Skip the souvenirs. Souvenirs, chotchkes, gee-gaws what have you--they're almost always overpriced and poorly-made. I like rooting through a gift shop as much as the next person, but I very rarely buy anything because I've learned over the years that it's fun in the moment, and two years later, I don't really care. If you collect a certain item, that's one thing, but if you're just buying something to have a memento--take more pictures instead. My one big souvenir is I like to get a pressed penny. For $.51 I can get a shiny penny imprinted with a logo from where I'm visiting. It's cheap, it's small and it reminds me of my visit.
If you feel like you have to get a souvenir for every relative and friend--reconsider. I'm not saying that to be a jerk, but buying souvenirs for adult friends and family seems silly. They weren't there, so the souvenir is less special in that regard; and I've had friends who have spent entire vacations agonizing about what to get for other people rather than just enjoying the trip. Your friends will understand.