3 Ways to Save on Your Next Summer Vacation

The kids are now out of school and you plan to take the family out for a summer vacation, along with peak prices on airfare, gas, and lodging.  Save a little extra spending money by following a few ways to save on your summer vacation.

Stay Within a Tank of Gas

Just because it is summer and you want to travel does not mean you need to get on a plane or drive halfway across the country.  Instead, stay within a few hours of home.  Visit the other side of the state, an amusement park, major city, or camping, and it will still feel like you are on vacation.  If you think about your home state, I bet there are family friendly tourist areas that you have not even visited yet, probably some major cities, or pack up the car and head camping at a lake you have always wanted to take the family to.

Vacation Does Not Mean Always Eating Out

Whether you are staying in a hotel room, tent, or a rented house, does not mean that you have to eat every meal out.  Even if you plan on going out to dinner each time at least take a trip to the local grocery store and plan for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and drinks to cover your trip.  The amount of money you will save on buying even snacks and drinks will add up to huge savings.  If there is a BBQ on site, take advantage of the nice weather and everything tastes better off the grill.

Late Summer Getaways

If you have tried to book a hotel or rental property on a lake this summer in the months of June, July, or even August, you probably have noticed you are out of luck.  During those peak travel months the kids are finally out of school and the entire family packs up to head out of town.  Even if you could book during this time, the prices would be outrageous, as property owners know that people will pay during this time.  To benefit for having places available and at lower prices, look at end of August, September, or even early October.  The weather will still be warm and the extra money you will save can go towards dining and entertainment, and the kids could be happy to miss a day or two of school.

Vacation Spending: My 2 Weeks in New England and Mexico

2-weeks-vacationI’m happy to be back again after some more great travels! While this was a nice 2-week break, it was really more of a relaxing trip versus a sightseeing adventure like my trip to Spain earlier this year. Here’s how I kept spending down to a comfortable level while still enjoying awesome food and visiting great locations.

 

Week 1: Camping in New Hampshire and Maine for 6 days

Campsites

NH = $20.50

Maine = $28.00

Wood = $15.50

Transportation

Gas = $49.26

Activities

Lighthouse visit = $3.00

Meals

Food and drink = $54.39

Groceries = $13.40

Other = $24.00

Total = $208.05  or $41.61 per night

Favorite memories and experiences from Week 1:

1) This was probably the worst part of the trip, but it rained for about 30 hours straight while we were camping. Needless to say, we were soaked on the 2nd night and never dried out after that.

2) We got to have some great craft beers and visit a couple breweries, too, which is always a highlight for me.

3) Camping rocks! I love being outdoors, and it’s a bargain to tent camp at most places. We cooked over the fire a couple of times, too, which always makes it more fun.

What I would change from Week 1:

1) We probably went a bit crazy eating out at places that weren’t really worth their cost. Some of the spots we visited charge a premium due to their popularity with tourists, so we paid the price for that.

Week 2: Cancun, Mexico for 6 days

Lodging

Condo rental = $120.00

Flight =$441.35

Ground transportation

Buses and Cabs = $44.00

Car rental = $28.00

Activities

Snorkeling = $30.00

Ruins (Chichen Itza) = $12.00

Meals

Food and drink (groceries) = $61.00

Eating out and drinks = $119.84

Total = $856.24 or $142.72 per night

Favorite memories and experiences for Week 2:

1) We accidentally stayed in the wrong condo for the first night! It’s a long story, but, due to an email mix-up, we spent the first 24 hours hanging out in someone’s condo that we weren’t supposed to be in! Oops!

2) The pool for our condo was literally ON the beach, and we had it all to ourselves the whole week!

3) The food was awesome and it was really cheap, too! We spent an average of around $13 a meal, and that included one drink and tip! We definitely didn’t go to any of the lame, touristy places and I’m really glad we didn’t. Luckily we were about 30 minutes south of Cancun, so where we were was a much less popular area that gave us a more authentic experience.

4) The airfare was almost half of the cost of the entire trip, making the rest of it pretty cheap.

5) I got to hang out with 5 awesome friends AND it saved a ton of money because we shared one condo. While the condo wasn’t ideal for 6 people, I definitely didn’t mind sharing the little space we had.

What I would change for Week 2:

1) That $441 flight was expensive! I think we should’ve booked earlier than we did, especially knowing so far in advance we were going on this trip. I know this isn’t breaking news or anything, but I’ll definitely be more mindful of it in the future.

2) We thought we would save money by renting a car to visit Chichen Itza for a day, but I don’t think we actually saved much and it ended up being a much bigger headache than taking a tour bus!

3) It is a little touristy in general in Mexico. It wasn’t my ideal trip for sightseeing, but it was great to relax nonetheless (and we did well avoiding getting ripped off).

Summary

Overall, it was a pretty damn awesome 2 weeks of vacation! While I’m sure it’s not the cheapest vacation I could envision, I think it was a great value as I only spent just over $1,000 total on destinations, a huge chunk of which was the $450 in airfare. Overall, including days off where I was back home or with family, I spent less than $100 a day. In all I’m really glad I got to take the time off while switching positions between my jobs, as I probably won’t have this long of a period off again until Summer 2012.

How I’ve Been Ripped Off While Traveling and What I Do to Avoid It

rip-off-travelingWhile traveling to other countries (which is what I’m doing while writing this post), I (and other travelers, I’m sure) constantly have to deal with paying for things in different ways than in the U.S. This makes me uncomfortable since I’m not always familiar with the going rates and customs of where I’m visiting. I always wonder: Is tipping customary at restaurants? Or is it included in the service? How much should a taxi ride from the airport to my hotel cost? Is it a flat rate? Or should the driver run the meter? These are the types of money things that I think about a lot when traveling.

Unfortunately, I don’t always spend the time to research the locales (I didn’t do anything for this trip to Cancun), so I’m sometimes unsure if I’m “doing it right.” However, after this trip, I’m confident that it pays to be prepared from now on.

A few bad experiences

Although my travels haven’t been that extensive yet, there are a few bad experiences that come to mind.

The first happened when I arrived back into port in Athens after a trip out the the Greek Isles. We were ambushed by cab drivers upon our midnight arrival. Taxis drivers were demanding all sorts of crazy rates, like 50 Euro for a 10 minute ride. Luckily, my sister, who was traveling with me, was onto their game. We walked out of the port area and grabbed a taxi elsewhere, which ended up costing closer to 10 Euro.

A similar situation happened when we got to the Cancun airport on this trip. Once we stepped out onto the sidewalk, we were swarmed by people selling rides on buses, cabs, and vans. The airport officials must know they’re ruthless, since there were barriers set up that these travel salesmen were required to stay behind. One guy even tried to sell us tickets on the local bus for 3 times the amount they actually cost! After both of these experiences, I have little trust in taxi drivers and others looking to take advantage of foreigners.

I’ve had issues with restaurants, too. My travel group in Greece reluctantly chose a restaurant in a touristy area, since the vegetarian place in our tour book allegedly went out of business and the other options in the area were pricier. That was probably mistake number one. We ordered bottled water, which we suspected was an open bottle refilled with tap water. Our food was mediocre at best. When we got the bill, it looked like other charges had been added for things we didn’t order. Even though we ordered in English with the waiter, the bill was written in Greek. We had no easy way to figure out what was what, so we were pretty much stuck. We were tired and decided not to argue, so we just paid up.

These experiences are by no means the norm, but they’re still a bit disheartening when they do happen.

A few ripoff prevention tips for travel

I’ve learned a few things along the way so far:

1) Don’t be afraid to say “no” when you’re being pressured. Being bombarded by taxi drivers and tour guides asking for your business can be stressful, and it’s a situation that you want to get out of as quickly as possible. But, unless you’re in a rush, don’t make any snap decisions just because people are hovering over you. Just tell them you’re not interested, ignore them, or walk away. Looking back, I could’ve saved myself from getting ripped off many times just by doing this.

2) Research ahead of time. This can save a lot of headaches when looking for decent restaurants instead of getting stuck in overpriced touristy places. Use guides or search online to find a few places that offer good, local food at a fair price. Most guide books also give cost estimates for tours and transportation as well as restaurants so that you don’t have to guess if you’re getting a good deal or not. Research doesn’t have to take long. Just flipping open a book or a quick Google search will only take a few minutes.

3) Ask people that don’t have financial interest for help. Often times there’s free information available in airports that doesn’t come from a taxi or tour company. Consult them to figure out the best route and what it will cost. They might not always be the most reliable and trustworthy source of advice, but often times it will give you some idea if someone else is seriously trying to rip you off. You can also attempt to ask locals in the area, too.

4) Always know or agree to the terms with a taxi or other transportation before setting out. As Chris Guillebeau points out in #10 of this post on traveling, the terms you set with a taxi before driving are not negotiable after the ride starts. Be careful in places where taxi drivers insist on not running the meter. They may be trying to scam you. On my recent trip to Mexico, there were no taxi meters, so it was essential to negotiate terms ahead of time.

In the end, I’m not even sure it really comes down to money for me as much as it does the feeling that someone is stealing from me. I’ll happily pay $20 more for an awesome meal with local flavor or for an excursion out into a picaresque area. But if a taxi driver dishonestly charges me $30 for what should be a $10 taxi ride, it really bothers me. I feel like I’ve been cheated just because I’m unfamiliar with how things work in this new place. Maybe I just need to get over this and not let it bother me so much. I don’t want these negative experiences to be what I remember most about my travels. After all, it’s a part of almost every journey, and it’s tough to avoid 100% of the time. Still, no one wants to be taken advantage of.

Have you been ripped off when traveling? How do you prevent it?

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photo by: twicepix

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