Do you need a vacation? And can you afford one? Well those are two very different questions. The answer to question one? Hmmm . . . need? I would say in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs it would be pretty low down on the list. But do you want a vacation? Well, that’s an entirely different question! As for the second question, the simple answer is if you have the money to pay for it upfront (and are not taking this money from a more pressing need), then you can afford it. If you need to finance the cost, then no, you cannot afford it.
So what can you do to make it more affordable? Ahhh… well that’s where I come in! A thoughtfully planned out vacation does not have to break the piggy bank. If you are aware of your budget up front, which you are, since you have put the money aside for it, there are many tricks and tips you can use to keep it affordable. If you are going to whip out the plastic to book it and then again all through the trip you can easily lose track of how much your spending is racking up to. Once the vacation is over, is that one week of relaxation worth the stress of having to pay it off until the next round of big spending at the holidays?
So, that said, you will start by planning a vacation that you can realistically afford. The purpose of vacation time is to relax and enjoy yourself. Personally I find that life is more relaxing and enjoyable when I staying in control of my expenses and living below my means. I think you will too.
Here are some step by step tips to make any vacation more enjoyable and affordable, starting with planning and throughout the days of your trip.
,Planning: Of course the first step is to be realistic about what kind of vacation you can afford on your budget. If you have $2,000 to spend, you are not going on a six week trip around the world. But can you do something fun on a smaller budget? Absolutely!! Take a little time to think about your priorities? What is the best thing about vacation time for you? Sightseeing? Beach time? Activities? Relaxation? Time with the kids? You may not be able to do everything, but you should be able to hit a few of your priority choices. Half the fun of a vacation is actually in the planning stages. Talk about your vacation dreams with the people you will be vacationing with. Have fun with it! Which of them might you be able to actuate on your next vacation? While you’re at it, daydream about future vacations. There is great pleasure to be had in just the dreaming alone!
Accommodations: The time to book is as early as possible, again keeping your budget in mind. If you can’t afford a motel, camping might be the way to go. If you can’t afford to travel, keep it close to home. See if you can lock in a good deal as early as the summer before. Keep your eye out for specials. There are so many travel and discount websites now, you just have to go to your favorites and watch for them. If it is feasible, try to find something with a kitchen to save on meal expenses. Or you can try a house swap, or hostel. Don’t forget to check out Airbnb for some offbeat affordable options. If you are very flexible about where and when you go (retirees for instance) here is where you may be able to snag some great last-minute deals if you keep watching!
Transportation: Again, keeping the budget in mind. If money is tight this is not the year to be flying off somewhere. Keep it closer to home. If you have a little more leeway, then maybe this year you can take it further afield. Don’t feel you need to fly away to get away. Remember, some people are flying to wherever you live to “get away.” Again, starting at least 6 months out, keep your eye on the flights. When you see a good deal, book it. Don’t wait to see if there are last-minute specials. The airlines don’t really do that anymore and you may very well end up paying more for a last-minute flight. There are also apps and websites that will alert you to a drop in price, and some airlines will send you a refund for the difference. You can save some money by flying on any day except Friday or Sunday, the two most expensive days to fly. And also by booking at less than optimal times and flights that have layovers. Remember to watch for add-on expenses (checking in luggage, etc.) The best thing to do is learn to pack very light. One carry-on bag and you’re done. I’ve done this on several two week trips with no problem whatsoever. You don’t need a lot! You can wear things over and over with no dire consequences.
If you are driving, remember to factor gas prices into your budget, also tolls and parking expenses. If you are renting a vehicle get the smallest (cheapest) vehicle you can make do with (it will also be more fuel efficient). It may be a good idea to just go with mass transit at your destination if you can.
Meals: Here, as I have alluded to earlier, the more you can avoid eating out the better. It’s great to have a place with a kitchen. But even if you don’t, always bring a cooler to keep stocked on meal options. Try to get a room that includes free breakfast. Eat up on that!! This way a light lunch will do. Keep things in your room for that. Sandwich bread, peanut butter (or other “fillings”), fruit, yogurt, cheese, crackers, nuts, etc. Don’t forget to bring your water bottle. Now you can eat in your room or take your lunch out on the road for a picnic wherever you go for the day.
Dinner does not have to be a fancy affair every night. A quick deli meal or some tacos will do. Also remember to share meals if you go somewhere with big servings (or bring a “doggie bag” home for the next night’s dinner).
And for the adults, try not to go out for “drinks” every night. You can have “cocktail hour” on your balcony sometimes, with a bottle of wine (or cocktail ingredients) brought from home (or purchased locally)
Activities: These can run the gamut, from those pricey theme park vacations or expensive activities to a (free) hike in the woods or making s’mores around the campfire. You should “limit” yourself to what your budget dictates. Why do I put limit in quotations? Because there are so many beautiful experiences you can have for free that I hardly think this is a limiting factor. It fact I might argue here that the best things in life are truly free! Get the local papers and look up free events in the area. Bring along (or rent) bikes, boats, balls, rackets, etc., etc. Bring board games for those rainy days. The things that bring joy to you and your family are the fun and pleasure of spending time together. You cannot buy relaxation or happiness.
If you can’t afford a vacation, you can’t afford a vacation, but you can still enjoy yourself and share good times and laughter with your family and friends. And whatever your vacation budget is you can still have a quality vacation and make memories to last a lifetime for you and your family. It’s all up to you!