Thursday, May 24, 2012

Making Vacation Affordable

Hello ladies!  Long time no talk!  I love seeing many of you on facebook; it helps me feel like we’re in touch even when Im a bit too distracted with life to be participating in blog land.  We are on vacation this week and I thought instead of doing a post of just photos of our family’s adventures and taking the risk of boring you to death, I would share some tips that my family uses to keep the costs of holidays down, and making it possible for us to get away with our modest income. 

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Go Local
You dont have to get on an airplane or a ship in order to have a great vacation.  We re blessed to live in south-western Ontario, Canada, which is surrounded by 4 of the beautiful Great Lakes.  There are many small beach-side towns with inexpensive vacation home rentals, bed and breakfasts, and campsites.  There are also a number of great provincial parks within a 3-4 hour drive of our home that boast beautiful  beaches and hiking trails.  What is in your state or province that you are overlooking?  For our family, just getting out of our town and exploring a new place together is what we call vacation.

Go Off or Mid-season
This is THE key in saving money on vacation.  In 10 years of marriage and about 6 or so years of going on vacations, I dont think we have ever once gone anywhere on-season, with the exception of camping.  You save an absolute ton of money by going mid-season or off-season.  If you take the cottage where we are staying this week, a gorgeous little thing near the shores of Southhampton, ON, it is 450/week up to the end of May, and jumps to 1200-1350/week once June hits.  Mind you that is a perfectly acceptable rate for on-season cottage rentals in this neck of the woods, but for us it is not affordable.  Thus, we take advantage and go the last week of the off-season rate, and the weather has been absolutely gorgeous- not too stifling hot but warm enough to enjoy the beaches most days. 
And here’s an added bonus of going right before the season starts: deserted beaches.

We took this video today at 11am… we were there until 12:30 and saw one lady jog by and thats it!

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Take a Working Vacation
I realize that this tip is only an option for a select few of us blessed families out there, but its still worth mentioning if you hadnt given it a thought.  Some employers will allow an amount of flex-time where you are able to work from home, and with wireless internet access just about everywhere these days, it is quite easy to set up an office on vacation.  And, if you happen to have the privilege of owning your own business or working from home, you might find a way to work a full or partial week while away with family.  I realize that working on vacation seems like a bit of an oxymoron and might not appeal to some, but it works for our family.  My wonderful, hard-working husband did two working vacations this winter, one in December and one in February, so we could afford to come up to this cottage and get away from the daily grind.  And while he worked full days many days, he still took time to take breaks, go for lunch or a little shopping, and had his evenings free to do fun family things.  If theres anyway you can swing it, this is a great way to afford getting away.

Vacation Homes, Not Hotels
I know this may come as a surprise to some of you inexperienced vacationers, but renting a vacation home for a week is usually a much more economical option than staying in a hotel or B&B.  If you take this cottage for instance, we are paying $450 for 7 days and 7 nights.  That is $64.29 a night, which is much cheaper than any hotel you are going to find, and instead of one crowded room we have a three bedroom cottage with a full kitchen, bath, fireplace, front and back yards, Barbq, etc.  Before we had the baby we enjoyed making the drive down to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, which are a wonderful location to have an inexpensive island vacation that you can drive to.  We would go mid-season and usually spend about 750 or so a week for a huge, beautiful sea-side home.  Be sure you look into vacation rentals in the area you are vacationing in before you check in to a hotel.


Make Your Own Food
This is another key item for saving money on vacation.  While this tip is mainly for those who stay in vacation homes where they can make three square meals a day for the family, it can also apply to those staying in hotels.  You may not want to try to make dinner in your hotel room, but you can certainly buy some sandwich and picnic supplies and do your lunches al fresco instead of spending the money to eat at restaurants for every meal.  For us, we usually try to keep eating at restaurants to a minimum on vacation, usually only doing so for one or two meals tops.  I make sure to pack up a box of all the sorts of things you dont want to have to buy just for the week (things like olive oils, vinegars, spices, condiments, pastas, etc) and then we buy our fresh food from the grocery store.  Because we dont have a BarbQ at home, we usually treat ourselves to lots of meat on vacation, which is a bit more than we would spend on our weekly grocery bill at home, but we are still saving a TON of money doing it this way as opposed to eating out.

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Do Free or Inexpensive Activities
Try to visit a place with plenty of free activities at hand.  Beaches are our favourite, but maybe you’re more of a mountain hiking or bike trail sort of person.   Look online or get some good brochures for your area and find the local parks, trails, and beaches that have no or minimal cost. Bring books from home and catch up on your reading list.  Play lots of games together, sit around the fire and make smores and talk and tell stories.  And dont forget the public library; if you re visiting an area you may not be able to borrow books, but you can still enjoy the quiet, usually air-conditioned space for an hour or so, letting your kids enjoy the free activities available in the children’s section.  And if you’re vacationing in a city, there are usually tons of free family activities you can take advantage of, not to mention cool inexpensive museums or historical attractions.

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Set Limits for Daily Spending
Talk ahead of time about what your family can afford for daily “fun money”.  For some of us it might be zero; just going on the vacation and the costs of food and lodging are all that we can afford, and so we spend our days doing only free things, like going to beaches, parks, hiking trails, library, “window shopping”, etc.  And that’s just great!  But if you do have a little money to spend, be smart and decide ahead how much and when you know your limit it doesnt feel so restrictive.  Often we have set $10/day each limits, or this trip I asked if I could have 40 dollars to spend between the thrift store and the antique store, and other than food thats all Ill be spending.  You know your limits, so discuss it, try to use cash, and stick to it.
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If you really cant afford a vacation rental for the week, you might be able to afford camping for a couple of days.  Ontario provincial parks only cost about 45 dollars a night for a campsite, and even if you only go for two nights its still a great opportunity to get away with the family and make some good memories.  Camping is the only kind of vacationing we will likely be doing in the summertime for the next few years as we raise our family on once income.  And that’s just fine with us!
And dont let not owning camp equipment get your down… I bet if you ask around to family and friends someone might have some gear you can borrow; we still do this when we camp in the summer! :)  And if the idea of a tent really turns you off, do a little research and you might find the parks in your area provide cabins or yurts that provide a bit more shelter and accommodation than tents. 

Well, ladies, I hope you have an opportunity to get away with your family sometime this year and unplug from life and make some memories that will last a lifetime. I would LOVE to hear your tips for making vacation affordable, so please share in the comments because ths is one area in which you cant get too much good advice.  God bless you all and
Happy Summer Holidays!
Thankful to be linking up with Frugal Fridays over at Life as Mom!


The Accidental Housewife said...

We love to get away for a week camping, and luckily down here down under the weather is suitable most of the year, and there are great places to explore!

Thanks for sharing your tips!

The Old-Fashioned Housewife said...

Yes, camping is awesome. We're gearing up for some camping this summer- at least once a month!