by Leah Ingram
We started thinking about our summer plans this week–probably because camp brochures started showing up in our mailbox. At the same time I started querying magazine editors with my ideas on how to plan a frugal vacation, beyond the typical “check with AAA for discounts” tips. Here are seven of the money-savers I think everyone would want to know about when planning a vacation on a budget:
- Fly out of second-tier cities. If you’re flying to your destination, you can usually find cheaper fares outside the big-boy cities. One family found round-trip tickets to Florida for $45 per person, just by choosing to use the airport located further away from the nearest big city. I know that if I need to fly to Maine, I always choose to fly into Manchester, New Hampshire rather than Portland, Maine. Sure, I have to drive a bit farther but I always save hundreds of dollars on my airfare.
- Use social media to your discounting advantage. Many hotels, resorts and chambers of commerce are using social media to attract customers–and rewarding Twitter- and Facebook-savvy folks with deep discounts. Just today a company told me that if I entered the code TWEET when I booked my stay, I’d save 15%!
- Think local.This isn’t just about staycations. This is about helping you to plan day trips to places that other people plan entire vacations around. Draw a circle on a map within a 100-mile radius of your home and see what kinds of tourist attractions fall within that circle. Your local convention and visitors bureau might even be able to set you up with discounts to places you drive by on a daily basis and likely never thought of making part of your vacation plans.
- Take a volunteer vacation. According to Sheryl Kayne, author of Volunteer Vacations Across America (September 2009), there are a handful of farms and good causes that will provide free room and board to you and your youngest volunteers in return for your sweat and elbow grease. For example, Kane says The Big Dipper Eco Farm in Michigan accepts families with children of all ages, including infants and toddlers, and will find age-appropriate organic gardening tasks for all the mobile members of your family.
- See if your memberships get you free or discounted admission to places where you’re traveling. If you’re a member of your local zoo or museum, find out if those institutions have reciprocal agreements with other zoos and museums. For example, National Aviary members receive discounted or free admission at a long list of zoos, with which it has reciprocal discounts or free admission. You might just find yourself with free entertainment to enjoy during your time away.
- When you do travel, stock your own minibar. Don’t be tempted to pay $5 for a candy bar in that hotel mini-fridge. Instead, visit your favorite warehouse club to stock up on goodies that your kids can treat themselves to during your trip and won’t bust your budget in the process.
- Rent a house, apartment or hotel room with a full or partial kitchen. This will help you to avoid paying for the $6 bagels in the hotel restaurant when you order breakfast. You can go through organizations that specialize in vacation home rentals or timeshare rentals, or even check places like Craigslist or the back of your college alumni magazine for ads for vacation rentals.
What about you? How do you figure out money savers for your vacations? Tell us.
Most mothers teach their kids to cook and clean. Leah Ingram’s mother taught her to compost. These days she’s passing along this green message to her own daughters as they all try to live a green and frugal lifestyle as The Lean Green Family. Visit her blog, Suddenly Frugal.