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Let's face it - traveling is expensive. No matter how frugally you try to plan, you always end up spending way more than you had planned. Here are some simple tips for saving money while on vacation.
Visit During the Offseason
Prices are always cheaper in the offseason, and since businesses are in need of customers during that time you can get some great deals. Now you don't have to visit the beach in the middle of winter, that's not what I am talking about I'm talking about visiting the beach in March, April, or even September. It's the offseason but it's still warm enough to enjoy the beach.
Another big benefit to visiting during the offseason - NO CROWDS! I can't stand crowds, they drive me nuts. When I am on vacation I just want to sit back in relax, I want to get in a pool where I can let my kids play without having them constantly under foot (of course you can do this if they are little). I want them to be able to run ahead of me on the beach - not out of sight but ahead of me. When there are crowds I have to be so on top of them, and have them in arms reach at all times. To me that is not a vacation.
As with the offseason, weekday stays are usually much cheaper than weekend stays. Of course if you are staying a week or two you can't avoid the weekends but you can try to plan your arrival and departure to include as few weekend days as possible. Again not only is staying during the week cheaper you also have the added advantage of less crowds.
I have a confession to make. I hate camping. There I said it. I can't stand it. I don't like it. I don't like the outdoors. I hate feeling sticky. Yet you will see my camping all the time. My kids love it, my husband loves it. I hate it.
However, there are some benefits to camping. There are some REALLY nice campgrounds. I mean REALLY, REALLY nice. From hot tubs, to pools, to game rooms, to planned activities for the kids, themed weekends, there is always something to do, I never have to worry about keeping the kids entertained.
Why is this a money saver?
All of our recreational costs are included in the price of the campground. Let me rephrase that - almost all of our recreational costs are included in the price of the campground, you may find that you have to pay a nominal fee for crafts at some campgrounds but for the most part there are no additional fees.
Another big money saver when camping is that it cuts back on food costs. I can bring all of my food with me from home. No need to eat out, no need to run out and buy groceries, it's all right there.
If you are purchasing a camper be sure to find one that has a refrigerator that can run on electric or propane - this is important because you can fill the refrigerator up when you leave home, and it can run on gas until you get to the campground, where you can switch it over to electric. This way there's no worry about keeping your food items cold until you get to the campground.
Yes a hotel, campground, or cabin with more ammenities will cost more but in the long run they can save you money. If you are staying at a place with plenty of things to do you can spend your time on site without having to run everywhere to stay busy. If you stay at a hotel that has no pool, has no game room, but is a great price you are going to have to shell out money to go swimming, go to an arcade, and stay entertained.
Look for Specials
Most vacation properties offer special rates, deals or packages on their website. Some even offer specials on their facebook, or twitter pages. Looking for these specials can save you quite a bit of money. Also be sure to sign up for newsletters to various vacation prices because some properties will send out specials that are only available to newsletter readers.
Look for Reciprocal Zoos and Museums
If you have a zoo or museum membership be sure to check for reciprocal zoos and museums in the area you are visiting. This can give you something fun to do without it costing a penny. Most reciprocal zoo and museum memberships are listed on the zoo and museum websites, if you don't find any on the website, call the zoo or museum in question to ask about reciprocal programs.
Look for Local Fairs and Festivals
These can be an absolute blast, and usually don't cost anything. One of our favorite trips to Panama City Beach in Florida was during their Mardi Gras celebration, which was very family friendly. There were street vendors, kids activities, and a parade. All of it was free!
Check out Free Attractions
The Air Force Museums in Dayton, Ohio and Pensacola, Florida are both free and are great for both adults and kids. St. Louis, Missouri is full of free things, the St. Louis Zoo, Grant's Farm, City Museum....Chicago, Washington D.C. and New York all also offer LOTS of free attractions.
In addition to looking for attractions that are free all the time look for attractions that are free or discounted on certain days. For example a museum may offer free admission on certain days, or a zoo may offer half price admission after a certain time of day. Look for these specials and take advantage of them.
Ask About Discounts
Don't hesitate to ask. You'd be surprised at the amount of places that offer AAA or military discounts but you can also find discounts for using a Mastercard or Visa Card, having a certain type of insurance, for living in state (I really miss those Florida resident discounts), or working for a certain company.
Call to Book Reservations
Instead of booking directly through a website, pick up the phone and call the property directly. Once you have them on the phone don't hesitate to ask about additional discounts. Reservation agents often have the authority to offer deeper discounts than advertised. It's worth asking.