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Traveling – Good Times On A Budget
I love traveling with my family as much as I love food! But sometimes finances (and lack of) put a damper on travel plans to some extent. Every year, we take off somewhere during the summer months and stay away for three or four weeks at a time. But we have a shoe string budget (no spending money at all except for money for essentials like food, gas and lodging.) We have been traveling as a family for many years. We rarely travel solo like some people do. There are always two or three car loads of kids, big kids and friends and family with the kids who come together for a little fun! But we have a good time no matter where we end up. Let me tell you our little secret for a good time traveling on a budget.
While traveling too, find the cheapest gas available. Sometimes driving away from the Interstate you may be able to get gas as much as 12 or 15 cents cheaper, give or take. It pays to shop around.
#1: Book your room several months early or in advance to save money. Also remember that room rates are usually cheaper during the early part of the week and prices go up on weekends. Every few dollars saved can be used for other things. Depending on what time of year it is, consider this: a motel with an indoor or heated pool during the winter months is a good idea because the kids can swim. Even in the summer, an indoor pool is ideal if it rains. Have a little fun yourself. Grab your swim toys and jump in!
#2: If you plan to take the family somewhere fun and exciting, it’s best to plan ahead. Know where you are going. Let the internet be your best friend. Get familiar with your destination. Contact the Chamber of Commerce and Tourist Office and ask for brochures, travel guides and maps. Don’t be shy – ask questions. Find out all about the free festivities happening in the city for the week you have planned. Remember your budget. If you are bringing children and other family members on the trip, the more you have to do the better. Sometimes freebies are more fun than you think.
Then decide on one or two paid activities (remember to stay within your budget) such as the zoo or an amusement park and book online. Some zoos/aquariums offer a combo package that can save you about $10 or 12 a person – you can usually find some great deals online but be careful when buying tickets online – make sure you read the labels.
If you have a question about what you are buying, call the number provided and ask before you buy. If it’s not clear what you’re buying online, it’s not clear what you’re getting.
A free adventure tip: If you’re running out of things to do, and the kids are bored, take them to a pet store. It’s free to watch. A mini domestic zoo! Sometimes pet shops have activities going on, sometimes not.
#3: The month before the trip, set aside at least two quarter rolls per person for expense allowances. Tell each person how much money they have for the duration of the trip and keep it. It is difficult to give when the children spend all their allowances and complain for more. When you are on a budget sometimes you have to sacrifice some small things to stay within your means.
Quarters spend as easily as dollars. They may seem a little bulky but this is a great way to keep your hands off the credit cards and out of your wallet every time you stop.
#4: Set aside several rolls of laundry each evening. It makes sense to start saving early. Shop at the local dollar store for laundry detergent. Buy a container that will last the duration of the trip. Whatever is left you can always take home.
Bring the kids a beach towel and swim suit. When they are done in the pool hang their wet items on the shower stall for the next time they want to swim.
When we first started vacationing with the older kids, I brought the towels and swimsuits but they would go swimming several times a day and no longer wear the wet swimsuit because they were wet and cold. I would have at least 4 washing machines full of wet clothes every day. Not happening now. It may be a little uncomfortable for them and a bit cold but they will swim and be soaked in a matter of minutes.
Laundry is expensive if you’re on a budget. Save the money for something else.
#5: Stay away from coffee shops. Starbucks is expensive. Why pay $4 or $5 for a cup of coffee when you bring your own coffee and a coffee can. Bring the sugar and cream too. Like tea? Bring your own. You can drink as little or as much as you want and you won’t spend a fortune on one cup.
Bring a thermos on the trip. During the drive in and drive home, you can fill up a large THERMOS for less than what a medium cup of coffee costs, usually around $1.59 per thermos. And he holds several cups.
#6: Bring the coolers. Stock up on plenty of water and your favorite drinks for the road trip ahead.
#7: If you are planning your trip months in advance, this is good. Remember that you will have food. We eat out every day, once a day usually at a fast food restaurant because of the Value menu. But a way we do it and do not have to take away from our travel budget is really simple. Restaurant gift card. Every week, several months before our trip, I fudge $10 – $15 from my grocery bill and buy a gift card to Burger King, Wendy’s, Sonic, Dairy Queen, Little Caesar’s Pizza, Applebee’s, Denny’s or I-Hop. Cracker Barrel also has cards available. There may be others but these are some of our favorites. These gift cards can be found at the dollar store or Walmart and can be redeemed at any time.
Buying a card once a week is not as bad as it seems. You’ll probably never miss the $10 or $15 you spend on your grocery bill either way.
I do this every week and when it’s time for the trip, I usually have enough gift cards for our family and we eat out every evening of the trip. It doesn’t come out of the living expenses budget we set aside for our trip.
I usually book motels that offer a deluxe breakfast (waffles, eggs, the works…) so we don’t worry too much about it. In addition, some assorted fruits, breakfast bars, some boxes of cereal and milk kept in the room to take care of that and between snacks during the day. Lunch is usually sandwiches and chips or a bowl of soup from a can.
It might seem a little more work to be prepared but if you are limited and spending money to eat out, this is the only way to go. I know. If you have a bunch of hungry kids and no money set aside to feed them a burger once in a while, you’ll end up wishing you’d stayed home. If they are ungrateful and think you are cheap, so what? They will forget it and remember only the good times they had with you when it’s all over. Been there, done that!
#8: Take a few minutes for yourself while you’re gone. Let someone watch the little ones while you take a dip in the pool, or a relaxing hour in the hot tub by yourself. Or stroll along the beach with your significant other and just enjoy some alone time with your loved ones or by yourself, whichever you prefer. It’s free, it’s good for the soul and it’s good for what ails you. Just because you are on a budget you cannot enjoy your trip. I’ve been doing this for over twenty years and every trip we take just gets better and better.
Enjoy a movie in the bedroom while everyone else goes down to the pool. Take a hot bubble bath and drink a glass of wine. Relaxation is free and revives the spirit!
That’s my advice for today, guys! Traveling is fun and exciting and expensive but you can enjoy it on a budget. You just have to learn what works best for you.
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