Thursday, July 26, 2012

Planning a late summer getaway

I know, you're just dying of curiosity. Just what do we do with the sacks and sacks of money that we save, by cleaning out the deodorant containers, reusing tea bags, skipping the paper towels in favor of a rag, making tea from the weeds in the yard, saving bread crumbs and onion peels in containers in the freezer, straightening out the used staples, and more? We go on vacation, of course!

We had so much going on in early summer, there was no time for a family getaway. We really didn't want a "big fat family vacation" (read expensive), but just a few days away, on a teensy-weensy budget. (Straightening staples apparently doesn't save all that much money, who'd have guessed??)

So, the vacation budget this year is small. The way we plan vacations in our house is we save first and then decide on a vacation. (I know, its quite backwards from the way a lot of people we know plan trips. They vacation first, figure out how to pay for it later.)

To make a trip fit our budget, we've done a few things.

Saving on travel
First off, no air travel. Driving only, so we want to "go away" to somewhere nearby.

Using our time to its best advantage
By keeping close to home, we'll have more time at our destination, and spend less time "bonding" in the cramped quarters of our small car. (I know my kids have grown up. No more "she's touching me" game going on in the back seat.) We chose a destination about a 1  1/2 hour drive (and one 30 minute ferry-ride) away (which I will adeptly turn into a 3 hour drive with my magnificent navigational skills). It's a town we'd always wanted to see, but never got around to. By staying this close, the first day, we can leave the house early and still get there with plenty of time to roam the town.

We've decided to just stay 2 nights away. But that means 3 days -- the arrival day, the full day in between the two nights, and the departure day. That's about all the time we need to explore this little town, and feel like we've gotten away.

And we're traveling during the week, instead of over a weekend, so we'll save time in traffic, and in ferry wait times.

Saving on accommodations
I spent several hours online looking for places to stay. In the end I found an inn, in the town near everything we want to see. To get a good price, I scoured the web for pricing, then went directly to the hotel's website to check for discounts that may apply, like AARP, and 14 Day Advance Purchase. The 14 Day Pre-pay wound up saving us the most, about $13/night less than Expedia, Travelocity, Hotel.com or any other discount travel company. Discounters typically don't have access to AARP or AAA rates.

Before booking the room, I phoned the toll-free number to the hotel to make sure we could get a rollaway bed. Then went back online to book the room and make my special requests (it was a special internet rate). The next day, I followed up my booking and special request with a phone call to the toll-free number, emphasizing our need for a rollaway. Of course, we'll have a back-up plan of 1 sleeping bag in the trunk, just in case. I will also phone the day before arrival to "reconfirm" our reservations. And at this time, I'll ask again about our special requests. They'll either work to accommodate us, or be so tired of my phoning that they'll stick us in the basement, in the janitor's closet next to the boiler room.

I also checked to see if they had a rewards program, which they did. So I signed up for that. Sometimes all you get is an extra smile at guest services, but other times you get a free room upgrade, a basket of fruit and/or snacks or points to use towards free accommodations in the future. It doesn't cost anything to sign up for a rewards program, so I figure "why not?"

Saving on food
We'll be bringing snacks with us for the car and for our stay. No stopping at fast food places or convenience stores. I've been squirreling away snack-y type things for the last few weeks. I'll pack reusable drink bottles for all of us. We can fill these with water or juice from larger containers. I'll also pack a cooler in the trunk with some juice, sunseed butter and bread.

This inn serves a complete breakfast, complimentary. We'll eat lunch by means of fruit, cheese and bread from the farmer's market, while we roam the town. And save our dining-out budget for dinners.

Saving on entertainment
Mostly we'll be exploring the town and waterfront. I've been reading up on museums and sights in the area. Every town has at least a handful of free, very interesting sights and activities. The town itself is Scandinavian in heritage. It should be interesting just looking around.

Saving on gas for the drive
There's a great mileage calculator at seattlegasprices.com. It'll tell you the mileage to/from your destination and show you where to get gas for the least amount of money. Other cities have similar trip cost calculators, just do a google search for your area.

That's about it for my trip planning. Any late-summer getaways in your plans? Are you the camping type, or the hotel type? What are some ways you save while traveling? Do you have any special tips for saving on meals out?

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for my chuckle this morning! I am currently procrastinating on packing for our trip to Iowa and Illinois tomorrow. Way more fun to check blogs. :)

    We like any and all forms of travel--well, my husband hates to fly, so we haven't done that since our honeymoon. Last week he had to speak at a conference 4 hours from our house so we all went with him to enjoy the hotel (cost included--this was "work" for him) for one night (pool! free breakfast!) and camped for 2 nights after that (rustic! but there were loons and a bald eagle and coyotes!). At $13/night for the campsite, it's hard to get more frugal.

    Between you and gogingham.com, there are many great suggestions for saving while away from home. I have generally found that if you are going to eat at a restaurant, it's cheaper at lunchtime. When we visit family in Illinois/Iowa, we WILL treat the kids to breakfast at the infamous McD's. It's the only time we ever eat breakfast "out" and it's a nice treat to break up our long day in the car (we start out early!). I always pack lunch/snacks and water bottles. Partly because there's a whole lotta stretches of road where you couldn't get a meal out if you wanted! Illinois rest areas have playgrounds--we eat in the car and use the rest areas as a time to "get out the wiggles" for the kids.

    I agree with you--there are many interesting and free/lost cost things to do in most areas if you investigate. When camping, we look for hiking trails and lakes/rivers. In urban areas, museums/zoos/eateries.

    There is a fine line between being a mooch and accepting a gracious hospitality offer, so I want to be cautious with how I word this ... but sometimes if you need a cost-effective getaway, staying with friends or family might fit the bill. Just be careful not to overstay your welcome and offer money for groceries (or order pizza and give your host the evening off in the kitchen).

    Have a wonderful getaway!

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    Replies
    1. Oops, meant to say "low cost" not "lost cost"!

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    2. Hi Kris,
      First of all, have a great trip! I hope the drive is not too hot.
      I know what you mean by long stretches of absolutely nowhere to get food or beverage. When we drive to California from here in Seattle, there's this very long stretch of nothingness on I-5.

      Totally agree on the staying with friends/family -- stay just a couple of days, help all you can, and give the host/hostess a break. It's a lot of work to host someone else, but it's easy to forget all that work when you're the guest.

      Thanks for your input!

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    3. We live in a travel-destination area and host both day-trippers and overnight company frequently. I always enjoy my guests and I think it is because they are courteous, keep their travel items in a centralized area, help in the kitchen, and are gracious about sleeping on the sleeper sofa and on trundle beds! I hope I remember to be a good guest when I visit others! :)

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    4. I'm sure you're a wonderful guest! I think it's fun to have guests. It livens up the conversation of the family for a bit. Plus it gets us to do the touristy things in town, the ones that we're always too busy to do otherwise!
      Have a great vacation!

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