(This is the current photo cover of my travel binder-Guadaloupe in December!)
Please note, these are tips to help you save and travel more! Pick and choose those that appeal to you. We don't apply all of these at once, and there are times we choose convenience over saving every possible dollar. Some vacations cost more than others and that's perfectly fine! If we are shorter on time, we fly. If we are in a cooler climate or traveling with babies or toddlers, we are less likely to camp. Sometimes it makes more sense to buy plane tickets and a rental car versus driving and camping. We have stayed in condos, rented boogie boards, rode the ferry, purchased souvenirs... we have payed too much for crappy hotels and fussed and fumed at rain water getting into our tent. The point is that we all have different priorities, values and various amounts of money and time to work with. Don't stress! Have fun researching destinations and find ways to save for your dream vacation...whether that is a trip to Disneyland, several weeks in Europe or a weekend camping trip in the Ozarks!
One of the many benefits of living simply and with less, is that dreams become clearer, and you realize what is most important in your life. Getting rid of the noise and distraction of physical and mental clutter has helped us realize how much we truly love travel and adventure! I've heard many comments such as, "You must make a LOT of money, to be able to travel the way you do...." "Must be nice to have that kind of money..." First of all, we are fortunate enough to have a career that enables us to travel several weeks at a time without doing great harm to our real estate business. That is something to be grateful for, to be sure. But we are not wealthy by American standards. There is no paid vacation, big benefit packages, and no big money rolling in. For quite a number of years, we lived on very, very little. At or below the U.S. federal poverty line. Those were very difficult times but I am not ashamed of this. I am proud of our tenacity and grit, and grateful for the way it has shaped our character and taught us valuable lessons in frugality and stewardship. Travel and adventure have always been important to us. Even in the early years when we were barely getting by, we camped and found inexpensive ways to travel. We are no longer in that place, but we are still squarely in the middle class.
If you truly want to travel and you have money for Netflix, cable TV, mani/pedicures, Xbox/Wii, or take-out pizza, YOU can travel! If you have other activities and interests that you wish to pursue, you may still find ideas here on how to save for the things that really matter to you!
So how can we travel 4-6 weeks out of the year and still pay our bills?
1. We have prioritized our spending and live frugally.2. We've found ways to cut travel expenses.
1. Prioritize your spending and live frugally. Money is a sticky topic in general. Suggest ways to spend someone else's money and you can make enemies rather quickly. But if you've made it this far, I trust that you really do want to travel and you are willing to learn. ;) Take a look at where your money is going and decide where you are willing to cut spending. I am not suggesting you live on bread and water and never have fun. I have things that are important to me, such as whole foods, organic greens, quality shoes, and high quality coffee beans. Don't believe that you must give up everything you enjoy in life, to travel. What a dull and depressing existence. Rather, think about what you are willing to give up for your dreams and spend your money intentionally. I'm going to give you a list of things that we/I do, to help you get started.
*Our living expenses are very low, due to the fact that we live in a small home. Just to give you an idea...our mortgage payment (including taxes and insurance) is around $320/month. If you don't believe me, I'll be happy to show you the numbers.
*We live simply and don't buy a lot of the junk that fills most American homes. When we do make a purchase, (especially bigger items) we put a lot of thought and research in, before forking over our hard earned money. A lot of the furniture in our home was either free or purchased used. I can't think of a single piece that we bought new aside from our mattress set. We don't worry about the latest decorating fad or hottest fashion trends.
*We don't have TV. Neither of us grew up with television. We tried it once for a year or two and decided it was a waste of money since we watched an average of 2-3 hrs per month. When I revealed this to someone recently, their jaw dropped and this question was asked, "What do you do for fun?" I don't have time to explain how wrong that question is. It's preposterous. Watching other people's lives through a glass and plastic box, versus finding your own adventures and living your own life? I'll skip the plastic thanks. There is no way I will pay someone to fill our heads with advertisements, or trashy reality TV. Our values don't support this expense so it's a no-brainer. Not all programs are garbage and I'm sure if I knew how to read a TV guide, I'd find channels to enjoy. The bottom line is that it's not important to us at all, so we are able to save hundreds per year.
*No Netflix. Yeah I know...no TV or Netflix? We must be from another century! If we want to watch movies, we see them at the theater, or rent them. And quite honestly, this happens infrequently. Think 1-2 times per month, average. The kids may have up to 4 Apps each on our mobile devices, and they have a set amount of screen time per day (after all homework and other duties are done) which is often used for Minecraft, Roblox, or YouTube.
*I don't spend any money at all on manicures/pedicures/tanning/spa treatments. I've never spent a penny on this, and I don't regret it. If this is important to you and is an effective form of self care, then by all means do it!
*I drive a paid-for, older vehicle. We have never had a vehicle payment in the entire 15 years of our marriage. That could change. We do our research and purchase used, quality, fuel efficient vehicles and drive them until they're practically dead. My van is 14 years old, and has over 250,000 miles. I would like to have a newer vehicle sometime...my vehicle is not cute or cool and someday I will replace it. But it is inexpensive, reliable transportation and in my mind it would be foolish to purchase a vehicle solely on the fact that it is not hot or sexy.
*We save a quite a lot by not purchasing soda, tea, or fancy coffee drinks. I may step on toes here. I know it is unwise to get between a coffee addict and their coffee, but hear me out! It's simple math. Take the price of your daily or weekly latte times the number of times you purchase per year and you will see how expensive that latte really is. We do occasionally treat ourselves to Starbucks and decaffeinated soda for a special occasion or as a treat. But we don't purchase these drinks regularly.
*Dining out/take out. John and I have an average of one date night per month. It can be as simple as a picnic dinner at a lake, takeout sushi and a bottle of wine on a rock by the river, or a fancy sit down restaurant. Other than this, our family rarely eats out. We get take-out pizzas several times per year and occasionally we purchase drive-through meals when travelling to visit family. This does not factor in, our meetings with clients for coffee or lunch because it is necessary to meet in a neutral location. This is figured as a business expense. Most of our meals are cooked at home and made from scratch. It's not an exaggeration to say that we save thousands per year. Some nights I don't want to cook. But when I do the math and think of all the packaging waste in takeout food, I choose to cook.
*We buy used over new when possible. Not only does this save money, it also keeps perfectly beautiful and useful items from filling the landfill. America is wasteful. Clothing, furniture, and household items are just a few of my thrifting categories. If this grosses you out, think of all the people who may have tried on that new-with-tags Macy's outfit in the store's dressing room. Clothing and most thrifted items can be washed and sanitized. There are people in every income bracket and social class in the world who purchase used goods. It's a responsible and intelligent way to live.
*We spend little on gifts for our family. We buy quality items that last and are conducive to creativity, but we spend very little. Birthday and Christmas combined, $50 or less per year/per child. Go ahead and report me to Santa, I dare you. :) What our kids really want, is our time, attention and love. Not the over priced, made in China junk that fills the shelves of most department stores.
I could list many more ways we save, but lets get on to the second point.
2. We've found ways to cut vacation expenses.
You can spend very little on vacation or you can spend a lot. It all depends on what your goals are. I've read statistics that state the average family of four spends $4,300 on a one week vacation. (Jaw drops to the floor) This would put our family of 5 at $5,375 per week. No wonder people think we have a lot of money! We've never come close to spending this on our vacations. In a recent 7 day trip to Florida, we spent well under $1,000 for 5 people. Thanks to generous in-laws who paid for 3 weeks in Europe with my husbands family, we did take one trip that probably cost this much. But we have never personally, come close to spending $5,375. We have never stayed at an all-inclusive resort. Could we? Yes. If we wanted 1-2 weeks of vacation every 5 years, we could save our money, leave our kids behind and live it up. Or we could take that same amount of money and in 5 years, have 15-20 weeks of vacation, WITH our family in many beautiful locations. One day we will likely stay at an all-inclusive resort (at a discount of course!!) ;) but for now, the second option is a clear choice for us. Our kids may wear thrifted clothing and receive gifts that are far less expensive than the gifts that their friends receive. But they have traveled thousands and thousands of miles, to many beautiful and amazing destinations. In 20 years, even 5 years they will have forgotten what they got for Christmas. But they will always remember our family vacations.
So now that you have saved for your vacation, how will you maximize your funds?
*Camp. I know, I know, I can hear the groans now. If you truly hate it that much, then skip this one and go to the next point. Here is an example: Our family loves to visit St Joseph's peninsula in Florida. We could get a condo for 5 people/5 days, for $600-$1200..depending on how fancy we want to get. Or we can camp at a state park and spend $120 for 5 days. Our family enjoys camping and we've made many memories this way so its an easy choice! In this example, we saved a minimum of $480 on lodging. My sister recently travelled New England for two weeks without paying a dime on lodging! Read about her adventures at Thirteenthparallelsouth.
*If possible, drive instead of flying. If you have a very limited amount of time, this may not work for you. If you do have time flexibilty, you can save a TON on travel expenses. Using the above example, our family spent less than $150 on gas. Take the cost of 5 plane tickets to Panama City or any other Florida city (MINIMUM $400 over spring break) and we saved $1,860! It's a clear choice here.
*Air B&B is a great resource. This site offers many unique lodging options. Choose from a shared room/hostel, private room or an apartment/entire house. You can usually find lodging options at a large discount.
*Priceline. This is a hit or miss. In some cities you can bid on hotels and save up to 60%! We've stayed at 4 star hotels for as little as $50.
*Skyscanner is great app for purchasing discounted airfare. This app has been the best tool I've found so far, for purchasing airline tickets. Recently we were able to purchase tickets through Skyscanner, to Guadaloupe, a French island in the Caribbean, for $198! Websites such as Expedia and Kayak, are quoting prices of $450-$600! Thanks to my sister Leia for this tip!
*Pack and cook your own food! Our family has saved thousands by cooking and packing food from a grocery store, versus eating out. Generally, on travel days, we will purchase one hot meal per day, such as Chipotle or Pizza. When we arrive at our destination we do most of our own cooking. We may purchase fresh seafood from a Florida fish market and cook it our camp, or treat ourselves to a local restaurant, but it's usually no more than once or twice per week. I know this may sound inconceivable to some of you. COOK on vacation?! You do the math, you decide. :)
*Coupons and gift cards. If you have restaurant or gas gift cards or coupons, now is a great time to use them.
*Avoid souvenir shops! Being the minimalist that I am, this tip is quite easy. Over priced toothpick holders and unflattering cotton tee shirts are a great waste of money to me! However, if you do decide to purchase these items, try to buy them in places such as National Park Visitor centers, as this supports our National Parks!
*Skip touristic attractions that require a per person fee. There are so many amazing free activities available, there's no need to spend large sums of money unless of course, it is something that you are certain you will enjoy greatly.
*Be flexible and keep an open mind. We never dreamt of going to Guadeloupe. We never knew it existed. We only knew we wanted a warm sunny place away from the crowds. Using Sky scanner, I browsed tickets in the "Everywhere" tab and found Norweigan Air was selling tickets way below the normal rates. After researching the island and finding many wonderful adventures awaited us, we bought the tickets. Our dates aren't as flexible as those of you with no children or at least with no children of school age. I have family members with no children and a flexible schedule who were able to spend a week at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico for $600 per person, the weekend after Thanksgiving. Airlines and resorts discount their prices on dates when people are least likely to travel, in order to attract business.
Live intentionally. Choose what is important to you, work hard and make it happen.
What are ways you save on travel expenses? I would love to hear your ideas!