Abundant Optimism

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A Method for Cheaper Vacations

by Tamara Martfeld

Summertime, and the time many of us take vacations. Below is the way my sister and I take vacations together for less money. This method is for travel within the United States of America. I do not know if it will work in the same way in other countries as I have not tried it, but I am sure there is something similar depending on the country. We used a similar method in France except for the coupons which we did not see when we were there.

In advance of our trip we contact the travel bureaus of the all the states around the high-lights we want to see. We ask them to send us any information available for their state or city. When decide where to go there is usually some specific reason for being in the area. For example, we wanted to see the French Quarter in New Orleans and visit an uncle in Mississippi. We got the travel information for those locations as well as all the surrounding states as well as maps for the area. We go through the information for places of interest and determine if there are any “must see” items. We then weed out any information we know we will not use and take the rest with us.

Much of our travel is by car. Sometimes we fly to a location to start our car trip, and when we do we use the cheapest air fair to our general location. Because we are renting a car we do not have to fly into an airport with the more expensive fairs – the “tourist” airports. All we really require of the place we fly to is that we can get a car and lodging in that city, and the requirements are almost the same for the city where we end our trip, the change being a place to drop the car instead of pick it up. If we are flying we make reservations on our flight days and tell the hotel we are flying to that we may be late due to flight delays and to hold our room.

Once we have landed and are in the hotel we decide where we want to go the next day using the travel information. Depending on where we start it may be to visit the location we came to see or be something on the way to our location. If we need to be a particular place at a particular time, for example due to having tickets on a special day or for a conference, we keep that in mind as we make our plans. If there is something time specific (other than the end of the trip) we might have reservations in that location, but for the most part there are no reservations. We also look at the information available in most hotel lobbies. This flexibility of plans has brought us many pleasant and unexpected experiences.

On the road we watch for coupon books for the hotels in the area. These can be found in many restaurants and at rest stops. As we approach our location or have come close to the end of our day we look in these books for the least expensive lodging. We can frequently save up to $30 per night using this method. Something many people don’t consider when choosing a hotel is how they will use it. For us we want a clean, safe place to sleep, so that is all we look for. I know people who wanted only a clean, safe place to sleep but would not stay in a hotel with a swimming pool, gym, and other amenities that they were not ever going to use. If you will use them, then look for them. If all you are looking for is a bed, then don’t consider the other options which will frequently raise the price.

One of the first stops we make on every trip is a grocery store. We purchase a small case of bottled water and breakfast. As we use the water we save the bottles and then when we are low either buy a large jug to refill the bottles or another case of water, depending on what is cheaper. I should state that many do not feel it is safe to refill the water bottles – use your own judgment on this. The water is used as the drink for every meal we have on the road. If we stop at a fast-food restaurant we will frequently bring the bottles in with us and we have never been asked to take them outside. If we were to get a drink there it would be water and most would have to supply a cup for free, so we are saving them money.

The breakfast we get is usually bagels with cream cheese and juice – the only exception to the water for a drink. We will also use the grocery store for lunch, usually getting cold cuts, cheese, and crackers of some sort. There are many options available for both meals depending on your taste. Using the grocery store instead of restaurants cuts the food cost significantly. If we started the car trip from home and are using our own cars we take an ice chest along to reduce the grocery stops. For dinner we will usually find a fast food place and opt for non-fast food only when we get tired of the fast food. If you watch what you eat you can get healthy meals at fast food locations. Another option we love to use is the local food. We ask the local population for the locations they would go for food, and these options are frequently less expensive than the places catering to tourists. This is especially fun in a foreign country and gives you a flavor for the country instead of your food in another location. Even within your own country there is variety from one place to the next.

For any venue we want to attend we look for and use as many coupons as we can. These are frequently available in hotel lobbies and can sometimes be obtained from the hotel. These tips may seem like common sense, but I have known many who do not use them and they have saved my sister and me a bundle of money.

I spoke earlier about the flexibility of plans bringing us many pleasant and unexpected experiences. Using this method enabled us to spend a night in a castle in France – we saw it in the distance not knowing what it was and decided to check it out. As we got closer, it got bigger. It turned out to be Carcassonne during the off-season for travel and we were able to spend the night in a hotel within the castle as we were not tied to another hotel with the potential of cancellation fees and time frame to be anywhere that day. We also traveled Natchez Trace which we had not known existed, saw a museum containing the contents of a sunken Mississippi boat, and have visited many small museums not heavily marketed in our area such as the SPAM museum and the Norman Rockwell gallery. We have also come upon events such as the beginning of Halloween in Salem – we did not know they celebrated so early! We can and have many times changed our minds and gone in another direction due to something which caught our interest and I cannot recall any time we were sorry for doing so. Many times the venues are free or very low cost, so we got even more benefit.

Another trick we use to cut costs is to travel off-season. However, you need to be flexible for weather many people don’t like. When in Washington D.C. one year off-season it was nice and rainy. In the elevator another patron complained about the rain. My sister commented on how we like it because it kept the tourists away and we could enjoy the venues without the crowds. We went out and enjoyed the day; the complaining patron stayed in the hotel and wasted the day, after giving my sister a soiled expression (dirty look).

Whatever you do for the summer, have fun and enjoy it thoroughly. Have a great adventure.