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Vacations can be one of the most memorable things a family can do together. Vacation memories can be wonderful or terrible, it depends on a lot of things. I remember big trips with my family, trips to see my grandparents, camping or fishing.
I remember one summer where we traveled for most of a summer. We spent much of this summer camping as we made our way from Missouri to the western United States. We went to Arizona via Texas. After a month in Tucson, we headed to San Diego, then up the West Coast to Vancouver via Oregon and Washington. When we left Vancouver, we returned to the United States via Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas and Missouri in time for school. We children call it summer; our parents have gone mad. What else could explain that two adults even consider spending two and a half months in a car with four children? My mother and my sisters slept in the car, and my father, my brother and I slept under the stars. We ate most of our meals out of the tailgate and spent one out of three nights in a motel. We had to take a shower at some point to be able to bear ourselves! In retrospect, the cost of taking six people on vacation for two and a half months must have been high.
Creating a memorable vacation with your family doesn’t have to break the bank, but it does take some planning. The main expenses are food, accommodation and transportation. Here are some tips for saving money on travel. Accommodation is often the biggest expense and being smart about those arrangements will make a big difference. Start by timing. The law of supply and demand is particularly relevant in the vacation world. The more people travel, the more expensive trips tend to be. If you can travel during off-peak hours, the trip will be much cheaper. During the week and off season, you can find great travel deals.
If you are traveling as a family, an Air BnB can be a very economical way to travel. You can usually find something that sleeps six people for the price of a hotel room. Having a kitchen means you can cook inexpensive meals or save leftovers from a restaurant meal to eat later.
When booking an Air BNB, take the time to read reviews. They will let you know if there are any problems with bugs or foul odors or if the accommodation is in a dangerous or seedy area. Check the restrictions. If you’re traveling with pets, be sure to book something pet-friendly. Otherwise, you could be turned away or hit with a hefty pet tax. The same is true for children, although they are allowed more often than pets. Check check-in and check-out times. If you arrive mid-week, early in the day, request an early check-in. After housekeeping is complete, many hosts will let you check in an hour or two early or allow you to drop off your bags. Most important: Check the additional fees. The good deal on an Air BNB can evaporate with additional fees; the most common is cleaning. I have recently noticed that more and more rates now include housekeeping. If someone in your travel party insists on having Wi-Fi or cable TV, be sure to select a place that offers them. If a rate seems too good to be true, it is. Just looked at a great property on the beach for $39 a night! When I checked the dates for the “exact price” it was between $298 and $210. Do your research, Caveat Emptor!
If you go to the same place repeatedly, be a great guest and get to know your hosts. Many BNB hosts prefer guests they know and may have rates for friends and family. You can become so familiar with a place that you know which weekends there is a fair or festival nearby, know the best restaurants nearby, and even have a favorite Uber or pedicab driver.
If you plan to spend every day at the beach, it makes sense to book something on or near the beach. One of my favorites was an Air BNB condominium on the beach with a pool. This way I can swim even if the gulf water is too hot or gross with jellyfish or vegetation. If you are interested in activities other than the beach, you can save money by staying further inland. Chances are your accommodation will also be quieter.
Simple things can make the holidays so much better. If you’re staying at a hotel, choosing one that offers breakfast can save you money by covering that meal. If you like to sit down with friends and share a few beers, a hotel with a bar and reasonable prices can make a great night out even better. There’s no need for an uber or designated driver, and when you’ve had enough, you just hop up to your room.
Travel can also be a considerable expense. If your car is gas-guzzling or unreliable, you can make your trip cheaper by renting a car. GasBuddy is an app that will give you gas prices in an area. Driving to save a few cents per gallon on gas doesn’t make sense, but watching the prices to save about $5.00 per fill-up might pay for the coffee. If you want to go further and get to a metropolitan area, consider Amtrak. A trip from New Orleans to Atlanta could cost you $39. The train journey is comfortable in the coach for about 6-8 hours. It is comfortable longer if you opt for a sleeper, but more expensive. Food service varies, so check the food service on the train you are traveling on and bring some snacks. I talked about air travel in last week’s article. Fares vary widely and booking in advance can save you a lot of money. I’ve never been a fan of bus travel, but a round trip to Atlanta is $60, and it’s possible to hop on and off in much smaller towns than train travel allows. The last form of travel I will mention is carpooling. I’ve had friends who use this method of travel, but I don’t recommend it. I know people I wouldn’t want to travel by car with for hours. I wouldn’t want to be stuck in a car with someone I found on the internet.
Entertainment can drain your bank account or cost you next to nothing. Beach walks and hill hikes can be fun and free. If you’re hiking, wear proper footwear and watch for snakes this time of year. In-line skating, bowling, and even a movie can be inexpensive entertainment at a destination. Avoid overpriced attractions that will drain your wallet. If kids love water parks, check to see if the one nearby has sunset hours. Some parks will let you in for a few hours late in the day for a fraction of the price of a full day. A few hours are enough for me!
Listening to music is often free, whether it’s strolling downtown near concert halls or a street fair or sitting on a blanket at a music festival. The internet makes it easy to understand what will happen at your destination. I like to get everyone on a trip to choose something different to do. Sometimes all it takes to have fun is a card game or a little game.
Memphis, Pensacola, Galveston, and Birmingham are all less than six hours away, are great vacation spots, and are affordable destinations. Let me know what fun things you find to do within six hours of Baton Rouge because I’m planning on doing some traveling this summer!
Cami Miller is a business coach. She works with executives, entrepreneurs and family businesses to develop strategies for success. She can be contacted at [email protected] or 225-432-0454