Thursday, August 15, 2013

Vacation Tips & Tricks

I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I thought I would share some of my tips for vacation planning and budgeting. I wish I could offer tips on packing, but I’m the worst. I pack EVERYTHING I own. And for being a neat freak, it is quite surprising that I just throw everything in the suitcase haphazardly. I really should take a picture sometime. It’s atrocious. Then there is Garth’s suitcase. Perfectly rolled out shirts, socks, jeans, shorts, and bathing suits. Even after the vacation is over. I should know better, too. My dad makes awesome packing lists of everything he will need and crosses things off as he packs.

But I digress. Onward to what I excel at!


·         First, and most importantly, set a budget. What do you want to spend on lodging? Excursions? Food? Entertainment? I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, Garth and I love vacation. It’s essential to us. We don’t go to the movies or get massages or mani/pedis. This is how we splurge. We enjoy vacationing so we budget for vacations at least once a year. We have a separate account specifically for vacations and we have room in our budget each month to put away for vacations each paycheck.

·         Decide on a location. The second step is deciding WHERE you want to go. Do you like hiking? Swimming? Is being lake or ocean front important? Do you prefer the city or being in nature? Talking these things out will help make your destination choice easier. The world is at your fingertips and Google and Facebook are extremely helpful tools in getting an idea of what different locations are like and if it’s right for you. The more you travel, the more you will know what you want as well. We traveled to the Smokey Mountains (and had a BLAST), but discovered we are beach people not hiking/mountain type vacationers. After our most recent trip we had the best time, but found we were stressed in high traffic / high volume people situations and enjoy less touristy, off the beaten path type places.

·         Book your lodging. This was our big vacation for the whole year so we wanted it to be really nice. We take vacations seriously. We want to enjoy where we are staying so we do a lot of research. Personally, I like a good deal. I also like luxury. It’s doable, but it requires patience. Checking Groupon and Living Social deals, Hotwire, Travelzoo, VRBO, and Expedia regularly. It pays off, but it takes some work. But the pleasure of getting the deal you have been waiting for is worth it to me. I also read all the reviews on these sites. I have found amazing deals, but read horrid reviews and decided it wasn’t worth it. I trust the reviews and they haven’t led me wrong yet.

·         Research. Research. Research. Now that you have chosen your destination and done the necessary research in choosing your lodging I like to research the area we will be visiting. I like doing the touristy stuff, but I also love going to the hidden gems only the locals know about. I have found asking Facebook friends and blog friends about an area we are traveling to be very beneficial. I’m a big fan of Diners, Drive-In and Dives and Man vs. Food so I like to scan their website for any restaurants Guy or Adam has visited in or on the way to where we are going. Trip Advisor, Google, and apps like Urban Spoon and Yelp are also really helpful in finding good places to eat. The reviews are usually spot on. I try to be more spontaneous on vacation and not plan EVERYTHING so I do enjoy asking locals while on vacation where they think we should go or what we should do. It’s how I found the best sandwich of my life so it’s a very good method. It is also important to research excursions to decide which ones are worth investing in. Google proved most helpful for me on this aspect of vacation planning with reviews, costs, and hours. The hotels usually offer lots of brochures too.


·         Decide what is most important to you. Much like planning a wedding, I like to decide what I want to spend the most money on. For us, it is usually being lake, mountain or ocean front. It is just worth it to me. I love staring out onto the water anytime I wanted. I will sacrifice other things, like renting a boat, for this luxury.

·         Determine a daily budget. We determine a daily budget amount each day for the duration of our tip ahead of time. For example, $75 a day. I’m not much of a spender, but something about vacation makes me throw all that out the window so staying on a budget each day helps reign me in.

·         Save money where you can. I have found booking a condo or cabin is cost efficient since you can cook as many meals as you want in a fully equipped kitchen. We do this when we can. In Hawaii, everything was expensive, but we had a condo with a full kitchen. We took advantage of the island’s Costco and stocked up so we never had to eat breakfast or dinner out. When booking a hotel, try to find one where breakfast and a fridge and microwave are included. We had to get creative in our hotel since we didn’t have a microwave or fridge. We packed coolers of lunch foods and breakfast was included so we could stick to only one meal out a day. We did order take out a few times, but we figured we were saving on tip by not eating at the restaurant. Garth and I also love sharing meals which is a huge saver. Especially since we didn’t have a microwave to warm up leftovers, sharing meals was a great solution.

Takeaway: I’m not perfect, but those are just a few tips I have learned along the way that help me when booking a vacation. We booked our Traverse City trip five months in advance, which, in reality, was not enough time. We lost out on VRBO due to not planning a year in advance. You live and learn, right? We still managed to find a great place in our budget that met our criteria so it wasn’t a loss completely. And not having a microwave killed me because I hate wasting food and not being able to enjoy my leftovers. Told you I’m not an expert! But I hope this has helped. Now it’s your turn to give me your vacation tips and tricks!


Jeff Voudrie, CFP® Professional said...

Lindsay, great article.
Even as a planner and personal money manager, I and my clients still need the kind of practical advice you offer. I will be forwarding it to my followers. @JeffVoudrie

Courtney said...

Where did you stay in Hawaii? We would love to go there for our 2014 trip. Have been hesitant bc all you ever hear is how pricey it is! Did you find it doable or was it a huge splurge?