Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Budgeting While on Vacation

The family and I just returned from a 4-day mini-vacation to San Diego. You can tell a lot about a person by how they vacation, I suppose. Where they stay, how they eat, how they get there.

There are many ways to save money on vacation:
Lodging: hotel, motel, camping, VRBO, housing swap, couch surfing
Transportation: airfare, flight schedule, train, car, bus
Food: eating out, eating in, full meals, snacks

When I go on vacation, I don't really like eating out. It's both a money thing and a health thing (I mean, even trying to be "good" on this trip, I gained a few pounds. Hopefully mostly water.) So my lodging planning includes food - that may mean choosing a hotel that includes breakfast, or it may mean choosing a condo, or it may mean a hotel with a fridge and/or microwave. I generally plan to eat out while on vacation only once per day.

On this trip, we had a fridge and a microwave. There are many options in San Diego...too many to count. By the time you look at distance and reviews, and special deals (includes tickets to Seaworld! But parking is extra!) you can drive yourself crazy. So the first thing to do is to decide your budget AND the type of experience you are looking for.

When younger, budget and habits meant that I stayed at the cheapest motel possible. Age, increased income, and a family has changed that. I really like staying at condos for extended vacations, so that I can cook. But I cook pretty regularly at home, so it's no big deal. Here are the things I considered this time around:

Room with fridge and microwave, or a kitchen, or breakfast. (we got fridge and micro)
Decent pool (yep)
Family atmosphere (yep)
Free or reduced parking (only paid for 2 of 4 days)
Ease of getting to Seaworld (we had a shuttle, and it was only a mile's walk, so we walked home)
Reduced price tickets to parks (we got tickets to SeaWorld included, and it was actually cheaper than booking the room and tickets separately)
Two queen sized beds (yep)
Gym - didn't get this, but as luck would have it, we found a 24-hour fitness a very short drive away (next to the grocery store). And we're members.

This took a little planning, but probably saved a few hundred dollars. And the microwave and fridge were key. I packed up my picnic basket and a few extra items. We had cereal and milk, microwaveable noodles (love Trader Joe's). Veggies and dip. Veggies that steam in the bag. Hummus. Cheese and crackers. Tea (which tasted like coffee for the first two days because we used the coffee pot). Apples, oranges, grapes, and bananas.

If you are basically eating in a hotel room, you need to make it #1 - easy, and #2 - fun. Have some extra-special snacks that you don't normally get.

I started keeping good track of what we spent on food, but probably missed stuff:
1. Groceries: $59, but some of that came home with us
2. Lunch at SeaWorld: 24 (you can sneak in food if you want)
3. Lunch at Legoland: 20
4. Beers: $12
5. Lunch on the way home: $15
6. Dinner out with a friend: $60

That brings our total for 4 days to under $200, or under $50 per day. Which is pretty good for a family of three on vacation with just a fridge and a microwave. If we had to eat all our meals out, we were probably looking at (these are very conservative numbers that do not involve eating at the hotel):

Breakfast: $17
Lunch: $20
Dinner: $40

Which is about $67/day or $308. Saved over $100. Probably more, since beer isn't included in the second budget.

1 comment:

Biz said...

I am the same way when we vacation - we usually do a small house/condo rental and bring the "staples" from home, that I start buying months in advance and start packing in boxes - like napkins, paper towels, paper plates.

We usually only eat one meal out a day and then eat at "home" the rest of the time.

Great tips though!