Thursday, January 14, 2010

Keep Your Vacations Cheap

Saving Money Tip #223 - Keep Your Vacations Cheap. A vacation is a chance to get away from your normal, everyday life. It could be visiting another town, pitching a tent in some nearby mountains, or staying at your parents' or friends' house for a week. It does not have to mean a 7-day guided tour of Paris, or a week-long Disney cruise, or a visit to an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean. The latter three options are all expensive vacations options. And vacations need not be expensive. They just need to be "away" from your regular routine.

Transportation - if you own a car, then driving to your destination is often the cheapest means of getting there. This may not be true if you are only one or two people and there are fabulous specials on the airline or trains. Buses are also cheap options. However, the larger your brood, the cheaper it is to take the car.

Eating - having food in a new location is often different enough to make it fun. Having a picnic in the park, bringing your favorite meal to eat around a friend's table, or simply eating on paper is a great way to save money on vacation while still keeping it frugal and fun. Or, eating out in cheap, local places are great treats, especially when your normal routine is to eat in.

Activities - Free fun can be found almost anywhere. Watching people, observing scenery, taking hikes, exploring a new town on foot are all fun and free. While walking around your neighborhood for the 100th time can get old, walking through new-to-you ones is fun. Any change of pace from the normal routine is a fun activity.

When choosing your vacation, try something different. If you live in the city, visit the country. If you live in the country, go visit a big city. If you live near mountains, go to the beach. If you live near the coast, visit the mountains or the plains. If it's winter, drive somewhere warm. If it's summer, drive somewhere cooler. Explore a different region of the country. New England is picturesque to someone who has never been there. The midwest is unique to someone from a coastal city. The south is charming. The west is scenic, and the mountain states are beautiful. Just by visiting a place that is different that your home, you will enjoy new experiences that make it a vacation worth taking whether it costs a lot or not.

In Real Life (IRL) -
I mentioned that we recently took a car-trip to Florida. We specifically picked Florida for a vacation because we have family living there, the climate is different than ours, and there are many free or cheap outdoor activities to take advantage of. So even though it is farther than we would have liked to travel by car, the other elements made the trip frugal and fun.

For us the fact that the temperature was 30 degrees or more warmer than where we traveled from was one of the best parts of the vacation. Just being able to play outside in moderate temperatures was a huge welcome change for us. For 9 days, the activities to entertain our family cost less than $75. Quite a bit less than 9 days at Disney World would have cost! And my children were entertained, educated, and challenged. Here is a rundown of what we did to entertain our family so cheaply:

Day 1: We took a long walk through Wakodahatchee, a nature preserve. While we were there, we saw several alligators, including baby alligators. We saw iguanas in the trees. We even saw a chameleon who had made himself blend in with a spotted tree - very neat! We also saw numerous, turtles, fish, and birds. Our children got exercise, observed nature, learned about tropical reptiles, birds, and fish, conversed with grandparents, and enjoyed tropical weather. Cost of our outing? Free! This nature preserve is a project of the city and open to everyone for no cost.

Day 2: Spent the day at nearby beach, Deerfield Beach. What more can I add? Sitting on the beach at the end of December, building sand castles, finding seashells, and playing in the water was just what our family wanted in a vacation. Cost of a day at the beach? $3.75 for parking meter.

Day 3: Drove down to Miami and Miami Beach. Spent the afternoon in "Little Havana" the Cuban section of the city and enjoyed traditional Cuban food at Versailles. Observed all of the lettering on buildings and signs in Spanish and absorbed the culture of the city. Drove through a car wash to clean the salt off our car - what a fun and entertaining experience! Afterwards, we walked up and down South Beach and played on a playground on the beach alongside children of many nationalities and cultures. Cost of our outing? $2.99 for the carwash, $4 for parking, and $6 for Cuban pasties. (Grandmother treated for Cuban food which would have cost about $30 otherwise)

Day 4: Spent the day at a local playground. It was not dissimilar from the one just blocks from our home. But this one wasn't covered in snow. Cost? Free

Day 5: Went to our local beach - Delray Beach. Other than playing in the ocean, we did the same activities as our other day at the beach. Cost? $3.75 for parking

Day 6: Went to the Gumbo Limbo nature center with both indoor and outdoor activities. We got to test our knowledge of tropical birds and flora and fauna. We climbed a 40-foot tower, saw tropical trees, watched turtles being fed, walked through a butterfly garden, and saw a replica Indian Chickee hut. Cost of our day? $10

Day 7: Went to The Girls, a "u-pick" hydronic strawberry patch where we picked strawberries, saw banana trees, watched giant turtles, talked to parrots, smiled at the swans and saw the miniature donkeys. We learned about hydroponics (growing plants using mineral nutrients in water, without soil.) and saw all kinds of neat things in the garden. Cost? $15 for the experience and 3 pounds of strawberries.

Day 8: Went to the most amazing playground I have ever seen (see picture above). This playground called Sugar Sand Park is the work of the city of Boca Raton. It is a HUGE maze of tunnels, slides, ramps, that reaches high in the sky. In addition there are swings, a sand box, a water feature, a carousel, and a science center. Children of all ages can be entertained here - you just need to keep a careful eye on them! Cost of the day? $3 (for three children to go on the carousel). The science center is $2 more per person, but we are saving that for another visit.

Day 9 - Went to a very nice Children's Museum called Schoolhouse Children's Museum in Boynton Beach. There we learned about life in turn of the century south Florida. My children got to experience running a farm, running a home, riding a train, being a postman, a doctor, a merchant and more. Afterwards, we got to play on another wonderful playground behind the museum. There was a steep slide that lands you right in a sandbox. Cost? $19

Nine days of wonderful entertainment, culture, learning, and experience all for less than $75!

This type of experience can be replicated in any town or city. Any good new-to-you experience is a vacation from the ordinary. It need not cost a lot to get away and have fun. For other ideas to save money, check out Frugal Fridays.


Anonymous said...

Hello! I don't know if you will see this since this is an older post from Jan 2010, but here goes. This is too amazing! You vacationed in my neck of the woods. I grew up in Boca, less than a mile from Sugar Sand Park, and know well the Deerfield-Delray-Boca area. Each time I visit now (I, too, live near DC in Maryland), I often go to Wachodahatchee, Gumbo Limbo, and the revitalized Atlantic Avenue in Delray. Glad you enjoy that lovely area during the winter months. It was a delight growing up on the Gold Coast.

I just found your blog and am enjoying your frugal tips. It took me a while to rebuild my finances after a divorce a few years ago, but the frugal lifestyle I developed then is paying off big time now that I am making a good living.

Thanks for sharing your frugal/money saving tips!

Michele said...

Thanks for reading! I just happened to read over a few of my old posts and saw your comment. Funny that you grew up newar Sugar Sand Park. I love that place! Wish we had stuff like that around here. We're going to head back down there in December. I love Florida!