10 tips for making a trip more affordable

I read about a couple who bought a sailboat when common sense might have told them not to in this New York Times article awhile ago. Their kids were heading to college, and the economy had begun its rapid trip south. According to the couple, they have no regrets about the boat purchase.

The experiences they’ve had with their kids and friends on the boat have added to their good memories bank. Okay, sure they must have been rolling in dough to start off with, but they do have a point. As the author Rob Lieber pointed out, one doesn’t have to buy a boat to experience the benefits of a splurge.

I’m not advocating splurging at every turn in life, but sometimes acting solely on common sense can make life feel tight and without pleasure. In my mind, a splurge worth making involves travel because of the memories one gathers in the process.

One of the great things about travel is that there are so many aspects of the splurge where costs can be controlled. Making memories may not cost as much as you think if you plan right and alter your thinking about what a trip should look like.

Here are some ideas I’ve thought of to help balance out worthwhile travel with a budget in mind. I’ve used them on several occassions.

1. All meals don’t have to be worth writing home about. Head to a place that has good food, but nothing fancy–a place where locals on a budget might eat. Eateries like these tend to have the best stories anyway. Consider the places you’ve eaten a real find.

2. If you’re eating at a pricier place for the experience, browse the menu for the least expensive option and that’s what you will order. Or order the appetizer that sounds the most filling and buy the cheapest glass of wine to go with it. It will feel special and you can buy something cheaper later to fill you up.

3. Another way to afford more expensive food is to plan for the meal to be the main event for that day and pair it with a cheaper activity like a free walk in a park or an inexpensive museum. Many museums have free admission days. Find out when.

4.. On the day you spend more money at a museum, head to a cheaper restaurant, or buy fixings for a picnic lunch in a park. Mix it up. Have an expensive day followed by a cheaper one.

5. Sure it’s wonderful to sleep in luxury, but if you’re on vacation in an exciting place, think about how little time you’ll spend in the hotel. Two years ago when we went to Ft. Lauderdale, we stayed at a 1960s style bungalow two blocks from the beach at a substantial savings. We had access to the same beach as the people in the pricey rooms in beach front property. Also, we had a wonderful time talking with the proprietor who came to Ft. Lauderdale to open a motel to make his dreams come true. Much more interesting than a corporate style place with fluffy pillows and an overly priced mini bar that we wouldn’t use anyway.

6. Stay in a place that has free breakfast. Don’t eat that hardboiled egg or fruit for breakfast, but take it along with you for lunch.

7. Think about adjusting the time you spend in an expensive location. Instead of a five-day vacation, pair it down a day. One night less cuts down on the cost. Plus, if you plan out your trip according to the things you most want to see, you’ll leave feeling full and not like you didn’t have enough of a travel meal. Isn’t it better to eat something than nothing at all?

8. Also, think about the places where you have family and friends and combine a vacation with a visit. We’re fortunate to have friends in several places so we pair visits with them with exploring those sites we haven’t seen before. The extra time with our friends is always time worth spent and makes our destinations all that more sweet and memorable. Plus, the people who live in a place know its heartbeat much more than a guidebook does.

9. Decide how much money you’ll spend on souvenirs before you go. An item you buy on the road is part of memory making but you don’t have to go nuts about it. In this case, you’ll be doing as I say and not as I do. Our house looks like a store run by Unicef. You could buy stuff out of our house and I wouldn’t notice.

10. If you have children, make their souvenirs part of this budget. On a trip to Disney World, each of my kids could only spend $15 tops. That cut out a lot of options and arguments. My daughter didn’t buy anything, and my son bought a small stuffed animal which cost $12. The limit helped us corral him through the gift shops at the end of each ride.

No matter what the economy is up to, with planning and adjustments in expectations, travel still remains one of the best deals around. I’ve never regretted it–there are some souvenirs I’ve regretted, but never the trip. The memories I’ve collected are priceless.