As yall may know, I love to travel (see 1 and 2). However, traveling does not love my wallet. Which is an unfortunate circumstance, to say the least. So I usually do whatever I can to save money, like stalk airline websites for days on end for deals, dig up as many coupons as possible, and using whatever points I can for hotels. Ballin on a budget, yaaaaallll. Holla. Just kidding.
But sometimes ya just have to plan for the unexpected. Like losing all of your fun money playing blackjack or your biking trip across the Golden Gate bridge costing $4 billion dollars. Luckily, we've got Aimee below to teach even the savviest travelistas a thing or two about saving money on a vacation.
Can someone just give me a free vacation to Turks and Caicos, please & thank you?
Five tips to book a last-minute summer vacation on a budget
By Aimee Heckel, ShopAtHome.com
We’re going on a vacation from our vacation.
No, we’re not that spoiled, and we’re certainly not that rich. It’s just, well, our last vacation was so violently bad that we need a vacation to recover from it.
It’s a total Griswold Vacation horror story, the kind that might be funny in 10 years. More like 20. Maybe 50. Anyway, we decided to take a road trip to explore the glory and history of our home state of Colorado, because when you live somewhere, you never visit the touristy spots, right? (Read: We wanted to save money.)
This four-day trip to Mesa Verde National Park (entrance fee: $15) ended up costing us $8,000 on our car that we totaled; hundreds more in rental cars (yes, plural); and hundreds more on two extra nights of unexpected hotels when we literally got trapped in Southern Colorado due to spreading wildfires. Two wildfires. That seriously burst up before our eyes.
I know you don’t believe me.
I don’t want to either.
It’s not over.
When I returned home, I crashed the rental car that we had to rent because we had wrecked our other car. I’ll pause for a moment to let the National Lampoon of this sink in.
That night, with the looming knowledge that this cheap “staycation” was probably going to send my family into bankruptcy, instead of doing the normal thing that any mom in my position would do (drink two bottles of wine and cry myself to sleep in the dining room chair), I booked another vacation.
Sadist? Maybe. Hopeful and desperate optimist? Definitely.
This next vacay is going to save my soul from rotting on the side of the road where my license plate flew off and vanished into the trees (second accident).
Obviously, money is a factor in this travel therapy appointment to Seal Beach, Calif. Here’s how I saved serious cash and was able to book a weeklong beach vacation for my family of three for about $1,000:
1. First, I did what any self-respecting budgetista (I totally just made that word up and am kind of embarrassed about it but I’m running with it) would do: I visited ShopAtHome.com. This is a no-brainer for any online shopping, because it gives you links to all the best coupon codes out there. I went directly to the travel coupons page and scanned the top coupons (usually the best ones) for the top deal, combined with the most Cash Back. I settled on Travelocity, which was offering 20 percent or more off airfares, plus 10 percent Cash Back.
2. Then, I clicked on the link. It redirected me to the Travelocity page, and I entered my info with flexible dates (key to saving money). The cheapest days to fly out are usually mid-week, and this proved true for my flight from Denver to LAX. The flights leaving Wednesday and returning the following Tuesday were significantly cheaper (only $155 per person, about $100 less than weekends) on Spirit Airlines. The tickets were less than $500, and I got about $50 back from ShopAtHome.com for zero extra work. Bingo.
3. Before I booked my tickets, I checked my airline’s baggage fees (because you know nothing is included anymore), to make sure it was something I could live with. Seatguru by TripAdvisor is a great place to get info like this. Since I only plan on traveling with my swimming suit and no actual clothes or shoes, I was cool. Booked.
4. Then I went to my favorite lodging go-to, AirBNB.com, where you can rent out other people’s homes or vacation houses for super cheap. Way cheaper than any hotel I could find, directly on the beach and private. I used AirBNB’s interactive map and price limit to find a beautiful condo for $88 per night and 88 steps to the sand. I booked a week and got a discount.
Tip: Always make sure you stay somewhere that has a long history of happy visitors and high rates. Read what other visitors say about the place to make sure there isn’t a hidden problem with cockroaches.
5. I picked lodging close enough to the airport and within walking distance of restaurants and shops, so I wouldn’t have to rent a car. Not only does this save me money, but, well, I’m not too keen on the whole driving thing right now. And I don’t think the rental car companies are too keen on me, either. It’s a mutual breakup, really.
Aimee Heckel writes about travel and family for ShopAtHome.com.
Photo: Aimee, JD and Bettie at Mesa Verde before their road trip went cray-cray. Photo courtesy Aimee Heckel
**This post was sponsored by ShopAtHome.com**