Imagine spending only $376 on a five day vacation to Colorado from Tampa, Florida. That’s $376 for hotels, airfare, food and entertainment – and airport parking. I’m still in shock writing about this when I can’t even spend that little on a few hours shopping and dining in the same city in which we live. We spent $1,700 on one night away in a city less than two hours from us for our daughter’s 7th birthday party last year between our suite, dinner, drinks and lunch by the pool and breakfast. I mean, seriously; we do have a family of six and we did buy dinner for the other 9 adults and 8 kids that came with at the hotel restaurant – but still.
I’m feeling a bit more than just a little ashamed about that when I sit down and consider the fact that there is a real life couple that actually spent this little bit on a five night vacation in Colorado from Tampa. I live an hour from Tampa. I was impressed when I found airline tickets – by accident – to visit my grandmother in Texas that were only $75 per person round-trip. Of course, we still had to drive six hours from Dallas to her house once we landed since she’s near nothing else.
I just bought my husband a cooler for his upcoming birthday that cost more than an entire vacation for an entire five days for two entire people – including food. I spent more than that on dinner for my husband and I each night in New York in September (clearly I see that I have shopaholic problems…I’m not ashamed; we work hard…and now I want to start singing and dancing).
Either way, two people spent this little, tiny, insanely small amount of money on a five day vacation. So, how did they do it? It’s not that difficult if you can put forth the effort, the work and the time it takes to accumulate all the points and miles that they used to book this trip. Additionally, you’re going to need to be a fairly low maintenance traveler without much expectation as far as meals are concerned, and without a love of shopping or excess spending. Not going to lie; it’s not my kind of vacation. However, I can see my mom and dad all over this – and I’m going to teach them how they can do it, too. So, if you are a minimalist, adventurous, fun-loving traveler, this might be the kind of trip for you.
If you’re into a different kind of travel, you can still take some of the tips and tricks this exceptionally awesomely frugal couple used and apply it to your more elaborate vacations and still save a bundle; different strokes for different folks and all that. Go ahead and take a few moments to learn how this one couple spent almost nothing yet had the vacation of their dreams in Colorado doing what they love to do. Keep in mind that this is an effort that requires hard work, dedication and some time researching travel and dates, some flexibility and a love of adventure.
This couple does not dine out for dinner. They pick restaurants they want to try, and they eat a big lunch or a late lunch when the menu items are fairly similar to dinner menu items, but far cheaper. They fill up so that they’re not hungry later, or not so hungry that they can’t just pick up a light snack at the local pharmacy for a few bucks. There are no $500 dinners at the Four Seasons for them. Now, I’m a dinner person; it’s my favorite meal of the day. I’m not willing to forgo an amazing dinner, dressing up, a bottle of wine and all that stuff that goes along with it. However, I can see how those without my snobby needs would be able to make this work without an issue. In fact, we’ve done it before by accident plenty of times when we’ve traveled all morning and landed mid-afternoon starving and ready for a meal. When we do that, we just dress up and head down to the hotel bar for drinks instead of dinner.
Buy Food at the Store
Another way that this couple is able to spend so little on their travel is that they prefer to eat a number of their meals from the supermarket. They’ll head to the store, pick up their favorite items and then have a picnic somewhere with a beautiful view and no long wait, busy waiter or crowds. It’s a lovely idea for a beautiful breakfast or lunch, and it’s also one that saves tremendously. Being someone who can’t particularly eat much in the morning, I will stuff myself and make myself sick if I eat breakfast somewhere that offers a buffet type dining, or room service. I would prefer to just pick up a croissant and coffee and find a beautiful mountain or water view, myself. It’s a great idea, a great way to keep yourself from getting sick and a great way to save dollars on vacation.
Skip Airport Parking
Airport parking is one of my favorites when it’s tax season and I get to write off my business travel expenses. That’s because it’s so expensive. It’s seriously a lot of money to park your car for one day; and it’s even more to park your car with valet at the airport hotel, but it’s also a lot closer and a lot less work with all the luggage it takes to travel with four kids – including two 1-year-old twins. Just think of four car seats, a double stroller, a diaper bag, three pieces of luggage, carry-on bags for the bigger kids…it adds up to about a million dollars worth of luggage cart rentals each trip, too.
However, if you skip onsite airport parking, you can save a bundle. This couple, particularly, paid $40 to park offsite and take a bus to the terminal for six days. If they’d paid for parking at Tampa International, they would have paid $18 per day – and that’s actually cheap compared to many airports. We love flying out of Tampa because it’s so inexpensive to park and so easy to get through security without long lines and crazy tourists like it is in Orlando.
Find Cheap Activities
Did you know that there are national parks, museums and other locations in cities all over the world that have certain hours each week when admission is free or discounted significantly. Additionally, these are the types of locations that love to offer up free admission and discount tickets on fun and adventure, such as Groupon and Living Social. We live an hour from Tampa and we’ve made the mistake of paying full price to take the kids to the Tampa Aquarium in the past. It’s small, crowded and not worth the price of admission, but the kids love the water park area and we love to be able to sit down while they run through the ships and take in the fun in the sun and water and sip a cocktail. When the aquarium offers buy two tickets get two free deals during the summer, we will take those. Trust me, it’s not worth full price to us, but it is worth half price. See where I’m going with that one?
Choose the Right Flights
There are so many ways to travel for next to nothing. Seriously, I can book airline tickets from Tampa to Dallas on Spirit for $34 one way (after tax). I can book our summer flight every single year from Tampa to Knoxville, where we rent a huge house on Norris Lake about an hour north of the airport with friends and family for a week so we can swim, boat and ski and do nothing at all productive for an entire week, for $50 per person each way on Allegiant. When Allegiant flew into Wilmington, I would book tickets from Orlando to stay with my father-in-law at his house every summer for a week so the kids could have a blast with their grandfather for $14.99 one way per person (they no longer service Wilmington, unfortunately).
When we go to New York City every year, sometimes several times a year, I book tickets via Jet Blue that are always around $160 per person round trip. You can buy tickets that are cheaper than cheap, but you have to know how to look for them. For one, airlines such as Spirit, Allegiant, Frontier and Southwest are budget airlines (though I’ve found that their customer service and flight crew are some of the best in the business) so they’re cheap from the start. However, you can find major airlines that service areas all around the country for next to nothing depending on what you want to pay and when you can leave. You might find a ticket to Hawaii is hundreds of dollars less expensive if you simply choose to leave a day earlier or later than you originally planned. A flexible schedule is something that works well when booking affordable flights.
Points and Rewards
Here’s where this couple really saved on their next-to-nothing vacation. They used their points and their rewards to book their nights and stays. They used a credit card statement credit of $100 on their first night away to bring down their out-of-pocket cost to only $18 for a $118 a night room. They used free nights on their other nights and stayed with a friend their last night in Colorado. Another option is to book using some hotel points and some cash; it works if you don’t have enough points or if the room isn’t that expensive but you can get it for fewer points and a lot less cash than you could booking it outright. You can even purchase points if you are close but not quite there.
It’s not easy to earn that many points, though, unless you’re paying for them on your other stays, so that leads us to another option.
Apply for Credit Cards
And here is how this couple really made their travel dreams come true for less than the average car payment. They apply for credit cards that offer amazing travel rewards, and they earn them. For example, many cards offer a huge bonus of airline miles that equate to one or two free flights or several free nights in hotels or points toward hotel stays if you spend x amount of dollars in three months. If you can spend what is typically between $500 and $3,000 in this amount of time, you will find that you can earn these points, earn free stays and make travel that much less expensive.
Here’s an example. The Frontier Airlines Mastercard offers new cardholders a whopping 40,000 free miles if you can spend $500 in three months on the card. Let’s see; even if you don’t have disposable income, it’s a cinch to buy your gas and groceries with the card instead of the cash you would normally use to pay for those items and then pay it off at the end of each month. When you spend that, you’re given your points; points worth two round trip tickets anywhere in the country. See how that works? You now have two free airline tickets and it cost you nothing to earn them since you already buy gas and groceries every month.
Just be sure, if you utilize this method of inexpensive travel, that you are very organized. You need to be able to keep track of what you owe on each card, how much you have to spend to earn points, what you have to do to fill up your account to get what you want, and how to keep yourself from going crazy and into debt. It’s the only way to ensure you are able to remain debt free.