Taking a vacation doesn’t have to be expensive. Sure, you always need discretionary income to pay for a vacation, but you don’t need to go overboard. In this article, you can learn to save money by taking a fringe vacation.
What do I mean by a fringe vacation? It’s simple really. When you have a vacation destination in mind, do your research. You’ll have to read up on what the locals recommend and always avoid the tourist traps. After you come up with a starting point, you’ll want to continue to plan ahead and avoid splurging on fine dining.
Taking a vacation on the fringes can save you money and avoid breaking the bank.
My wife and I recently returned from Keystone, Colorado. Over the past few years, we’ve grown to love snowboarding in the winters and we usually go every chance we get. With that said, we don’t live in Colorado; and ski vacations can be expensive if you’re not careful.
Living in the Midwest, our options are limited but we’re lucky enough to be near Michigan. Michigan has a few options available to us; however, this year we wanted to join the big boys and fly to Colorado to enjoy the Rocky Mountains.
When we started planning, we had an estimated budget in mind and wanted to stick to that budget as much as we could. Over the years, I think we’ve become rather adept at making sacrifices and getting creative with our vacation choices. This is where my thought about fringe vacations comes into play.
In my mind, a fringe vacation is a well-researched vacation which keeps you away from the tourist traps. If you don’t spend much time planning a vacation and you aren’t familiar with the area, it’s all too easy to get sucked into unnecessary spending.
Look for the average middle ground
A prime example of this is Florida. My wife and I have spent time in St. Petersburg. Instead of finding a hotel on the beach, we looked for a rental home in a typical neighborhood. Living like a local is usually a lot cheaper than living like a tourist. As an added bonus, you get to experience life as if you were living there full time.
While we were in Florida, we were able to drive around and explore the beaches. On one occasion, we ventured to Clearwater Beach. We immediately noticed the tourist trap, marked by overpriced, generic, and corporate restaurants. On the other hand, we spent another day at Pass-A-Grille which was much less crowded and not littered with expensive hotels and food.
However, spending a few days in the mountains is far different than Florida. If you’re there for skiing or snowboarding, you don’t want to get snowed in while staying in a cabin in the wilderness. Finding lodging on the fringes is a bit more difficult.
In the end, we had to settle with a condo at the ski resort. By doing some research, we were able to choose a location away from the most popular area and save some money that way. If you’re looking to save money, staying at older or not recently renovated hotels and condos is a great choice.
Don’t stay in the tourist trap
Like I mentioned previously, avoiding the tourist trap is a great way to save money when on vacation. For one, if you research carefully, you can enjoy life as a local (at least a little bit). And two, you avoid spending money for the “experience” which usually means overcrowded beaches and overpriced restaurants.
If you’re unfamiliar with your vacation destination, you’ll have to do some research. Our favorite place to research vacations is Reddit. Simply do a Google search for: <vacation destination> reddit. In most cases, you’ll find a discussion about the location. If you don’t, most vacation destinations have a related subreddit. For example, here’s one for St. Petersburg, Florida. Find yours and ask a question.
Get creative with transportation
As many of you already know, flying out of smaller cities can be more expensive. Airlines typically have fewer deals available to regional airports than airports in bigger cities like Chicago.
First, if you’re planning a vacation, don’t default to flying. Twelve hours in a car might seem like a lot at first, but driving can be fun if you plan. If you split the driving with your spouse or rent a car you don’t usually drive, you’ll keep yourself from going mad.
If you decide to drive, build some stops into your trip. There are usually many places of interest along any route. For example, my wife and I have visited breweries, national parks, and hiking trails along our trips. (By the way, most breweries offer plenty of free beer in exchange for taking a tour.)
Finally, if you really can’t drive and you must fly, plan your flights weeks or months in advance. Use an app like Hopper or Google Flights to watch airfare for your trip. Also, look at airports within two hours of where you live. You might be able to find a better deal in exchange for driving a couple hours to get to the airport.
Plan ahead and be on the lookout for deals
Treat your vacation like an annual budget. Stay on top of the details and always be looking for ways to save money.
When my wife and I were planning our trip to Colorado, we made note of a few sites for deals on lift tickets. We started watching these sites more than four months before our trip and we checked on them weekly. When a deal on lift tickets was announced, we waited and pulled the trigger when we were ready.
If you plan your vacation far enough ahead, you can take your time. Don’t rush and purchase things before you know the whole story. You may think you’re getting a deal when you really aren’t.
Don’t go all out on food
Finally, food. Where you’re on vacation, food can get so damn expensive. That is, if you’re not careful.
Don’t feel like you have to eat at restaurants for every meal. If you can find a place with a kitchenette, you can buy some groceries when you arrive and cook some of your meals in your hotel.
When my wife and I first arrived in Colorado, we headed to the grocery store first. We were able to plan our meals for the week and ensure we were eating healthy food. The last thing you want to do while skiing is not eat right.
Struggling to come up with food ideas while on vacation? Read Lifehacker’s guide on how to cook great food on vacation.
By heading to the grocery store on vacation, you might think you’re not getting the right vacation experience. I don’t think you should worry about that. How often do you remember details of what you ate while vacationing?
One of the reasons I like taking fringe vacations is it lets me focus on what’s most important. If I’m going on a snowboarding vacation, I can focus on the snowboarding. I don’t worry about spending a bunch of money on fine dining because we’ve reduced the money we spend on food.
By keeping the vacation focused on one or two things, you can focus on what matters. You can focus on the thing you’ll remember for years. I don’t know about you, but I rarely remember the fine details of restaurants.
When I remember our snowboarding vacation, I remember carving down the mountain with my wife. I vividly remember the gondola rides and the labored breathing at altitude. Those are the memories I cherish. On the other hand, I hardly remember what we bought at the grocery store or the driving to and from the airport.
When you take a vacation on the fringes, you save money and get to focus on the substance. The luxuriousness of your lodging doesn’t really matter – even though you might think it does.
Plan your next vacation on the fringe. I encourage you to consider alternate modes of transportation and don’t default to flying. Do some research and see what the locals are doing in your vacation destination. And seriously, don’t spend a fortune on food.
Your vacation doesn’t need to break the bank. Try to focus on what really matters to you. You can save money on a fringe vacation and still be right in the middle of the most exciting places. I promise.
Do you have any vacation hacks to save money? Share your tips and tricks with us in the comments below.
[Featured Image Credit: https://unsplash.com/@ronzyang]