By Victoria Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.
It’s been a stressful few years, to say the least, and we could all use some much needed rest and relaxation these days. But how exactly do we get it? Covid is still lurking out there, as well as the resulting problems that the pandemic has created in the travel industry. There is sky-high inflation to deal with, with gas prices, in particular, through the roof. And last, but definitely not least, there is just the general craziness out there that has become the backdrop of our lives and the world in these turbulent times.
I, for one, am glad that I’ve done a fair amount of traveling in the past few decades. I have been to England and France, Australia, Singapore, Japan and Hawaii. And closer to home, to Canada and much of our own fair country. So, personally, I am ready to sit this one out. I have no desire to attempt to foray out into to that madness for the time being.
To that end, I am very happy that we have created our own little oasis here in the country that we can relax in and enjoy. We have our gardens to putter in, and at the end of the day, we can sit and gaze at our beautiful flowers while we feast on fresh food from our own vegetable patch just a few feet away from us and watch our chickens frolic about.
That is certainly an option for any of you. What can you do to make your own home a place of comfort and joy? Maybe you can take the money you would have spent on a vacation and do whatever it takes to get that vacation feeling at home. You could create a beautiful outdoor patio to relax on, maybe with some candles and a fire pit. Or put in a lovely garden of your own. Even if it’s just some pots on your balcony. It doesn’t take much to evoke that leisurely, peaceful atmosphere of a relaxing holiday at home.
But if you just cannot quell your wanderlust to get away, here are some tried and true tips of how I have saved money on vacations past. If you know me at all, you know that I do not do anything full price, so I will let you in on how I have managed to travel, usually with at least one or two (or four) of my kids along for the journey as well, on a shoestring budget.
Planning: Of course, the first step is to be realistic about what kind of vacation you can afford on your budget. If you have $2,000 to spend, you are not going on a six-week trip around the world. But can you do something fun on a smaller budget? Absolutely!!
Take a little time to think about your priorities. What is the best thing about vacation time for you? Sightseeing? Beach time? Activities? Relaxation? Time with the kids? You may not be able to do everything, but you should be able to attain a few of your priorities. Half the fun of a vacation is actually in the planning stages. Talk about your vacation dreams with the people you will be vacationing with. Have fun with it! Which of your fantasies might you be able to fulfill on your next vacation? While you’re at it, daydream about future vacations. There is great pleasure to be had in just the dreaming alone!
Accommodations: The time to book is as early as possible, again keeping your budget in mind. If you can’t afford a motel, camping might be the way to go. If you can’t afford to travel, keep it close to home. See if you can lock in a good deal as early as the summer before. Keep your eye out for specials. There are so many travel and discount websites now, you just have to go to your favorites and watch for them.
If it is feasible, try to find something with a kitchen to save on meal expenses. Or you can try a house swap, or hostel. Don’t forget to check out Airbnb for some offbeat affordable options. If you are very flexible about where and when you go (retirees, for instance) here is where you may be able to snag some great last-minute deals if you keep watching!
Transportation: Again, keep the budget in mind. If money is tight, this is not the year to be flying off somewhere. Keep it closer to home. But if you have a little more leeway, then maybe this year you can take it further afield. Don’t feel you need to fly away to get away. Remember, some people are flying to wherever you live to “get away.”
Again, starting at least six months out, keep your eye on the flights. When you see a good deal, book it. Don’t wait to see if there are last-minute specials. The airlines don’t really do that anymore and you may very well end up paying more for a last-minute flight. There are also apps and websites that will alert you to a drop in price, and some airlines will send you a refund for the difference. You can save some money by flying on any day except Friday or Sunday, the two most expensive days to fly. And also, by booking at less-than-optimal times or taking flights that have layovers.
Remember to watch for add-on expenses, such as checking in luggage. The best thing to do is learn to pack very light. One carry-on bag and you’re done. I’ve done this on several two-week trips with no problem whatsoever. You don’t need a lot! You can wear things over and over with no dire consequences.
If you are driving, remember to factor gas prices into your budget, also tolls and parking expenses. If you are renting a vehicle, get the smallest (cheapest) vehicle you can make do with–it will also be more fuel efficient. It may be a good idea to go with mass transit at your destination if you can.
Meals: Here, as I have alluded to earlier, the more you can avoid eating out, the better. It’s great to have a place with a kitchen. But even if you don’t, always bring a cooler to keep stocked on meal options. Try to get a room that includes free breakfast. Eat up on that! This way a light lunch will do. Keep things in your room for that. Sandwich bread, peanut butter (or other fillings), fruit, yogurt, cheese, crackers, nuts, or the like. Don’t forget to bring your refillable water bottle. Now you can eat in your room or take your lunch out on the road for a picnic wherever you go for the day.
Dinner does not have to be a fancy affair every night. A quick deli meal or some tacos will do. Also remember to share meals if you go somewhere with big servings (or bring a “doggie bag” home for the next night’s dinner).
And for the adults, try not to go out for drinks every night. You can have cocktail hour on your balcony sometimes, with a bottle of wine (or cocktail ingredients) brought from home or purchased locally.
Activities: These can run the gamut, from those pricey theme park vacations or expensive activities to a (free) hike in the woods or making s’mores around the campfire. You should “limit ” yourself to what your budget dictates. Why do I put limit in quotations? Because there are so many beautiful experiences you can have for free that I hardly think this is a limiting factor. In fact, I might argue here that the best things in life truly are free! Get a local paper and look up free events in the area. Bring along (or rent) bikes, boats, balls, rackets, etc. Bring board games for rainy days. The things that bring joy to you and your family are the fun and pleasure of spending time together. You cannot buy relaxation or happiness.
If you can’t afford a vacation right now, you can’t afford a vacation, but you can still enjoy yourself and share good times and laughter with your family and friends. And whatever your vacation budget is, you can still have a quality vacation and make memories to last a lifetime for you and your family. It’s all up to you!
A long, long time ago, after the birth of her third child, Victoria made the life-changing decision to leave the work world behind and devote herself to being a full-time mom and homemaker. Along with her new title of Domestic Engineer, she took on the role of the Chief Home Economist for the family.
At first, it was scary to try to live on less than half their income, but Victoria found that she not only rose to the challenge but thrived in the enjoyment of learning to live their best life with limited resources. She embraced this new frugal lifestyle of the at-home-mom and went on to add a fourth child to the mix. And their family was complete.
Along the way she acquired a great deal of wisdom in how to not only avoid debt, but pay off mortgages early, buy cars for cash, travel on a shoe-string budget, and send kids to college with no student loans, all while also saving a tidy nest egg for retirement. She currently educates others in these skills through her business Bright Future.
Now living the life of a modern homesteader in the Hudson Valley, New York, Victoria has added gardening to her list of skill sets as she grows many of her own vegetables to supplement her family’s primarily vegan diet. And she has come to realize that this waste-not, want-not, carbon-friendly, sustainable life she is living is not only benefiting her own family but also our Mother Earth, and that each of us has the obligation to live a responsibly sustainable life not only for ourselves, but for the greater good of our community, and our planet. We can all do this one household and backyard at a time. We are the world! And it all begins right at home.
Victoria can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org