As you read this, Jon and I are in the mountains of Tennessee celebrating our 3-year anniversary with another couple! We decided to take a long weekend trip, rent a cabin, spend a day in Dollywood, and have a leisurely vacation time. Zach and Leah, who are also going with us, got married one day after Jon and me, so it's been fun to take mini vacations with them to celebrate our anniversaries together.
Something you may know if you've been reading my blog for awhile is that Jon and I have been working hard to pay off my student loans from college. Going to a private college can have its advantages and disadvantages, one of those being a giant tuition. We've been working on paying off our loans for the past 2.5 years and have been able to pay off 55% of our loans. We still have a little ways to go but are hoping to completely finish them off in 2014. It's been a long journey and we've definitely had to hold off on extra purchases, big vacations, saving to buy a home and fully furnishing our home. In the end, we know it will be SO worth the effort and time once these bad boys are done. And yes, we will be throwing a huge party to celebrate!
However, as we are both working full-time, we still need to make breaks and vacations a priority. We need time to get away from everything, put the electronics down and refresh. It's been so important for us and it's been so invigorating to get away and come back ready to go and refreshed. Over the past three years, Jon and I have come up with clever ways to get away on a budget and not break the bank for expensive vacations. Below are a couple of our tips:
1// Budgeting - We live off of a monthly budget that we try to keep as detailed as possible. This helps us understand where our money is going, when we've paid our bills, and how much "flex" money we have available. Each month we try to set aside a small amount of money into our vacation budget. If we know we have a vacation coming up, we try and slip in a little extra so that the money is fully available before our trip and will cover everything from our stay to gas money. A couple weeks before we leave for our trip I take our budget and split it up between gas money, food money, money we know we will be spending (on tickets etc.) and a little bit of extra-cushion money. This helps us be aware of how much we have to spend on the trip so we won't go overboard or get too caught up in that "I'm on vacation" mode that makes you spend more money than you have. ;) This has been great for us to make wise financial decisions while we are vacationing. We know we can splurge on one fancy dinner and we might eat at less expensive places throughout the rest of the time or even cook our own food. Budgeting has helped us save so much money and puts us in the right frame of mind for our trips.
2// VRBO - Have you heard of VRBO? It's a website were you can rent vacation rentals by owner and it's AMAZING. You can rent places all over the world and in almost any location. The website is easy to navigate and we've been able to find some amazing places to stay. I've used VRBO to rent 4 places now and I don't think I'll ever go back to staying in hotels if I can help it. The benefit is that more than likely you'll find something less expensive than a hotel. It's a great option to split with other friends! Most likely, it will include a full kitchen so you can cook for yourself and it really gives you that "at home" feel rather than feeling like you're a tourist. Jenny and I rented a beautiful loft in Savannah, GA, through VRBO right on Broughton Street with a full kitchen and it was less expensive then nearby hotel options. Jon and I are also currently staying in a beautiful, cozy cabin with a hot tub, pool table, and cozy beds that has an amazing view. Both places were under $150 per night. You can find great reviews for places on VRBO, see photos of the location and sometimes score a special discounted rate from the owner during the off season. I'm a huge fan and will forever be using vacation rentals from here on out.
3// Go with Friends - When we stay in a vacation rental, the idea of getting away to a nice place in and of its own feels like a vacation. We don't necessarily feel the need to go out and do a bunch of additional costly things. We love to bring games, movies, explore the outdoors, and go into town for a fancy dinner or trip to Dollywood. ;) Having friends go with you on vacation can not only make that type of vacationing so much more fun, but it also helps with cost. You can split the price of the place you are staying at, gas money, and chip in together to buy groceries. After everything is said and done a three night-four day stay, gas, food and extra costs will come out to under $450 total for an extended weekend vacation. Depending on your budget, you can make this more or less depending on where you choose to stay and being economically creative. ;)
4// Make it an Extended Weekend - As mentioned above, we usually like to stick with extended weekend vacationing. This saves us from using too many vacation days and sandwiching 1-2 vacation days on a weekend, or a holiday weekend really helps! If possible, look to vacation during off-season times. You'll most likely find way better rates and less crowds!
5// Cook Your Own Food - By using a vacation rental, we've been able to purchase groceries and make our own food during our trip. This definitely helps ease the budget rather than eating out for every meal. We usually bring food to prepare for breakfast and lunch and plan to go out to dinner OR just go out to one fancy place. It also saves money on snack foods throughout the day. When we go with another couple we usually meal plan beforehand so we have a list of all the meals we can make and plenty of beverages and snacks throughout our time. If you don't have access to a kitchen, I suggest bringing meal and snack items that don't have to be cooked to help save costs.
6// Roadtrips! - Going to a far away destination can be so much fun, but flight costs can sometimes be out of budget for your upcoming vacation. Whenever possible, we try to plan mini trips that we can drive to in under 8 hours. This not only gives us a great excuse to explore the Southeast, but it saves lots of money not having a buy a plane ticket. As well, if you are going with friends, road-trips can be SO much fun. If it's a really long road-trip, plan to make stops at fun locations to make the road-trip also feel like part of the vacation.
7// Staycations - Sometimes a get away is completely out of the question. Perhaps due to other financial responsibilities or timing. When we first got married, we would often take "Staycations". This meant that we would stay at home, rent fun movies, plan out of the ordinary activities and dates and be intentional to be on vacation while we were at home. This often requires you to set "Staycation" house rules like no work, electronics, and canceling some of your plans. This helps give you that "getaway" feeling. We still take mini Staycations here and there when needed but love when we are especially able to take a mini getaway.
I hope this was helpful advice!! AND I hope that you will enjoy this new series! Jon and I will be posting about marriage/relationship/things-we've-learned advice on a regular basis so if you have any particular questions or topics you would like us to cover, please feel free to share them in the comment section below! As well, if you have additional tips to add to vacation on a budget, please do share!
Hope you are having a wonderful week, friends!