Saving money on vacation
One thing I have found has saved me a lot of money on trips is purchasing an Entertainment Book for the area that I am going to. Last May, I went to Hawaii. The book cost $25, if you get if full price. My friend and I saved $30 a piece on a Luau, and $40 each on the Polynesian Cultural Center. Those two coupons alone saved us $130. We also used a few buy one get on free meal coupons, and some coupons for discounts in some shops. The nice thing is that you can view the coupons in the book on line before you buy... so you'll have a good idea if you'll save money or not.
We also used every available point and discount program we could.. I save any and all points used on a no fee credit card (don't carry a balance) and cashed them in on gas cards, car rental cards, and hotel cards. My friend travels for a living, so her company "paid" for airline tickets with frequent flier miles (ok, we each paid $10 for our ticket) and we spent 11 days in 4 and 5 star hotels with their program point... and all it cost us was parking, which we used my CC point earned gift cards to pay. If you are going to Hawaii, and don't have the ability to earn hotel points, Bed & Breakfast's are a very budget friendly option and we also stayed at a fantastic very clean shared bath facility in Maui since we didn't have enough points to stay all of our nights free in hotels. My other big travel to Hawaii hint: do almost all of your souvenir shopping at the Aloha Stadium Flea Market in Oahu, and believe it or not, the Hawaii Wal-Mart's have an excellent selection of souvenirs as well. But the deals at the Flea Market are unreal.
Other things I find helpful on vacation.. Have a good packing list that you store on your computer or file cabinet.... with good shopping I can get sun screen for next to nothing at home... if I have to buy it there, it will cost me big time. Same for things like extra camera batteries, etc. A good packing checklist will save you money on forgotten items. I've always done laundry on vacation to reduce the amount of stuff I have to drag with me, but especially now that a lot of airline charge for baggage, it just makes good sense to take less and spend a few hours doing laundry (and it is a good time to unwind). I pack sample sized packet of laundry detergent that I've gotten free with coupons, and a few dryer sheets so I don't have to pay to buy the stuff on the road. Being in a laundry mat also lets you spend some time chatting with the locals. Chatting in Hawaii was really enlightening. Stop at farmers markets and get fresh local produce for healthy snacks... usually cheaper than the grocery store, but also another chance to talk with someone from the local are you are in.
In a bare bones room, an immersion coil takes up very little space in my suitcase and will heat water to boiling quickly in a mug. You can do amazing things with boiling water for meals. I take advantage of the ice bucket in rooms without fridges....easy to make iced tea (immersion coil or in room coffee pot), or, as a powdered milk drinker, I can easily take along powdered milk and keep a cup or two "refrigerated" in the ice bucket for cereal.
I know family with kids who go to Disney and stock up on Disney themed toys and t-shirts at yard sales prior to .. then dole them out as the "I want it"s hits!
Aurther Frommers Budget Travel magazine is one well worth investing in. It makes great suggestions on places all over the world, and let you be aware of some unbelievable deals coming up in the next 3 months or so. This is one of the best resources I've ever come across... most travel magazines focus on things only the wealthy or hopeless in debt can dream of... Budget Travel is really different this way. It is more about getting value for your travel dollar.
Precise planning for a vacation and doing research before you go and having an itinerary will save you money, and help you get more quality out of your dollar. Anyone can just pop into McDonald's for a cheap meal, but why not research and find the local $5-$8 meal that will knock you socks off? I've also found it is usually worth it to buy a few updated books on where your going.. spending $15 to $50 on books to research (unless you local library keeps recent additions of travel site books.. the most recent ones really will give the best info) can save you hundreds of $$$ in the end.. and leave you with some great experiences. You can search for budget meals, get the meal rating, search for budget lodging with good ratings, get ideas for cheap entertainment, and have an itinerary planned...this will also allow you to budget for some more expensive things on your "want to do" list.
Also, rather than coming home with souvenirs that will just sit on a shelf, I try to line up my souvenir shopping with my hobbies. Since I make jewelery, scrapbook, and sew, before I go I do a web search for these specific stores. So, I come home with scrapbook supplies, jewelery making supplies (beads, beads made from local materials or seeds, local quilt patterns, etc). While this may not "save" me money, it does make sure my "souvenirs" are not just collecting dust on a shelf or in a storage box. Again, this is what I call "value" in my travel souvenirs. I will usually "splurge" on some higher quality beads for jewelry making or try to find locally made items. My last trip to Hawaii, I found a bead store in Maui that carried beads made from local seeds. For a small monetary investment, I now have a necklace that makes me think of my trip to Hawaii and hands down beats the jewelry I looked at there for hundreds and thousands of dollars. I brought home locally produced scrapbook paper, and even found a quilt shop specializing in Hawaiian quilt patterns. Once I even came across a local making bracelets out of local seeds to sell, and rather than buying a bracelet, asked her how much she would charge for just a few of the seeds.
Thanks so much for your tips, Terri. I know I enjoyed reading them and I am sure my readers will too! I am definitely going to type up and save a "packing list" for our next trip and then for all future trips I will just have to print it out. I also love the Disney souvenir idea!