Husband and I just returned from a short trip--it was with a group of friends--and I went into the trip wondering how frugality and group travel would mix. There was a time in my life where I would have overspent, you see, so that I didn't stand out as "cheap" or unable to afford. The wonderful thing about growing older is that I am so comfortable in my own skin these days; I had no problem opting out of $500 helicopter rides and outlet mall shopping trips. I explained that we have a few things we are saving for once we get home again and that we had pre-booked the one attraction we really wanted to see. After that, we took part in what we chose and did not apologize or make excuses as to why we weren't spending more money.
We set a limit on what we planned to spend and came in at 10% lower than expected. Here are a few of the things we did that saved us money:
- we used the coupons we were given by our hotel
- I kept a booklet of coupons in my purse and checked for coupons before we did anything. Quite often we had 2 for 1 or money off. A friend also got us a deal on an exhibit
- we pre-booked a shuttle from airport to hotel and back at a round trip cost of $14 each, as opposed to the $25 cab ride that friends took (each way)
- we walked almost everywhere, sharing cab rides between the group if it was too far to walk
- we took advantage of the offer of a free breakfast and lunch and received free tickets to an exhibit in exchange for sitting through a time share presentation
- we were also able to get 3 friends their tickets at 50% off
- we bought our beverages at out of the way shops and kept a cooler of ice in our room (no fridges) in order to keep the price of drinks down. A friend spent $7 on a pepsi at a popular attraction! If we were thirsty we brought our own or waited until we found water for $1
- I avoided shopping altogether. I explained that there is nothing I am looking for and our luggage was full already. Since I am not a shopper it was not hard for me to avoid the malls although a part of me wished for a new purse!
- I refused to pay to have my picture taken and then pay $15 or $20 to buy the picture after our tour ended. Sorry, we have lots of pictures of our trip!
- We spent only $20 on souvenirs.
I found the least socially-acceptable part of my frugality was my determination not to bring back toys for my kids. It can be hard for people to understand that my kids are not given "stuff" unless it is a birthday or Christmas. Even then, I try to give them useful, well made and educational things. And although much of what people bought for their kids was useful (they found great deals on school clothes, shoes and cleats) my kids are given great quality hand-me-downs for free. Shopping with people who plan to spend all day looking for deals just doesn't work for me if I am shopping for things I get for free. We found a meaningful gift for each of our sons (a small bag each of beautiful stones to add to their rock collections). We watched for something special and when we saw it, we spent the money to get them one thing each. And you know what? They were thrilled. They have taken their rocks to show gramma, they have played with them since we got home, and they will remember the significance of that one simple gift.
I realize that some of our travel companions might have considered me "strict" or "cheap" and I accept that. I feel that while there is a grain of truth in those labels I am more than anything determined--determined not to be blown off course by a desire to fit in or impress, and determined to set an example for my boys that fun and travel and experiences need not incur debt and stress and "stuff". We had a nice time. We had a couple wonderful meals that were not that pricey but made me feel truly on vacation. I came home relaxed, refreshed, ready to take on winter and, more than anything, missing my kids and wanting to be with them. We achieved everything we set out to do and did it under budget. It doesn't matter to me that I may not be "trendy" or "cool" while I did it ;) Do you find it hard to stay on budget when you travel, or can you share some tricks for saving money while away from home?