I love this time of year! Summer is synonymous with vacations!
This year, ST and I will be celebrating our second wedding anniversary in Costa Rica. We’re renting an SUV and going on a road trip throughout the Guanacaste region. I can’t wait for twelve days of hiking, horseback riding, tanning on the beach, and spelunking, and exploring. Huzzah!
Arenal volcano, one of our stops, via Geology.com.
Disclaimer: Everyone has a unique travel style. Some people couch surf and others prefer an all-inclusive, five-star experience. ST and I are somewhere in-between. We don’t crash at our friends’ homes and we certainly don’t stay at the Ritz. The guidelines below are how we prefer to plan and budget our trips.
We travel as cheap as possible. Here’s what we do:
1. Set the budget! Flashback to my underclassmen days. I took an African dance class in college. I don’t remember much about the professor (including her name) but her passion for traveling and the valuable lessons taught through experiencing other cultures stuck with me. This was basically her motto:
We decide on our vacation destinations by plugging random airport codes in Kayak to check out prices. A round-trip ticket to Liberia was $412 with an additional $9 off by booking through Vayama. We’ve always wanted to go to Costa Rica and Liberia is a perfect place to start because its close to the beaches. Our grand total was $814 or $417 per person. You can’t beat that price for international airfare with a stick.
2. Plan in advance. Unless you get a last minute deal, planning a last minute trip will destroy your budget. For reference, ST and I purchased our airfare for Costa Rica in May for travel in August. Planning in advance allows you to pay for your trip in manageable bits.
Planning in advance also affords you the time to research, pick, and choose. Research is your friend! I never book anything without consulting Expedia and Trip Advisor.
3. Utilize deal sites. I never, ever make a purchase online without going through Ebates. There is always cash back offers available for popular travel sites such as Expedia and Groupon (the two we use most frequently).
We’re landing in Costa Rica before our actual anniversary. For our actual anniversary, we wanted to splurge on fancy accommodations. Side note: “Fancy” and “splurge” means about $150 per night. It’s hard to get a fancy hotel (or, sadly, a decent one) for $150. Enter Groupon Getaways. We purchased this Groupon for a three-night stay in a luxurious junior suite at Villa Caletas. Hello, giant four poster bed. Hello, huge terrace with epic mountain view. Hello, terrace jacuzzi! At $469 for three nights, we scored this hotel at about $157 per night, which is much lower than their normal rate and comparable hotels.
This was my first Groupon Getaway purchase and I was nervous about getting scammed. Just make sure you thoroughly research the hotel and then email the hotel for availabilities before purchasing the Groupon. Once you get confirmation from the hotel, buy the Groupon and send it to the hotel right away. Villa Caletas responded very quickly to all our inquiries and sent us a confirmation email within 5 hours of my sending the Groupon to them.
4. Consider the best bang for your buck. We use price and ratings as the preliminary determining factors when booking a hotel. After that, we use location and free amenities to narrow it down to one. I always choose hotels with free breakfast and wifi. We use the Internet to compare prices for excursions and even to book excursions, so free wifi is a must. We’re paying $1,135 for four highly rated hotels for 11 nights. That works out to $567.50 per person for lodging.
5. Don’t spend all your money before the plane even takes off. Spend some time to research the types of activities you want to do. After a few hours of Google and discussion, ST and I decided that pretty much all the things we want to do are active and sweaty (teehee) – such as hiking, horseback riding, and swimming. So, that pretty much negates the need to buy new fancy clothes.
6. Be a thoughtful souvenir shopper. During the plane ride, I usually create a list of people to buy gifts for on my phone. This keeps me focused and prevents me from buying random, useless tchotchkes for myself. Guiding questions I ask myself are, “Does Kim need a key chain?” and “Will Melody ever wear this t-shirt?” and “Do I have room for it in my suitcase?”
To be fair, ST and I despise the clutter produced by amassing random trinkets. We limit ourselves to one special souvenir for each of us. This shopaholic has come a long way! *Pats self on back*
7. Consider going on a spending fast a few weeks prior to leaving. I’ve been on a spending fast for the past week. Its so easy to spend tons of money in the summer and the spending fast helps keep us on track.
Do you have any money-saving vacation tips to share?