Update: This year we were able to take another trip for our 3rd anniversary! I’m updating this post with a few more tips and tricks for budget travel that we’ve picked up along the way. Enjoy!
Girls, I’m sooo excited about vacation next week with my hubby. We’re celebrating our first wedding anniversary! Down to California where it’ll be sunny and low-70’s (It’s currently 40 and raining where we live. Pretty much every day.), seeing the beautiful west coast and the vast Pacific Ocean, touring the local vineyards, wearing a cute dress out to dinner…. not to mention some undistracted, non-work quality time with my sweet husband! Did I mention I’m excited? 🙂
Now the kicker is, we’re on a pretty tight budget. Working in full-time ministry, there isn’t a lot of money to spend on things like vacations. I’m sure you know how that is.
So that’s why I’m here to share with you how we planned our anniversary trip on a budget — not that I’m an expert, by any means, but I can tell you my own tips and tricks and maybe something will be helpful for you. Okay? Here we go.
If possible, it can be cheaper to travel during tourism off-seasons. Plane tickets can sometimes be lower priced, and even attractions and activities have lower rates during their slower seasons.
Earn miles for your plane tickets
We purchased our plane tickets using mileage we’ve been earning. Brett and I both have an airline credit card, which earns miles with each purchase. Of course, we use the credit card responsibly and keep it paid off, and those miles eventually add up! It cost us a total of 48,000 miles plus $47 to fly to California and back.
Save on a rental car
Did you know that if you’re a Costco member, you can get great travel deals through them?! I had checked all the travel sites like Expedia and Hotwire, and the cheapest I could find a rental car for our trip was over $200. Then someone told me about Costco Travel! We have a membership there, so I checked it out and was able to get our rental car for around $150.
Stay somewhere you love, but shop for deals
Okay, this is where we splurged a bit. If you know me, you might know I have this obsession with staying in locally-owned, non-chain hotels. I just love it. If I’m going to travel and experience someplace different, I don’t want to stay in a Days Inn — I want the experience of a unique, local lodging.
Hence, our little splurge on our hotel.
But it still wasn’t as pricey as it could have been! Hotels on the coast are expensive, you guys. We found a nice, local-owned place, on the lower end of the price range, an easy 2-block walk from the beach, and we really liked the looks of it. Also, I booked it on Expedia and was able to get a slightly discounted rate.
Another great option that I’ve recently discovered is Airbnb. Staying in a privately-owned room or apartment totally meets my criteria of staying in a non-chain place, and it’s even more personal than a hotel. (Hint: if you book an Airbnb stay through my link, you’ll get $40 off and I’ll get credit too!)
Use Travel Websites and Ebates!
Maybe you don’t have an airline credit card or a Costco membership. There are still ways to save dollars on your trip! Websites like Expedia, Hotwire, and Priceline can help you find deals on flights, cars, hotels, and even vacation packages. Groupon is another great site to join, as they will help you find extraordinary deals on vacation packages all over the country and world! Another great tip is to join Ebates, which gives you cash back for online shopping. When I booked our hotel, this was my process:
- Go to Ebates.com and log in.
- Search Ebates website for Expedia (or other travel site).
- Click on Expedia link from Ebates website.
- Book hotel on Expedia (or your choice of travel site).
- Get 6% cash back on hotel booking.
Six percent might not seem like much, but it’s a few dollars off your hotel price, and if you use Ebates for other trip expenses too, you could earn a good chunk of cash back.
Eat 2 meals a day
Other than lodging, we’ve found food to be one of the biggest expenses on our travels! It helps to get a hotel room equipped with a mini-refrigerator, which means we can keep some drinks and snacks — even cereal and milk for breakfast — in the room and avoid purchasing those at a restaurant.
We also try to keep ourselves to two big meals per day and just a snack for the third meal. For example, one day we’ll have a big breakfast around 10:30, coffee and a muffin for lunch around 1:30 or 2, and a normal dinner in the evening. Another day, we’ll eat a good breakfast around 11:00, a heavy lunch at 3:00, and just share an appetizer for dinner around 8:30. It saves a few dollars to go light on one of the meals.
Budget your entertainment
We definitely try to look for deals and coupons to save a few dollars. Traveling in the off-season can help with this! I also do some web research before traveling to get an idea of what attractions are available and what each one will cost, so that we’ll have a plan and a budget going into it.
That’s not to say we don’t do fun things! On our most recent trip, we went to a comedy theater that only charged $10 per person for their week-night show, and we rented a jet ski — but found a company running a “winter special” rate that was $30 less than other companies. Fun can be affordable.
Also — it’s very possible to find activities to do that are totally free! Some examples we’ve enjoyed are going for a sightseeing drive (only costs gas), walking on the beach, going to browse at local shops or even big places like Ikea, sitting and people-watching, and relaxing in the hotel’s hot tub.
Another affiliate plug for Airbnb : they also offer what they call “experiences” which are attractions and tours for great prices.
Go thrift shopping for your cute clothes
I really wanted a cute new dress to wear out to dinner one night on our anniversary trip, but a $30+ dress was not in the budget! I’d kind of half-heartedly browsed around Amazon.com looking for something inexpensive, but buying clothes online makes me nervous because half the time they don’t fit! So I was shopping at the local thrift store one day, and decided to check the dresses just in case. To my surprise, there was an adorable little dress, in perfect condition, exactly my size, for $5.00!! Now I’m not saying you’ll always be this lucky at the thrift shop, but it’s worth a try!
Save your change, and ask for gift cards
For about 3 months prior to our trip, I kept a mason jar on our dresser labeled “California Cash.” We faithfully deposited any spare coins and dollar bills we found in our pockets or wallets. If you did this for more time, I’m sure you could save up quite a bit of cash! In addition, a family member gave us a $100 Visa gift card as an anniversary gift. We used the gift card and our saved cash to pay for a lot of our food and snacks while traveling, and that was a huge help! If you have a birthday, anniversary, or other event soon before your trip, it’s a great idea to ask for generic gift cards.
Tell people you’re celebrating!
I’m not one to fish for freebies, but at a few restaurants or other places we visited, we came across employees who asked whether we were celebrating any special occasion. If they asked, we told them we were celebrating our first anniversary, and we got a couple of freebies because of it!
Hopefully these tips give you some good ideas on ways you can save money on a vacation with your sweetie — or with your family or friends! Traveling can be so expensive, but the experience and memories are so wonderful! And if you can easily save a few dollars with tips like these? Even better!