With the summer months upon us, many of you may be headed out-of-town with your family and friends and hoping for an EPIC vacation. Awesome! It’s so important to unplug from work and reconnect with loved ones.
I’m someone who believes more in spending money on experiences over “things”. A “thing” will just make you happy temporarily, but an experience can help you live in the moment, and create memories for a lifetime.
Vacation on a Budget
Since taking an early retirement 3 years ago, cash flow has definitely been thinner. So, although I’m willing to spend money on travel, I’d prefer not to, or at least not every year. Thankfully, you can still plan and have an EPIC vacation without breaking the bank!
In fact, I just came back from a family vacation up in Mammoth Lakes. Mammoth is best known as a winter destination, but there are tons of active and fun summer activities available too. We went with another family and had an EPIC time, but we didn’t break the bank.
Here’s how I did it and you can too!
I can’t begin to stress how important this first step is! Pre-planning can really control the majority of costs from the beginning. In my case, I started planning this a few months ago. This gave me plenty of time to clear schedules, figure out cost-effective lodging, and deal with any contingencies.
This meant inviting all the friends we wanted to potentially spend time with and then waiting to hear back. As the coordinator, you’ll want to set clear dates and a deadline on RSVPs, while still maintaining a little flexibility. Once you hit those deadlines, it’s my green light to move forward. (Don’t be tempted to hear back definitively from everyone before making plans.)
Determine your method of travel. In our case, we chose to drive since Mammoth only has a small airport and it’s much easier and cost-effective. From San Diego to Mammoth we were looking at a 350-mile drive. So, I knew that our travel costs would be equal to 2.5 tanks of gas and normal wear-n-tear on the car – approximately $130.
This one may not always be possible, but if you can use it, you should! Do you know anyone with a family vacation condo or cabin?
Luckily I did. My aunt and uncle own a condo up in Mammoth which we are able to use occasionally. Since we only had one other family confirmed traveling with us, I was able to secure this condo for 4 nights at the rate of $0/day! There is a small cleaning fee of ~$100 that I need to reimburse my relatives for, and we intend on giving them a little thank you gift on top of that.
*Had there been more families that were able to come with us, I would have secured a vacation rental through airbnb.com or vrbo.com. These are awesome ways to find great deals on homes to rent for your vacation. It’s a lot cheaper than a hotel typically and a great way to share space with other families or friends.
Select Great Company
I alluded to this early but plan your company in advanced. Most of us have a few different sets of friends and families that could be potential travel buddies. So, it’s your job to figure out who you’ll want to spend your time with. It’s probably not a good idea to blast an invitation to everyone you know, rather select a handful of friends who you know will mesh well with together.
In our case, we are incredibly lucky to have some close neighbor friends with similar aged kids. So it was pretty easy to invite a few different families all at once knowing they could all get along. We had been talking about this idea casually over a half-year ago, so I already knew there was some interest.
Getting a chance to travel with another family or friends really lets you connect with them at a deeper level. If you have kids that are close in age, they will easily entertain themselves for hours and their experience will be magical.
Packing is a super important part of creating an EPIC vacation! I will usually create a checklist in Evernote a couple of months in advance and keep adding to it over time. Be prepared to bring ample clothing for your trip, but try not to overpack. It’s okay to reuse some pieces of clothing throughout your trip if you can.
You’ll also want to bring games and activities for the kids. Board games are always fun with other kids and/or something you can play with the entire family. I would suggest avoiding bringing single player video games since it can make some kids anti-social. Do bring lots of books for long car rides! And, don’t forget sunshades for the windows if you’ll be driving during the day.
It’s all about balance. Bring only what you think you’ll need. (Yes, easier said than done I know!) Don’t own something you’ll need? Borrow it!
Prepare Easy Meals
Food can be a major cost of any vacation, so if you’re traveling with your family or multiples, community meals are like gold! They can be hot, delicious, and budget effective.
Our neighbors helped to bring a cooler with frozen ground beef, sausage, and assorted foods. We brought up pasta, seasonings, cereal, sweet rolls, etc. We also went to the market when we arrived for any miscellaneous items we needed. Since there was a kitchen, we ate most meals at the condo… things like – spaghetti and meat sauce, chicken katsu, and fresh caught trout!
Finally, I definitely have a sweet tooth, so I splurged a little and got 4 cartons of ice cream while I was at the market! It was a bit overkill, but only cost $10 with my Vons card. This handled dessert for 4 days straight. 🙂
Total grocery costs – $200
Participate in Low Cost/High Fun Activities
Mammoth is a great destination to do some fishing. Since I already had my fishing license, there was no additional cost for me. My neighbor had to purchase one for himself, but it was free for his 4 other kids! Sounds like a deal to me. 🙂
Other than fishing, we had a great time going out hiking and sightseeing. These activities are completely FREE but get the kids active and burning lots of energy with their friends. If you have a park nearby your accommodations, don’t forget to bring balls, kites, jump ropes, etc. Traveling can actually be really good for your health!
For evening entertainment, remember to bring some DVDs. We had a couple of movie nights for the kids (Aladdin, Little Mermaid, Frozen, etc.), and even once for the adults after the little ones finally went to bed. Cost – $0.
Make a Vacation Movie
My final suggestion to making an EPIC vacation is to create a custom vacation movie. If you’re like me, you’ll be snapping away taking tons of pictures and video throughout your vacation on your iPhone (or DROID). When you’re done, find an app like QUIK (from GoPro) which helps to automatically build a movie from your media against music and special effects. Highly suggested! If you’re got a DROID, they have a version for you too.
There’s just something about watching a video montage that will burn in those great memories for a long long time to come! Cost – $0.
So there you have it. Money is NOT the primary factor towards creating an EPIC vacation. With a little preparation and imagination, you can create a vacation experience of a lifetime. Live long and travel well!
Readers, what/where will you travel this summer? What money-saving tips and tricks that you use?
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