Aruba Arikok National Park

Every year my kids ask me where we are going to go on vacation. For many years, our vacation was to my brother and sister-in-law’s house so that my kids could hang out with their cousins for a week at the beach. While it was great and we certainly enjoyed the time with them, they’ve been begging me to travel. It may be because they know that traveling is my “currency” and my passion in life and has therefore rubbed off on them. I love the experience of traveling to a new place that I don’t know much about and just really immersing myself in the people and the culture. While this is always my goal, sometimes it is difficult financially to work out. But I have found a way to make it work the past couple of years.

Choosing a Destination

The first hurdle to climb is WHERE to go. If I don’t already have something in mind, then I talk to the kids about their ideas of where they would like to go. After I talk with them, I make a list of places that I might want to go that are more on the affordable side. These usually include places such as:

  • Beaches within driving distance
  • Mountains
  • Lakes
  • Islands in my hemisphere
  • Bordering Countries
  • Countries that are currently cheaper to travel to
  • Places that I have always wanted to go but haven’t made it there yet

Once we have narrowed down our choices for options that we are interested in the next year, then we start talking about “things” we want to do on vacation.

Type of Vacation

Next in my planning process is to figure out what type of vacation we are looking for. Some years we just want to get away and relax by a beach. Other years we are looking to hike some mountains. Then there are the years that we talk about doing some more adventurous things, like hang gliding. Which I did for my summer vacation one year but I haven’t taken my kids yet. It’s on their bucket list though! Ziplining was another one and we did knock that one off of our list for my birthday this year.Ziplining

Choosing the type of vacation that we want also helps us to narrow down where we end up going. Once we have a few destinations and the type of vacation in mind, then I start digging into figuring out who has the best deals.

Bargain Hunting

Everybody knows about Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and how crazy it can get. Sometimes the deals are pretty darn good deals and other times they are simply not worth the time and energy. I have found the key is figuring out where we want to go before these auspicious days creep up on us. I take a look at the current prices and then when Black Friday and Cyber Monday come, I am on the internet like a crazy woman. I want to see who is offering what, where, when and why.

I have found that airline tickets are not one of those things that I can find rock bottom prices on, so I just need to look and see what they look like beforehand and factor that in. Some good sites to check for prices include:

Once I’ve decided if we may be flying somewhere or not, I have to account for the ticket prices into my budget. Will I have enough left to get a decent hotel, eat, buy a few small souvenirs and do some fun things with the kids? If the answer is no, then I know that I will need to stay stateside instead.

When I am looking for hotels, I usually check through my American Express for the travel benefits first. After that, I will search my standard go-to’s to compare prices. These include:

Once I have checked those, I have found the best option to be checking the website associated with the city or country that I am thinking about traveling to. The reason here is that they will post deals on their websites to try and entice travelers to come to their area that aren’t necessarily posted anywhere else.

Take last year for example, I had gone to Aruba before and signed up for promotion emails somewhere along the way. When I did that, they started to send me promotional emails from their website to get me to come back with special deals. They even have a large button on the home page for “Deals!” Through this website, I was able to get our hotel for 70% off the going rate by doing it on Cyber Monday.

I called them instead of booking it through the website because I wanted to make sure that I was clear on the details, as well as there is a higher chance of getting even better deals if I speak to a representative in person as opposed to just the internet. This is a trick that I learned from working in the hotel industry for a while. By speaking with them, I was able to procure free meals for my children with every adult meal, as well as found out about free kids activities at the hotel which gave me some time to relax and have some adult time. They also upgraded us to an oceanside kitchen suite so that we could cook for most of our meals instead, which saved me a ton of money!

Overall, for the 3 of us to go to Aruba for 5 days it ended up costing me close to $2900. That included our flights (which were the most expensive part, because there are 3 of us and 2 of us don’t have jobs!), hotel, food, taxi, sightseeing and souvenirs.

This past year was such a good deal that I am challenging myself to beat it this year! The question now is, where should we go?

What are some ways that you have seriously cut costs when planning your vacation?

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  1. We actually do mostly camping trips over the summer, and do most of our reservations six months out so as to get our desired sites and to make sure we are together (we camp alongside my in-laws on a few trips), so we’ll actually start making reservations before long, even though winter hasn’t even started yet!

  2. One app I use to save on the cost of flights is Hopper. You can pick dates in advance and it monitors the flights for you, sending you an alert whenever it thinks ticket prices are at a value price. Along with using Hopper, using Airbnb is another way that we cut costs when we’re traveling.

  3. Thanks for sharing those sites. I’m sure I’ll have a cheaper travel vacation next year!