A recent family vacation turned into an opportunity to see how well we can scramble to save money, when the destination presented us with a challenge. That challenge was surviving on a budget we already had figured, but ended up being more costly than we anticipated. This got me to thinking, and taking notes. What could we have done better, and what did we do right? From planning to booking, this is how things went for us. And worked. And will likely be a guide for us in the future, when we decide to go overseas. Keep in mind this is my opinion, and experience.
Originally our family vacation was going to be to Disney World. Easy trip, we knew what it would cost, nothing would really surprise us there, and we would all enjoy it. But when the wife began to look around, she asked, “What if…” What if we went to (Insert Destination here). At first glance some of the stuff we found was beyond our price range. Persistence on her part though brought her to a website we had not heard of before. And what she found was pretty amazing. To the point we started to say, “This sounds too good to be true.” Years of internet abuse cases have taught me one thing, question everything on the internet. So when we found this miracle site, I really was skeptical, and a little nervous to say the least. We discussed it however, and decided we would give it a shot. From what we say, we would cancel and receive a refund. The problems the mass of internet users had, seemed to be from customer service, rather than not getting their money back. Or if it was a case of that, it usually had something to do with flights, or a cruise. And a rule of thumb is, those are not refundable usually. So, we took our deposit and booked us a week’s vacation to the Bahamas at a hotel less than 50 feet from the beach. What’d we pay? Less than it would cost all three of us, for a week, for a Disney World trip. And we didn’t have to pay for the airlines. This price included that, something a Disney trip would have cost us extra.
The Tip: Look around when you are booking a trip. Search the web; be open to trying new places. With the way travel is today, places really are hurting for business. They want you there as much as you want to be there. Be careful though, I didn’t say be stupid and book the first cheap thing you find. Do some research, call them, talk to the booking agent/company.
Bendable… Malleable… Oh, flexible!
Leaving to go on this adventure meant leaving our home town in middle of the night. Which just so happened to be the night following PhoenixComicon. We could have changed the date, sure. But would want to wait to go on vacation? Not this guy. Besides that, it really didn’t matter to me leaving then, because my duties at Con were completed, and all I was going to do anyway was sleep. Why not sleep on the plane and… Airport? The second lesson here, is be flexible. Sure sleeping on the plane is not a big deal, but the five hour layover in Atlanta sure wasn’t a welcome idea. Luckily sleeping in the airport wasn’t my first time. So we did, or at least some of us did. I was out as much as I could. I need my beauty sleep. Flexible doesn’t just mean being able to sleep anywhere though, it pretty much sums up any vacation. Weather could be a factor. Did you pay attention to the weather in your destination? I’m pretty sure that’s an old school attribute, that not to many travelers these day think of. It could be cause you didn’t bring enough money with you. Or maybe you get there, thinking you would just exchange some currency for another, only to find the banks are closed. And what about if there’s a holiday in middle of that? You can plan for these things, but there will always, or most likely, be something that comes up that you didn’t expect.
When we go there though, we were hungry and ready to eat. Airport food and airline pretzels only go so far. So we settled in then went looking for food at the resort, thinking this should be easy. And were surprised to see at first things were closed. This was Monday, right? Holiday… Huh… Ok, so we went to the only place still serving food to find another surprise. When you think cafe, serving food at 3pm in the afternoon, you think cheap, fast, snaky food. I do anyway. But no. For the three of us to eat, it cost 45$US. That was a bit of a sticker shock. And technically this wasn’t even dinner, nor a “restaurant”. So needless to say, we were worried. No way did we plan for meals to cost us this every day. If snack food cost us that much, how much was dinner going to cost? So we sat down and devised at plan. We’d make our own breakfast and lunches. We had a fridge, so all we needed was a grocery store. The next day I did find that store, and did buy supplies, including water. So over all, this ended up saving us some money.
The Tip: Be flexible. Really, this should be the number one rule there is on any kind of travel. You’re on vacation, don’t let the weather get you down. Just because you were expecting sunny, cloudless skies, doesn’t mean you have to be depressed about it. Enjoy the rain! Sleep in that airport if you’re tired, no one cares about you snoring in the corner. Though I would recommend setting an alarm, missing your flight is even more trouble than just being flexible. If you can, opt in for the fridge when you get to your destination. Some hotels/resorts charge a fee for having one. Usually it’s only 50-70$. But really, if you need to, you can store food/water or other beverages in it. Well worth the small fee.
Getting from A to B.
Transpiration is another thing that you really need to be flexible on. When we began to plan and book our trip, we had to keep an open mind to our specific transportation needs. This is due to the fact we have a wheelchair, and a scooter that may need to go with us on our trips. Disney trips excel in us being able to bring the scooter. Bahamas on the other hand gave us some pause. Ultimately we opted to not bring the scooter. Which probably saved us some headaches and frustration. But if you do need to bring it, and can’t opt out of brining it, be mindful of what extra money you will need to spend, or extra time, or extra forethought you would need for it. Call around, research where you are flying into and where you are staying. Does the resort have a shuttle? Can you take scooters or wheelchairs on it? Is there an outside source that can handle the scooter/wheelchair? What’s available at the airport? This part is really important if you have special needs in your transportation. Look around, ask around, ask the Hotel even if they can recommend someone. The more you have planned, the better off you’ll be when you have to make a last minute change. We opted to just bring the wheelchair and didn’t have any issues getting a taxi from the airport, to the hotel. Transportation from the hotel to other locals on the island would have cost us the high price of a Taxi each time we wanted to go anywhere right? Wrong! Local transpiration called Jitneys, or local bus systems, were everywhere on the island, and only cost a few dollars person, verses the 15-20$ per Taxi ride. So be adventurous, be flexible, be open minded. I tell you what we had more fun on the Jitneys, then most anywhere else.
The Tip: Research your transportation needs! Ask around, call around, look at websites. Flying into an airport, but know that cruise ships frequent the port? Check cruise forms then. Think outside the box on all your research and you’ll get the information you need.
Ask and you shall receive
It doesn’t hurt anyone to ask for that extra bag of pretzels. They could say no, but hey, at least you asked. When we left Phoenix we asked to get as close to the front of the plane as possible. The wife really can’t walk that far. So they moved us up from Row 31, to somewhere closer, forget where. So when we got up to the gate, we asked again. The lady took our boarding passes and returned them a few minutes later with updated seats. On the flight from Atlanta to Nassau, we were upgraded to Business class. All because we asked? Or was it because of the wheelchair? Fine point. So let’s continue on, and throw another example at you. When we got to the hotel, I checked us in. During check in I asked if we could upgrade to the Ocean view rooms, which were 100$ more per night. Obviously we couldn’t do that. After a few minutes of talking to the clerk, and being nice! Key words there, ‘be nice’! You are asking for a free upgrade, so don’t be an ass. It pays to travel off season sometimes; they will likely upgrade you for free, without too much complaint.
The Tip: ASK! If you want to get something for free, or cheaper, ASK. But above all, BE NICE about it. Work on your charm, your charisma and you’ll get farther. But a jerk or demanding prick, and you’ll likely get nothing but a glare and a boot in the rear on the way out.
Have Good Times
You’re on vacation; you are there to have fun. Not worry. Chill out, enjoy the culture. Immerse yourself in what’s going on. Find out about that Holliday that had stuff closed. Why were things closed on Monday? Talk to the locals. During our trip from the airport to the resort, we talked to the cab driver quite a bit. Don’t need to get into personal details, sure. But talk to whoever you’re going to spend time with. You may learn something about the island, or local you’re going to spend the next week at, or find gems of a restaurant locals frequent. I guarantee locals will be friendly, if your friendly. Strike up that conversation, ask questions. Roll with the punches, relax, have fun, don’t do anything but sit in your room all day. It doesn’t matter, your on vacation! Try things you normally wouldn’t try other times. Be open to new experiences. Play the steel drum, get up and dance, drink like a fish. It’s ok, you’re on VACATION.
The Tip: Have fun. Above all else. Don’t worry so much about running to do this, at this time, then have to make it back to do that. Roll with the waves. Work on your tan. Eat new foods, try something you normally wouldn’t do. Even if that other thing is swim with man eating sharks. Try it! Life is an adventure, you only get one. So make the most of it. Don’t wait till your retired and sitting around making a bucket list. Do it on vacation when you can. Don’t be that stuck up, person at the bar, not wanting to sing or dance. You’re on vacation, live a little!