Monday, August 5, 2013

The thrifty mom's vacation tips

Climbing the sand dunes in Michigan
I was enjoying the distinct beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, soaking in the majestic trees around me when I heard an awkward splash followed by an angry shout. “I’m never going hiking again! I’m going to make sure whoever I marry hates hiking!”

I held in a giggle as I looked at my 8-year-old son, Drew.  Muddy swamp water was dripping down his legs.

“Are you okay? How did you manage to fall off the boardwalk?” I asked in disbelief.

Drew shrugged and began walking again, the mud in his Croc squishing loudly.

We were on a 5-mile hike, on day 4 of our vacation. And though we were experiencing some drama, it was one of the best vacations my husband and I had planned in a long time. The children had already climbed giant sand dunes, swum in Lake Michigan, climbed the stairs to the top of historic lighthouses, explored old mines, witnessed waterfalls, and taken in breathtaking views (which, honestly, they didn’t care much about, but their parents did).

And, within these 4 action packed days, we’d spent $270 on hotels, $30 on food, and $30 on activities. Pretty. Darn. Shockingly. Good. Right?

I’m feeling so good about my thriftiness I thought I’d share a few tips, because who doesn’t want to know a money saving secret?

Here they are:

1.     Go to an area where Mother Nature is the main event. Hiking, exploring, and swimming are generally free
2.     Check out the state parks. They have modest entry fees, yet they are loaded with activities to keep you busy
3.     Get out of the big cities. Everything is cheaper in the middle of nowhere
4.     Google “Free activities in ________” for each city you plan to visit. We found a beautiful collection of gardens, each inspired by different children’s books, in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. I could hardly drag my kids away from it
5.     Find a hotel chain that you like and be a loyal customer. As Marriott junkies, my husband and I often accumulate enough points to earn at least one free night over the course of our vacation. We also enjoy perks like gift certificates for meals
6.     Book hotels with mini refrigerators and microwaves. I bought microwaveable meals at Costco (pot roast, stuffed chicken, spinach soufflĂ©, frozen broccoli, rice) and we ate 4 dinners in our rooms. These dinners, I may add, were a lot healthier than the junk on the kids menus in most restaurants
7.     Book rooms in hotels that offer a free, continental breakfast
8.     Take healthy snacks (apples, grapes, peppers, cherry tomatoes, carrots, nuts, granola bars) to munch on in between meals and at lunch time
9.     Take lots of water bottles and fill them each morning before leaving the hotel. Never buy drinks when out
10. Take a couple bottles of wine to enjoy with your mate after the kids go to sleep. After all, you are on vacation. Oh, and don’t forget the corkscrew.

Do you have any tips to add? 

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