Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Vacation Planning Primer

As our school year winds down for both the kids and for Josh my mind has turned to vacation planning. This year we have a little nursing baby with us, so driving across the country doesn't seem the best idea. Instead we are hoping to do two shorter distance trips, a quick jaunt to Chicago the end of May, and then Mt. Rushmore some time in July. I thought I would pass on some of my best tips for having a GREAT time on a little budget.

1. A no-brainer for our family . . . DRIVE don't fly. Can you imagine how expensive it would be to fly a family of seven? We could buy another vehicle for that amount! Besides that, we really like driving. We get to see so much more of the country that way . . . what's that saying, something about "life is the journey, not the destination." The same is true of vacation. ;o)

2. Pack picnics. On the way to Connecticut last year we had three days of driving. We ate out once. Some of our favorite memories are of picnic-ing at rest stops. We packed "extra-special" picnic fare, like egg salad, chicken salad, potato salad (yep, I bought the biggest jar of mayo and went to town!). . . going beyond your plain ol' sandwich. And when we did eat out, we planned this meal. I researched a restaurant that was unique to the Niagara Falls area, "The Silo" and we have a great memory of dining out overlooking the Niagara River--rather than if we had just picked a Micky D's somewhere. ;o)

3. Priceline your hotels. We had never tried this before, but it is AWESOME. You enter the town you want to stay in, pick how many stars you want your hotel to have (I think we chose 3 1/2). That way you are guaranteed to get a pretty nice place. Then you enter what you are willing to pay. First we tried $30 . . . but none of the hotels bit on that one. ;o) I think we ended up paying right around $40 for a $130 hotel room! The bad thing, once a hotel accepts you offer, you HAVE to go there or lose your money. But if you are choosy on the amount of stars your hotel has, it shouldn't be an issue. We stayed at some nice places, full-out breakfasts, pools . . . One place in South Bend, Indiana had THE BEST bed I have ever slept in.

4. Take advantage of your free stuff. FACT: EVERYTHING costs money. A zoo membership you have here gets you in free or reduced somewhere else. We discovered our children's museum membership gets us in free to lots of science museums across the country. This year we also have a membership to SAC/Fontanelle Forest and this gets us in free to other nature centers across the country. Do some research! We'll be hitting the science museum in Chicago this year.

5. Have a father-in-law who has a baseball ticket source. Thanks Bears for getting Josh tickets to the Cubs/Cardinals game in Chicago . . . he's on cloud nine. ;o)

Overall, have a plan and stick to it. RESEARCH everything you want to do. Plan a lot of cheap/free activities and maybe one big splurge item (that was our New England Aquarium outing last year). We let the kids pick ONE souvenir type item. But they found a lot of free souvenirs too . . . a dead crab in Plymouth Rock . . . buckets of shells along the beach in Connecticut . . . ;o) It makes me happy to hear my family reminisce about last year's trip--some of the best memories are the ones that cost us nothing. What about you? Do you have any great vacationing tips to share? I'm always looking for more! ;o)


Unknown said...

Nice tips! I have yet to get brave enough to use Priceline. I just recently made a reservation for our May vacation and went to Priceline but the highest stars they would let me enter for that area was 1 1/2 stars. Wasn't willing to bet on that! ;) Maybe when I can get to 3 stars I'll take your encouragement and give it a try!!

Anna said...

Ooh I'm loving all these thrifty tips! Thanks for all the info...makes me excited for when we start doing this kind of thing more.... and hmm, I really don't have any good vacationing tips, other than installing a sound-proof shield between front & back seats. ;)

I'm so excited for you guys to go on these adventures this summer! :)

Unknown said...

Anna.....where can I buy one of those shields???? :) Fantastic idea!!! All I remember from vacations when the boys were little is the gymnastics I did to keep them entertained and when it was my turn to drive so I could have a break, they took fabulous naps. ha!