Jul 17 2009

Help this reader go on vacation on a budget

Crooked Tropical paradise

Photo: By Tadolo

Recently, a reader named Kristin e-mailed me for help with finding a great deal on a vacation. I thought I’d pose this question to y’all, since I know many of you enjoy finding great deals. If you’d like to play travel agent, feel free to post your  findings in the comments. Share links if they’re relevent, but realize that they’ll be held for moderation (no need to re-submit). Thanks for your help!

The details:

WHO: Kristin and her hubby

WHAT: Her husband would love to go to Hawaii, though Kristin is open to anything like that

WHEN: After March 31. The trip will be 7-10 days long

WHERE: Departing from Knoxville, Tenn. or Johnson City, Tenn. Traveling to…?

WHY: Why not? They’re celebrating 5 years of marriage

HOW MUCH: Kristin is still in the planning stages, but thinks she’d like to do the trip for under $2,000 for everything.

After doing a quick search on Kayak.com to find flights, I’m afraid I have some bad news. It looks like you can expect to pay around $900 per person to fly from Tennessee to Honolulu in April 2010. Add on baggage fees, and well, there goes your 2 grand. That would work well if you could just sleep on the beach and eat found coconuts.

Can you consider other locations?

If you’re looking for something tropical, perhaps you could consider going on a cruise.

For example, this 7-night Carnival cruise departs from Miami and hits Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Jamaica for as little as $389 per person in April for an interior room (there will be additional fees for gratuity and possibly fuel tax, I believe). A flight is looking like it’ll be around $330 each from Knoxville.

That’s $1,438 plus taxes and related fees. BUT! The cruise includes all your meals and lots of on-board entertainment. You can use that spare $600 and upgrade your room, go on a few fun shore excursions or maybe book an appointment for a couples massage at the spa.

Don’t forget to budget for your passports and ground transportation. Oh, and vacation clothes. And souvineers for your children. And etc.

If a cruise sounds like a good fit for you, be sure to check out a variety of departing ports and destinations, as you might be able to find a better deal or a more enjoyable package.

If you prefer to remain on land, consider renting a vacation house in a fun, lower-48 destination. If you’re thinking somewhere sunny, book a rental a few miles from the beach or attractions to save some money.

Last bits of advice:

1. Set your budget and stick to it!

2. Don’t take on debt for your trip. Pay in cash. If you set aside $250 for eight months, you’ll have $2,000.

3. Be open to other, cheaper vacation options.

Readers, what can you suggest for Kristin? And Kristin, what do you think about this post?

11 Responses to “Help this reader go on vacation on a budget”

  1. I really like this post…would love to be a contestant since my husband and I are trying to plan our (belated) honeymoon for late December to either Italy or Ireland. Let me know if you are interested in doing a future post!

  2. Hmm–but if they actually want to LEAVE the cruise ship (which I would–but then, a floating hotel isn’t my thing) that will add up quickly, right?

    My recommendation is DON’T GIVE UP! It can by cheaper to fly out of different cities. Often times the “cheap” search engines don’t have the best prices–check with individual airlines for deals. Knoxville’s airport is SMALL–if they consider driving a few hours, or catching a shuttle, they can likely get much cheaper tickets Atlanta or Nashville or other cities.

    Alternately, if they can’t find cheaper tickets, I would recommend waiting and doing what they really want to do–whether it’s Hawaii or California or Spain–instead of choosing a ‘this will do option’ … unless they think they’d enjoy that almost as much.

  3. I agree with Maria that if they can’t find a better deal I wouldn’t settle for something else unless I thought I would really enjoy just about as much. I looked into some travel sites and I don’t think $2,000 would be realistic for Hawaii. That being said, I came up with three options:

    1. If you wanted to take a cheaper trip and save more for another year, you could go to a closer beach, rent a house (between Spring Break & Memorial Day you can find pretty decent rates and it’s much cheaper to rent for a week then getting a hotel on a per night basis), and stay for a few day to a week. I looked into doing this in TX (closer to me) and was able to find rentals around $350-400 per week. Plus, you have a kitchen to cook in and a laundry room to wash towels, ocean clothes, etc. If you go to small towns along the beach it will be even cheaper.

    2. Wait it out a little longer and just take a mini get away somewhere nearby. If you go to a small town you can likely rent a cheaper motel and spend money on a few activities, keeping the majority of your vacation budget unused for next year. Karen at livingwellonless.com has done several mini vacations and kept the budget down, so you might check out her sight for more details and tips.

    3. If you really want to go to Hawaii for your five year anniversary and that is all there is to it, then I would start searching for hawaii blogs or just start asking everyone you know if they know someone who lives there. Locals know which parts are the best while still being reasonably cheap, and can tell you what to keep away from. You may be able to go on $2,000 and be limited on what you can do or you could increase how much you are willing to spend. If you bumped it to $3,000 (a LARGE bump) you could go and have extra money to eat, do things, and bring some souveniers back. Try googling “Hawaii vacation on low budget” or “cheap things to do in Hawaii”, etc. You may find just the info you need to get you there on budget.

    Good luck with what ever you choose and have fun!!!

  4. I would agree that choosing another beach/ island destination would be the best choice. Even with a deal on a flight, EVERYTHING is more expensive in Hawaii– gas, McDonnalds, bottled water, etc. I think it would be a better vacation if she was able to enjoy herself and not pinch pennies on the little things.

  5. Sorry to post so much, but Maria gave me an idea with going to a larger airport. I was able to find cheaper prices (around $1,400 total for two adults) by going from Nashville to Los Angelas, and then flying to Hawaii, same thing on the way back. Also, I put the flights in the middle of the week, which is supposed to be lower. That would leave around $600 for food, hotel, and souveniers. See, just keep getting creative and you can find ways to cut costs down :)

  6. We went on a cruise for our honeymoon, and it was awesome! When we arrived in port cities, we didn’t do any paid excursions. We just explored on our own and that was still plenty of fun. Didn’t spend much there, either. Just a few dollars for a fridge magnet (my usual souvenir) and that was about it.

    I guess I agree with some other commenters — if your heart is saying “Hawaii or bust” then maybe do a mini-vacation in the spring and keep saving your money.

    I have a friend who lives in Hawaii (Hi, Bethany!) and she thinks a lot of it is overrated. I think. I don’t wanna misrepresent ya, B, so feel free to chime in.

    Looking to fly out of other cities is a great possibility and it might save you several hundred dollars.

  7. 1st, let me apologize for the long comment….
    Planning for a vacation is so time-consuming and stressfull b/c you are looking for the best deal. My best money saving tips are:

    Airfare: definitely look into flying out of another city AND be flexible. Most sites show the flight prices my month instead of just 2 pre and post days. But make sure you factor in the cost of gas for traveling back and forth and parking cost, if you can’t get someone to drop you off.

    Accomodations: timeshare, timeshare, timeshare!!
    Even if you don’t own one, you probably know someone who does who will not use their week or two. Hopefully, they will only charge you $200 for the 7 nights and not try to make a profit. If that is not an option try http://www.wyndham-vacations.com. Sometimes you can find some really great deals on this site. They basically are selling available timeshare suites.

    Food and drink: this is totally a $$ pit. If you stay in a timeshare property chances are you will have full kitchen. You will save a ton of money eating breakfast and dinner in your room. I know you are vacationing so I would splurge some nights on a good dinner, but not every night.

    I don’t think $2k is enough for Hawaii and I personally hate vacationing on a tight budget that does not allow us to have fun and see the sights. Especially in Hawaii, I mean how many times are you going to go there, so when you do go, do it right.

    Alternative vacation: My husband and I just booked a vacation through http://www.bookit.com. They seem to have some GREAT deals. We are going to Playa Del Carmen (45 from Cancun) for 5 days, all-inclusive, airfare included, and shuttle for $1194. They are giving away vacation to mexico.

  8. I received an offer from American Express recently to join the Food & Wine Connoisseur Club and the “reward” was a free airline companion ticket (worth up to $744) and $100 restaurant certificate. It doesn’t say in the fine print how long the airline ticket is good for… it’s $2.99 to join and you get to keep the “reward” coupons even if you cancel the membership. I googled and found a discussion at fatwallet http://www.fatwallet.com/forums/finance/778016 that wasn’t too enthused about this offer. But I thought I’d mention it as an idea for similar offers that Kristin could watch out for in the next few months. Are there any contest sites or raffle opportunities for airline tickets? Good luck with your vacation plans!

  9. For airfare try these sites:

    You can play around with dates and such to find a good deal. Watchdog lets you fill in where you want to go and when and you get emails when sales happen.

    You may also consider talking to a travel agent since they can find better deals by using multiple airlines or finding discounts. It’s not necessary to use an agent, but it’s worth a phone call. :)

    To save on hotel costs, try an alternative! Couchsurfing, timeshares, and volunteer opportunities are all ways to stay for cheap or free.

    You may also consider staying somewhere smaller, or more off the beaten path.

    If you are considering other locations maybe the Virgin Islands would be worth considering. My parents vacationed there and stayed in a beautiful house for less than the 1/2 the cost of a hotel.

    Some other blogs to check out to help with alternative ideas:

    Hope that helps! And have a great anniversary no matter what you decide. We’re thinking about Hawaii too, in about 1.5 years for our 10th.

  10. Wow Thanks Everyone!

    I’m the Kristin who email Kacie about this vacation.

    After talking it over with the hubby I think we can easily extend the budget to 3000 possibly more if absolutely needed for this vaca to happen and nope we won’t go into debt or wipe out savings doing it. (I’d die if I went into debt again!)

    I don’t think either of us want to do a cruise this time, so that’s out but I’m still open to wherever. Even out of country or not a beach is fine with me. I *bet* I can convince him of whatever I want!

    Thanks again! I’m gonna take all the suggestions and work on figuring this out.

  11. I would definitely start tracking flights using airfarewatchdog.com. I’m in Nashville, so I notice that Knoxville and Chattanooga frequently offer dirt cheap fares via Allegiant Air to Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale (both gateways to beaches and/or connecting flights.)

    I’m talking $40 per person flights on some sale periods! If you can design a vacation based on one of those destinations, you’ve saved a ton right from the start.

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife to Shane and mother to Jonathan (7), Vivienne (5) and Amelia (2) . I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

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