Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Vacationing for the Cheap and Eco-Sensible

Breaking up the long northwestern winter with a vacation in the sun sounds extravagant for a sensible, middle-class family, but I have a secret: our long week in SoCal was not actually that expensive. Here's how we kept it within budget:

1. Combine work and play. This particular conference included airfare for my husband and I, a large room at a resort hotel for five nights, and dinner on four nights at 'family banquets' that the sponsoring company held at local restaurants. This left us to buy airfare for three children (baby was on lap and oldest two couldn't miss work/school), a rental car, two nights in the hotel, entertainment, and meals (breakfasts and lunches, plus 3 dinners). Even if you don't have an employer or vendor willing to send you to a conference, you can write it off on your taxes.

2. Shop around. We couldn't shop around for fares because obviously we wanted the children on our same flight. Nor did we want to change hotels mid-trip. We did, however, shop around for car rentals, and we found out which days were cheaper at Disneyland.

3. BYOFood. We brought chocolate milk in shelf-stable boxes, boxed juice, organic fruit snacks, string cheese, homemade jerky, and those obnoxious little cracker and cheese things. Once there, we swung by a Costco and picked up Uncrustables, breakfast cereal, breakfast pastries, crackers, bananas, oranges, and milk. We kept the milk cold in the hotel ice buckets. We still bought food at the theme parks and on outings, but we bought things because they appealed to us and not because we were starving. This meant that we spent no more than $20 a day on breakfast and lunch for the six of us, even at Disneyland. This also means that we ate generally healthy and sane meals, as opposed to living on corndogs and french fries for days on end.

4. Keep souvenirs to a minimum. I know those little Mickey ear caps look adorable, but at home they will become just more crap to dust. Same goes for all the overpriced Disneyland apparel; it's a waste, especially if, like me, you would never dream of wearing a Tinkerbell sweatshirt in public.

My kids, on the other hand, do enjoy Disney brand merchandise, so I pulled a sneaky trick. I found like-new Disneyland sweatshirts and tees at thrift stores here in Yakima, then handed them out during lunch, just as the I-wants were setting in. They didn't ask me where I bought them, and I didn't offer the information.

5. Mix expensive outings with cheap ones. California doesn't just have theme parks; there are cute towns, fun playgrounds, and this huge mass of water called the ocean. Our funnest, most memorable days were spent doing free activities like building sand castles. We also found a thrift store in a wealthy suburb that had children's clothing on special for 50 cents an item, so we picked up a good portion of this summer's wardrobes for under twenty bucks, and the clothes were all trendy and like-new.


Ann @TheAssetEdge said...

That's my kind of vacation - thanks for the tips!!