After the winter we’ve had, maybe you’re thinking about a spring or summer vacation.
I was fortunate enough to take a week away recently, dodging a couple of snow events in the process. Today, I want to tell you about how I saved money on my trip.
You might also be interested in an article I wrote for money expert Clark Howard about timeshare sales pitches.
Let’s begin on the topic of timeshares. It’s likely your biggest vacation expense will be accommodations. On my recent trip to Puerto Rico, I used my grandmother’s timeshare, so I didn’t have to worry about that cost. Otherwise, I would have bid on a hotel from Priceline or Hotwire, using a link from TopCashBack for extra savings.
Since accommodations were taken care of, I want to move on to some of the other ways I saved money on my recent trip:
First, I had to decide whether or not to rent a car. I stayed in Rio Grande, about 45 minutes from the airport in San Juan. The cab fare is $63 before tip, each way. I ended up renting a car for $180, which included usage of an EZ Pass for tolls. I saved money by booking with CarRentals.com. Now, if I were traveling to a location with public transportation, I would probably look into that as well. That’s just not possible in Puerto Rico.
(Editor’s note: Flight was booked using rewards points for Southwest Airlines)
FOOD AND ALCOHOL
I stayed at a resort that had 9 restaurants on site. That was necessary because you needed to drive to get to anything else. I only dined on the property a couple of times, opting for the quick-service counter. The prices were lower and it allowed me to get back to spending more time outside.
I saved money by eating where the locals eat. Isn’t it fun to experience new things? I didn’t want to eat typical American food while in Puerto Rico! The Luquillo kiosks were a few miles away. Don’t judge from the photo. These places were pretty incredible, offering many different types of food. Prices vary. I had good meals for about $10.
As for alcohol, obviously it’s cheaper to skip it. I chose to carefully pack some wine along for the trip. In addition, I took advantage of the complimentary drinks at the casino.
My room also came with a refrigerator. This allowed me to make a stop at the grocery store for some basics, including milk, juice and protein shakes.
Of course, I also packed along some snack foods in my suitcase to take to the beach.
I knew that I wanted to spend a lot of time at the pool and the beach, which is great because those things don’t cost extra. However, I did take a couple of day trips. In these cases, visit the concierge. They can be a huge help. I also asked people at the pool and checked TripAdvisor for reviews. By researching my “must see” attractions ahead of time, it took a lot of the stress away. I didn’t want to rush around to do “everything.”
As a former server, I believe in tipping. I like to leave at least 20% for good service at a restaurant. When traveling, it seems the list of people to tip grows. I kept a bunch of dollar bills in my wallet to make sure everyone was taken care of— from shuttle drivers to housekeeping.
Speaking of housekeeping, etiquette expert Diane Gottsman told me that it’s important to tip the maid on a daily basis, not just at the end of your trip. The reason? You don’t know their schedule. One person might clean your room 6 days of your trip but not the day you leave.
Finally, do you need housekeeping every day? I declined service 4 of my 7 days, which means I didn’t tip those days either.
Setting a vacation budget is huge if you’re watching your spending. I like to save up for my vacations in advance, so it doesn’t affect my monthly budget. I put as much as I can on a rewards credit card, but I take some cash (about $50-$100) along for tips and small purchases. This makes it easier to calculate my expenses after returning home.