Saving for vacation isn’t always fun, but you know that you’re going to do something fun with the money, so you do it. (You do, don’t you?) As you know, my hope is to always be able to stretch a budget as far as it can go, so you can do more. Just because you have a set spending limit for your whole vacation, doesn’t mean that you are stuck doing 5 things and then just wandering around the city the whole rest of the time you’re away…or have to hang out on the beach, because you can’t afford to do anything else. I know, heartbreak. There are a lot of people who choose to go on vacation, just so they can lie around and do nothing. Change of scenery and all that. I look at it this way: I spent all that money to get there and stay there, I should take some time to experience it, otherwise I’ve just spent way too much money to do something I can do at home. Not that I’m not going to take the time to enjoy the beach and the water, but that’s not all I’m going to do. If so, I could have saved a bundle and driven to the coast and brought my own sandwiches.
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Activities are what fill your itinerary. While I understand that not everyone has their vacation planning down to a science, like I do, you still want to plan to do something, right? Of course you do! If you miss out on the biggest things wherever you go, you’ll be sad…or at least I hope you will. Knowing when attractions are open and having a prior reservation for many things is the first step in doing them and also getting a great deal. Now, this post is called Playing for Pennies on the Dollar, so cutting costs is priority. You may not be paying just 2-3 pennies for each dollar and more like 60-70, but that’s still 30-40% off original cost, and in some cases you’ll see and even bigger reductions, which means that extra money is money you can spend elsewhere, like on your dining expenses, or you can keep it in your pocket to help you take the most affordable vacation you can.
Let’s first start by making a list of all the things you want to do in your destination. I search tourism websites for my particular destination like VisitNassau.com or something to that effect. Google will be your best friend in this task, since if you have no idea what there is to do somewhere, you can type in something like “Fun things to do in Oahu” and get a million websites that can help you out. I visit the first 5 or 6 and make a list. If they happen to have websites next to each thing, even better, but if not don’t worry. Write down the exact name of the attraction, show, shop, etc. and you can look it up later. Once you’ve made your list, you can go back and fill in the blanks: how much it costs, opening hours or show times and where it’s located. I like to put an asterisk on things I ABSOLUTELY have to do. This way I know what my base cost could be.
Now, don’t cry when you look at your total just yet. Look to see if there are certain days it is cheaper or even free and if there is, create a daily calendar for the days you’ll be gone and post those things on the correct days and times to work around. You’ll want to do the same thing for activities or shows that will only be available during limited times.
Okay, so that was the fun part. Step 2, find discounts on things you want to do by searching the web. Very rarely do you get the best deal on tickets and entrance fees by booking directly through that company’s website, buying at the gate or calling to purchase. Sometimes it’s true, like with Universal Studios and The Dungeons, where they offer almost the only discounts by buying tickets ahead of time off their websites. This is probably also true, because they have limited tickets available each day, so knowing people who already have tickets won’t be turned away, while others in the middle of the day might be or have to wait in super long lines to get their tickets and have an unpleasant experience is something they’re willing to reward with a few dollars off. Universal has the market on discounting their own tickets, unless you are going to visit for several days, in which case you can buy cheaper tickets through your local AAA travel store.
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So, how else can you get discounted tickets to things? The easiest way is to search “discount tickets (insert your activity/theme park/etc here)” and see what comes up. In my opinion, a dollar or two off is better than nothing. I write down those prices and where I found them – and any fine print, in case printing and shipping fees end up costing you MORE than box office – and then continue with my search. As you find better deals, replace your top choice, so you know who has the best price and where you should buy when you’re ready. Cross out the “retail” price on your original cost list and put the new price next to it. This way you can see how much you’re saving as you go along! (I like this method, because as I find more savings, I add more things from my “maybe” list to my list of things I will do.
Do you find that there are a lot of things on your list that seem like traditional touristy activities? Search for a city pass! These handy cards can save you up to 60% on things you want to do. They can include anywhere from 5 major tourist attractions to almost 100 included attractions and discounts on dining, shopping and transportations. Most major cities that have any kind of tourism have a city pass, whether you’re going to London, Boston or Berlin. These cards have several benefits: you pay one price all at once, it pays for itself by just doing a fraction of the activities included, you can skip the ticket queues and go right to the gate, some include public transportation (eliminating another possibly costly trip expense), and you’ve already paid your admission fees, so the money in your pocket, stays in your pocket.
Look for activities that are not necessarily on every traveler’s list. This is a great way to travel if you’ve already been to a place before. Say you’ve been to Paris before and already done the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. Maybe check out the Dali exhibition and take a walk through Pere Lechaise Cimetiere instead. Both are much less expensive and have smaller crowds, plus they are things not everyone gets a chance to do on their trip to Paris. You’ll see a different side of the city and also be able to tell others about things they maybe haven’t heard of, giving them new ideas for their own future trip.
Sign up for daily deal emails, like Groupon and KGBDeals. Many of these sites offer deals worldwide. If you don’t want to get a million emails for places you’re visiting only once, another awesome website just started called YipIt.com. It sends you a single email each day with the deals for all the daily deal sites for the destination you’ve chosen. So easy! (A big thank you to Nancy who found this and told me about it. Saves SO much time!)
Did you remember seeing something in your email for a daily deal site and then missed out on the deal? No problem! Lifesta.com and CoupRecoup.com are both reseller sites of daily deals! It’s like eBay and Craigslist for bargains! Sometimes you buy things and then realize you won’t/can’t use them. Well, with these new websites, you can resell them! This is good news for you and other travelers, too! Browse within your destination – they have over 150 daily deal sites – to find amazing deals at 50% off or more and save a bunch of money on your vacation by paying with certificates of every kind: dining, shopping, beauty, tours, activities, theater tickets, etc.
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Are you planning a trip to the theater wherever you go? Check out Broadway Box for discount codes on shows in London, New York, Orlando and Las Vegas. Sometimes you can even get dinner thrown in with your show for less than the cost of the full-price ticket! For other locations, look at StubHub for folks reselling tickets at a lower price. If you find that prices are still too high, go to the box office on the day of show and see if they have any tickets left. If they do, they are generally 50% off, which is a huge savings.
With these tips in mind, don’t be afraid of how small your budget might be. Work around it by using some or all of these techniques and do more than you thought and have an awesome time while you’re away. Remember, there are always free things to do in most cities, too. Mix some of these things into your day and make your budget stretch just a bit further. Sometimes these are the most fun things you end up doing.
Do you have more tips for my readers or questions for me? Feel free to post a comment below. I love feedback.
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Let’s make it to 50 readers on this blog!
Shereen Travels Cheap has several fantastic and fun prizes to give away, but I’d like to make them goal-oriented. I know there are a lot of readers that come by each week to read the new content here, which is great! What would be even better is if you guys would also subscribe to the blog – either on Google Friend Connect or Networked Blogs – so I know how many of you are repeat customers. Once the total between the two reaches 50 readers, I’ll be giving away some great wine-related travel products. Being able to ship back or bring back your favorite wines from your travels in your checked luggage make a nice souvenir for yourself and others that weren’t lucky enough to go on your trip with you. This giveaway will be a perfect solution to that! The faster we get to 50, the faster we can start giving away prizes! We will do another one at 100, 150 and so on.
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