Sunday, July 17, 2011

Vacationing Above Your Means (Within Your Means)

There are people who believe that those of us who make less than 100k per year should narrow our definition of "vacation" to mean "a week at home watching TV and maybe going to the zoo". While I am a big fan of the "stay at home" vacation, I don't think it's the only option for people in my income range.

I am a passport stamp junkie. The stranger and farther away it is, the more I want to go. Not making much money has never stopped me either, even before I discovered the amazing "goal" feature on I was working two jobs for $11 and $9 dollars per hour respectively when I self-funded a trip to Costa Rica to visit a friend who was living there. I managed to swing the entire vacation, including airfare, for under $600.  I also managed a trip to Morocco for under $1000 earlier this year. Neither of these trips involved camping out or staying in a hostel, and both involved a LOT of eating.

If you too love to travel but have budget restrictions, here are some tricks to the trade:
  • Join an airline loyalty program. Last year, I was flying back from Thailand (for work) and the guy next to me could not shut up about how great United Airline's loyalty program was. I was annoyed at the time, but after I joined found that he was right - collecting miles has allowed me to leverage a number of trips I wouldn't otherwise have taken. Just don't bring your Guitar.

  • If you are planning a trip to Europe, Asia, Africa or the Middle East, get acquainted with budget airlines (Air Asia, EasyJet, Ryan Air etc....) Then plan to fly into the absolute cheapest airport on the continent and use these budget airlines to get to your final destination. This also allows you to go through customs in a large, nicer airport most of the time. A great example of this is when I flew to Madrid (for under $600 round trip) before hopping a 40 Euro flight to Marrakech. A flight directly to Marrakech would have cost us upwards of $1000. 
  • Go in the "off" season. In Costa Rica, there is a two week period at the end of July called veranillo. This is essentially a beautiful 2 week break from the rainy season. However, flights during this time hover right around the $200 dollar mark since it is still the "off" season. In addition, waiting until March to visit warmer locales can save you tons of money, since most people go in the winter. House rentals in places like the Virgin Islands and other Caribbean hot spots usually fall to "low season" prices around first or second week in March. 
  • Prepare yourself for a shock: all-inclusive resorts are not always the cheapest option for lodging, and they rarely give the most authentic experience. The best lodging options vary from country to country. You should consider renting a house or apartment (depending on your group size), staying in a guest house or even chartering a boat. These options give you the freedom to do some of your own cooking, control your own schedule and take advantage of additional peace and tranquility. 
  • Take into account the power of the dollar. While a flight to Asia may consume the better part of your budget, remember how cheap it's going to be once you get there. Your in-country costs will be less than half what they would be in a more developed place. While a flight to Europe may be affordable, funding the rest of your vacation on the all-powerful Euro will not be. 
  • Take only memories, leave only footprints. If you focus your vacation activities away from shopping, you will have more fun and spend less money. We all like to get keepsakes from our travels, what do they really end up doing besides weighing down our lives? So take more pictures and give the souks and shops a firm resolve.
    So please start planning the kind of adventure that will make your co-workers think you just robbed a bank. Plan smart, think outside the box and stamp the crap out of your passport.

    Bon Voyage,
    Double E

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