Growing up, one of my favorite things about the summer was the fact that maybe we would go on a vacation. When we did go, they ended up as some of my fondest memories. When my husband and I got married, and then had children, we had to learn how to do vacations on the frugal.
This week, my family and I traveled to Charleston, South Carolina – Pawley’s Island, actually – for a vacation we have been saving to go on for about a year. The trip made me think about all the expenses involved with vacation and the various ways we have found to vacation on the frugal. I thought I would use the next few posts to share about some of the ideas we have discovered in our “travels” (sounds so much more exotic than vacation, doesn’t it? LOL).
When my husband and I were first married, one of our first trips together was to the beach. It was a combination belated honeymoon / graduation trip (hubby had just graduated from Bible college). We had it planned out to the penny (we were a little low on money 🙂 ) and so we had to be careful what we spent. We took a cooler with us that had some drinks, some bread, some lunch meat (probably bologna, if I remember correctly!) and some chips. That was our food for the next few days. We made sandwiches in our room, picked a hotel that had free breakfast, and I think we ate out maybe once or twice. The most expensive part was the room!
When we had children, we realized had to find a way to travel that didn’t break our family piggy bank. We tried the “everyone stay in one room” trick a few times. Let me just say – as much as I love my children, that was not the best way to spend a vacation. For a while it was just 3 of us, then 4…..then 5 and 6. You are in one room (sometimes 2 if you have some extra money or a good coupon and can get a suite) and there is no place for the kids to play, nothing to do but watch TV and if it rains? Forget it – complete chaos!
So we started looking for houses to rent for vacations in the different places we wanted to visit. While the initial outlay might be expensive, the savings in the long run would be worthwhile. Savings, you might ask? How might there be savings? I’m glad you asked LOL! We found we could save money by:
- Taking our food and cooking most of our meals in the house.
- Taking games and things for the kids to do in the house so there could be some down time.
- Taking fewer clothes and washing what we took in the laundry room at the house.
- Taking snacks with us and eating them on the way, as well as taking snacks on any days trips we made.
For us, we decided that the food savings alone was worth the renting of the house. So that is where our adventures began in renting houses in quite a few vacation areas that we have visited. We have found houses at several beaches, including Oak Island, North Carolina and Pawley’s Island, South Carolina, as well as the mountains in places like Murphy, North Carolina and even the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.
It can be a little difficult to find the right house. When we first were starting to look we weren’t sure where to find a house. We did so at first by trial and error. Now we have it down to a fine science about where to look and how to find rentals that are affordable in the areas we want to visit. Want some help to avoid the mistakes we made at first? I thought you might 🙂
WHERE TO FIND HOUSES
Vacation Rental By Owner – This is probably our number one choice for looking for rental houses. You can find houses anywhere in the world with VRBO. This amazing site lets you sort by date of travel and return, location, number of bedrooms, bathrooms – anything and everything that you might want in a house. There is also a calendar that shows availability. We always check VRBO first when we start looking for vacation homes – it’s pretty cool!
You’ve probably seen these commercials for Home Away, recently – I think they’re hilarious. Technically owned by VRBO and more or less one and the same site, Home Away is still a good place to look as this site will have homes that VRBO may not have. It will also let you search by dates of travel, guests and location, and also includes a calendar of availability. Most of these have great pictures so you can choose your house with confidence.
Although you may think of Craigslist for selling things – blenders, cars, dogs, dryer lint – you can also find rental homes as well (I guess they are technically selling their home for a week?). The only way you can really sort is by location and sometimes bedrooms. There is no calendar to show if the house is available – you just have to contact the owner to find out. You can find some good deals this way – but there is always the risk of a scam. Just be sure to check everything out thoroughly. While planning for this vacation, we found a house on Craigslist in exactly the location we wanted. We contacted the owner and had some communication back and forth. Before any money changed hands, though, communication just stopped. I tried for an additional 2 weeks to contact the owner with no response. Finally, we gave up and looked elsewhere. We did find a house that was more expensive and not in our ideal location but time was running short and we had to find something. Two weeks before we left, the owner contacted us to see if we were still interested! I didn’t even respond. But – my brother-in-law and sister-in-law found a house on Craigslist that they rented for about 5 years running. So I think deals are there to be found by legitimate owners!
I know, right? I didn’t realize it either until this year when we started looking for beach houses that eBay had listings. Although there aren’t many, you can find some good deals. I think the biggest issue is that you need to be flexible. For example, if you don’t care where you go, and if you are sort of date flexible, you could go to Key West for a week for $500 :-). Check out the link here and here for ideas of what kind of deals you can find.
Friends and Family
Okay, okay, okay – I know. How cheesy does it sound to end a list with this? But, seriously, sometimes there are people that you know that may have a house somewhere to rent and they would love to have the house rented and the rental income. Of course you want to be careful in how you ask but you may just find a great house at a great price! At one church where we served, there was a family with a beach house that was ocean front. They asked if we would like to go there for a week in exchange for hubby doing some minor maintenance work. We jumped at the chance and it was a lot of fun for us!
HONORABLE MENTION – Camping
I throw this in as an honorable mention because I am not a camping person, and can’t imagine staying in a camper with 4 kids. I do know there are some people who thrive on this and love the idea of staying in a campground. I also know (from having stayed in a few during my more adventurous, child-free teen years) that campgrounds have pools, playgrounds, and even water parks in some. So this may be a great, very inexpensive option for the braver souls among you.
So – those are my ideas for ways to find inexpensive accommodations for vacations – beach, mountains, creek side or anywhere in between. Do you vacation on the frugal? What are you ideas for saving on where you stay? Have you used different ideas? Let me know with a comment!
Til next time