Debt Free Vacations – How It Works for Us

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by Elle Martinez · 22 comments

Next month we’re going to celebrate our anniversary by taking a trip. It’s our own little tradition that we like to do. Traveling together is something we enjoy and we’re excited about next month.

Since we’ve been married we’ve preferred to take debt free vacations to reduce stress, keep our budget in check, and reach our other goals. So far we’ve always had a great time with them. I wanted to share some travel tips that have helped us along the way.

Planning Ahead For Your Vacation

The first thing I will say is that the best debt free trips usually start off with a lot of planning and discussion. While you can find some fantastic last minute deals, they’re not always guaranteed. You’re more likely to go over budget with them.

Did I just say budget? Yeah; you should have a budget for your vacation. Your bank account doesn’t grow for the special occasion, so you have to be wise with your money. When planning the upcoming trip, please consider all the major and typical expenses for budgeting.

  • Lodging (Hotel, Bed & Breakfast, Hostel,etc)
  • Transportation (Plane, Train, Car, or Bus)
  • Food (Overestimate with this)
  • Local Activities (Festivals, Attractions, Souvenirs, etc)
  • Misc. (Emergencies)

It looks like a lot, but you don’t have to pay a huge amount to get everything that you need for a debt free vacation.

Finding the Right Location

This is one of my favorite parts – picking out where we’re going. We try to mix up the trips where we’ll go somewhere new and then the next trip is to a place we really love. Sometimes we enjoy seeing new places and discovering some great hole in the wall places and sometimes we like to go a bit deeper with a place and see something new that we missed before. I think it’s definately helped us enjoy our vacations a bit more.

Finding a Great Deal on Vacations

As part of our vacation routine, we started off by checking out Priceline for our upcoming trip based on past successes. We also check around other travel sites to compare because it’s sometimes cheaper to split between two sites for a vacation (ex. Hotels.com for rooms and Pricline for airfare).

Should you get travel insurance? You have decide for yourself based on several factors including risk tolerance, cancellation policy, geographic region. You should also check with your credit card company (if you paid with it) to see what protections they offer to their cardholders.

Vacation Packages vs A La Carte

I can’t give you a blanket answer – each trip has been different for all of us. For every trip we price shop both options. We can sometimes find a great deal by bundling; other times we noticed bigger savings by splitting it up.

Use a Credit Card for Reservations?

If your check card has a hold, such as a car rental,you may not be able to access your money for a few days. That can be a hassle if you have upcoming purchases. On the other hand, you can put it on your credit card and then pay it off from checking with online bill pay.

  • Hertz: Accepts debit/check cards with Visa or Mastercard logo (make sure you have $200 in addition to your rental fee. Prepaid visas not accepted
  • Enterprise: Accepts major debit/check cards (no details)
  • Budget: Debit cards not accepted at some locations to reserve a vehicle.  Payment can be made with a debit card.
  • Thrifty: Major credit card is generally needed for rentals. Payment can be made with a debit card.
  • Alamo: Debit cards are accepted for rentals, but you have to have proof of round trip, such as a ticket.
  • Avis: Debit cards are accepted for rentals, but you have to meet Avis’ eligibility requirements.

Right now, we have a credit card between the two of us. It’s paid off every month and we use it occasionally to keep it open.

Cutting Back on Vacation Expenses

Eating Well

For us, eating out is typical on a vacation. We love trying different places and we’ve discovered new dishes to love from our trips. We try to be reasonable and save our doggie bags for meals the next day at the hotel. If we can’t do that, then we ask around and look for the hole in the wall places that people adore. They tend to give us a great deal and have some of the best food. By the way, if you’re ever over in our city, here are some of our favorite spots to eat at.

Saving on Souvenirs

I’m not the only one who’s enjoyed the benefits to debt free vacations. Matt from Debt Free Adventure shared some wonderful vacation tips. My favorite was his family’s shopping methods:

When you are out browsing, decide in advance that no matter what you find in a store, you will not buy… at least not right then. Simply go into the store, look around, enjoy yourself, try things on, make a note of anything you want to buy, then leave.  Do this at all the stores you visit. At the end of the day, have a look at the list you made, and decide if there is anything on it worth going back to that store to buy. This eliminates impulse buying, and can save you bundles…

It’s a simple technique, but easily overlooked.

Depending on where you’re going, sometimes chain retilaers have cheaper souvenirs than the tourist spots. While we were in Orlando checking out the parks, I noticed some wonderful gifts at the local Wal-Mart. We got the bulk there and for the one of a kind items, we bought at the park. We saved a lot of money and we were able to include more people on our gift list.

Thoughts on Debt Free Vacation

I love reading about tips and advice on traveling well and saving money. Are you planning a trip soon? What sites do you use to find the best deals? What’s been the best trip you’ve had so far? Are you an expert in packing light?

Photo Credit: Ahmed Amir

About Elle Martinez
Elle Martinez helps families at Couple Money achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt, increase income, and building net worth. Learn how to live on one income and have fun with the second..

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  • http://www.myjourneytomillions.com Evan

    We like to do a trip per year, but throughout the year we have 20 or 30 bucks/week each go into an ing account market vacation. By the time we decide where to go we usually have a sizeable amount to put down to pay for it (after we of course put it on the CC).

    • Elle

      Glad to hear you guys have a system in place for your vacations. It seems small, but it ads up quickly since it’s done weekly. Good for you guys!

  • http://www.gobankingrates.com Briana @ GBR

    My fiancée and I recently took a vacation to Las Vegas this past weekend. We used a credit card to make the reservations but had the money to pay it off (we used the card for the points). We had my car all fixed up for the trip since it was about a 4 hour drive. We budgeted as far as eating well (my dad had complimentary tickets to a nice buffet and his cousin who lives out there cooked for us!) We’re already planning our next vacation and now starting up a vacation fund.

    • Elle

      We’re going to Vegas in a couple of months, are there any specific places you’d recommend? Great job on saving money to pay for the trip and earning points on your card.

  • http://www.donnafreedman.com Donna Freedman

    1. When ordering through Hotwire or Expedia, do it through a cash-back shopping site such as Mr. Rebates. You will get an additional 1 to 3% in cash-back. You can also rent a car through cash-back sites. (Note: Coupons and special deals are highlighted through the sites, too.)
    2. Join social buying sites such as Groupon or Buy With Me for the cities you plan to visit. If an interesting restaurant or tourist attraction (museums, city tours, boat rides, et al.) pops up, buy it. BAnd note that you can also buy Groupon or Buy With Me vouchers through cash-back shopping sites, for an additional 3 to 5% off.
    3. Picnic! You can get ingredients through grocery stores or specialty shops and it’ll probably still be cheaper than buying ready-made sandwiches. Plus it’s fun to find a pretty spot and enjoy the view while you eat.

    • Elle

      Thanks for the travel tips on getting rebates! We’re going to use this on our next trip.

  • http://www.financialsamurai.com Financial Samurai

    How often do you think people go in debt to go on vacation? The concept is foreign to me. If I don’t have money, I do a staycation, no problem!

  • http://frugalzeitgeist.com Forest

    Sampling local cuisine from real local places is hands down the best way to experience food I think and it’s normally dirt cheap. I can get a good falafel here in Cairo for 1-2 Egyptian Pounds (approx $0.20-$0.40) and they can run up to 18 EGP in some of the tourist places.

    Great post Elle.

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