5 Surprising Tips to Supersize Your Family Vacation

Memorial Day is right around the corner. Have you started planning your summer vacations yet?

Do you take a family vacation every year? Where do you typically go and how much does it cost you? What if I told you that you that for the same amount of money (or less), I could teach you how to go somewhere nicer or do more at that vacation spot you love. Yes, it is possible. Let’s check out the list!

 

My 5 “Not So Obvious” Family Vacation Tips

 

1) Stop Planning – I know, it almost sounds counterintuitive to what you should do to save money on your vacation. Typically, you’re taught to plan where you’re going in advance because if you wait until the last minute, everything will be much more expensive. While this is still the case for some items, there are benefits to waiting before choosing your exact destination. Websites such as TravelZoo or CheapCaribbean offer last minute deals on all-inclusive getaways and cruises all over the world. I once saw a weeklong trip to Aruba for only $800, which included the flight, the hotel stay, some events, and all of the food! Sometimes it pays to wait.

 

2) Stay Connected to Your Friends – With the help of Facebook, it’s pretty easy to stay connected to your friends today. And, since our world is becoming so globalized, your friends will most likely move to all corners of the world. While this may be tough to deal with at first (since you no longer get to see your friends every day), it provides a great reason to visit a new area on the globe and to do it for cheap (since you’ll be staying with your friend)! Just offer to pay for their food for the week and it’s suddenly a win-win situation.

 

3) Buy Groceries, Not Fine Dining – The purpose of your vacation is most likely to explore a new area that you’ve never experienced, not to eat at a chain restaurant that is prevalent in your own hometown. With a week-long vacation, it is much cheaper to go to the grocery store at the beginning of the trip than to eat out for every meal. This small tip could very easily save you $200-$400!

 

4) Learn From the Locals – No matter where you’re vacationing to, there will be “must see” attractions that are sent your way which aren’t really that great of an experience. Unfortunately, you won’t know this until your money is already spent! Do your due-diligence on this one and try to learn from the locals. Find a blog about local fun or connect with a friend or a friend that can give you some quick tips on what to see. Often times, the best attractions are the ones that are free!

 

5) Explore, Then Do – For many of us, when we go on vacation we feel like we have to hurry up and do as much as we can, but this is no way to vacation at all. Once you finally get home, you’re more exhausted than when you left, and you’re way poorer than you expected too! Instead of charging forward and doing a bunch of activities that are presented to you that first day, take it easy and go for a stroll around the city. Make a mental note of what you’d like to do and see. Not only will you enjoy yourself more, but you’ll have save some of that money in your pocket.

How do you save money on family vacations without skimping on fun? Let’s share notes in the comments below….

Photo: Stevendepolo

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How I Saved 35% on My Walt Disney World Vacation

Last week I was lucky enough to spend a week at the most magical place in the world – Walt Disney World.

Whew!

I now need a vacation from my vacation!

Here’s the amazing part:  the bill they put on my door on our last day–after a week’s stay–was for $600.

My credit card statement will be for $600 after a week of Disney.

I can hear you now: did you sleep in your car?  Sneak into Walt Disney World and do the rides at night?

Nope.  None of those are true. first, we had a 100% authentic trip. First class. We stayed at the resorts (Specifically, the Saratoga Springs resort). We swam in the pools. We ate the Mickey food. It was the entire “stay on-site” Disney experience. Given, this isn’t everything we spent (I’ll explain that in detail below), but we made ourselves a heck of a deal that you can have, too.

My youngest child kept on talking about his “other house” and we couldn’t understand what he was talking about until he said, “You know, Dad, the one with all my toys and bikes and kitty?”  Oh, yes.  Your real house.  Apparently, Walt Disney World was his real home now, and our house was his other house.  Disney knows what they’re doing.

 

The Details

You must plan to get most of the deals I’m going to outline:  If you’re looking for a quick trip this weekend to the House of Mouse and want to save a ton of money, I can’t help you much.  (Check the bottom of this piece for a last-minute newsletter to sign up for that will give you a few sweet deals.)

We started our research in June, which by some standards is too close. If I were to do it again, I would’ve planned this in March.

Savings #1

You know that Disney has timeshares, right?  (Don’t worry, this isn’t a timeshare pitch – in fact quite the opposite).  Each year, the timeshare owners, or Disney Vacation Club owners, receive a number of points  to use however they please.  Those points can accumulate for a couple years, but eventually they expire and become worthless.  If you know anything about the timeshare market, a lot of people have them, but they’re like boats.  The best two days to a typical boat owner are the day you buy and the day you sell your boat.  Many people hate their timeshare after they buy it, but they’re difficult to sell, so they waste them.

That’s until David showed up.  He runs a website DVCRequest.com where he buys Disney Vacation Club (DVC) owner’s points for cheap and sells them on the market after taking a small cut.  It’s a brilliant plan.

Here’s how it works:

First, head to his site, www.DVCRequest.com and begin the search for how many points/dollars you’ll require to stay at your favorite Walt Disney World resort.  Let’s take a hypothetical vacation the week of February 17, 2013.  On the left hand side, click “Points Calculator” and select the dates you wish to travel.

Now, a list comes up with all the Disney Vacation Club properties (you’ll notice they’re all super-duper nice!) – as I mentioned, we stayed at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa in a 1 bedroom condo – which, for that week costs 203 points.  David charges $13 per point, so that’s $2,639, right?  When I went on the Disney website and selected the same resort, same days, same room, it came up to $3,956, that’s a savings of 33%, or $1,317 for the same week, same room!  Are you kidding me?!

After you select which week you’d like, you complete David’s very quick process, pay a small deposit of $91 to get started, and they begin looking for rooms that meet your need.  If they can’t find a Disney Vacation Club room, you get your $91 back.  If they do, then you fill out an online contract and pay the room rental fee right there!

Done.

Now that’s part of my strategy about my Disney vacation.  By paying for the room in June like I did, it’s one part of my trip cost completed.  I’ve already received that credit card bill and paid it, so from a cash flow point, I’m now 4 or 5 months removed from this bill.  Kind of like Christmas – once you get to March, the damage is usually all done with, right?  It gets better…

Savings #2

The next thing we did, since we were staying in a Disney Vacation Club condo with a full kitchen, was to order our groceries online using a site called www.gardengrocer.com .  Disney will store your groceries for you in their freezer and refrigerator until you arrive (of course they shop fresh for you) and for a small mark up (milk was about $4.50 per gallon) you find waiting for you a fridge full of groceries.  Now you don’t need to worry about the Disney Dining plan, which saves another $700-$1,000 per family, depending on what plan you avoided.  We spent about $200 with them and another $300 on food at the lunches at the park and one dinner out, so we saved a couple hundred bucks this way.

Savings #3

Of course, you have to actually go to the parks, right?  Well, we saved money here, too.  Head to the site: www.undercovertourist.com and take a look around.  We opted for the Buy 3-Get 1 Free plan, so we were able to see all four Walt Disney World parks (although we skipped one and did Magic Kingdom twice).  We figured we didn’t need Park-Hopper options, since we have little kids and when we were done…we were done.  A neat little benefit they throw in is their Undercover Tourist app for the iPhone which can keep track of ride times, dinner reservations, parade times, and fast-pass lines.  Pretty handy feature.  So there we saved another $200.

So, by the time I arrived on the Disney property last week, I’d already paid for my room (5 months ago) my groceries (last month) and my park tickets (2 months ago) so I only had to worry about what we spent while I was there…which was about $600.

Trust me, it’s a nice feeling to leave Disney spending only $600, even if you’d spent an additional $3,200 already.  But, for a family of four to stay at one of the nicest resorts on the Disney property in Orlando for under $4,000…food, tickets and all, I think we created a pretty good deal for ourselves.

This was my first time to Disney since I was my son’s age.  I’m sure I can make other changes to save more in the future – anyone have any ideas I didn’t use?  Post your comments below!

Photo: CKramer

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