An expert traveler shares advice for getting more out of your vacation budget. “If you can’t tell the difference between a $300 bottle of wine and a $20 bottle of wine, why pay to go to a place with a $300 bottle?” she said.
No money in your budget for a vacation this year? Think again.
“If people take the time to do a little research, they can get so much more from that vacation,” said Jiffy Johnson, a veteran traveler, financial counselor and retired radio personality in Springfield, Ill.
“I’ve been traveling since 1950 by just about every method out there — by car, bus, train, plane, boat, foot, camel, donkey and bicycle. I’ve traveled to four continents and have been everywhere from vodka plants in Russia to backpacking in West Virginia,” said Johnson.
She warns against paying for services and goods you won’t use.
“If you can’t tell the difference between a $300 bottle of wine and a $20 bottle of wine, why pay to go to a place with a $300 bottle?” she said.
Likewise, why pay for a hotel with a pool, or an outer cabin on a cruise, or a travel package with entertainment, if you don’t plan on taking advantage of those extras?
Johnson referred to a family that took an expensive trip to Disney World in Florida. But the only thing of interest to the children was swimming in the hotel pool. It would have been smarter, she said, to stay a night in a local hotel with a pool and order in pizza.
“I don’t like spending money unless I get something back,” she said.
The thrifty traveler
Her advice? Decide exactly what you want from your vacation (relaxation, socialization, shopping, nature, etc.) and focus on that.
Another tip: Talk to people who have been where you are going.
“Use your connections to find people who have been there. You’re going to get a more accurate picture of what it’s really like. They will know the places where you can get a good cup of coffee or a hotel with a staff that really cares,” Johnson said.
Besides asking friends, she suggests seeking out friends of friends and using your connections through school alumni clubs, churches or community groups.
More money-saving tips for vacation:
- Bring your own food when possible, or buy simple breakfast and lunch items at a grocery store.
- Share a restaurant dinner portion. “If you’re still hungry, you can always order more,” Johnson said.
- Call the hotel directly to make reservations, not the hotel company’s toll-free number. You’ll have better luck cutting a deal for a cheaper rate.
- If you don’t have a hotel reservation and arrive late in the day, negotiate a lower price. The hotel would rather fill rooms with a bargain rate than have them remain empty.
- Consider flying into a smaller airport and driving to your destination to save on airfare.
- Fly on holidays, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving. Because most people fly a few days before and after holidays, you’re likely to get a better rate and an emptier airplane.
- Consider all means of transportation — flying, driving, bus, train, etc. — and compare the variables. Driving, for example, may afford you the chance to take side trips and save the cost of a rental car at your destination.
- Consider cheap ocean travel on relocation, or repositioning, cruises. They are one-way trips to a ship’s homeport so it can begin a scheduled cruise.
Page 2 of 2 - Above all, Johnson said, make sure you have the funds to go on a vacation. Otherwise, skip it.
“Do not go on a vacation you cannot afford,” she said. “It will not be fun.”
Kathryn Rem can be reached at 217-788-1520.
Online bargain hunters
Websites offer a wealth of information that can help you save vacation cash. For example:
- Check gas prices online (www.gasbuddy.com, www.gaspricewatch.com). If possible, fill up before you reach an urban area or state with high gas prices.
- Think about alternatives to hotels: home rentals by owner (www.vrbo.com), apartment rentals (www.homeaway.com), convents, monasteries, youth hostels or home trades (www.couchsurfing.com).
- Look at flight aggregators (www.kayak.com, www.cheapflights.com) when booking airfare. They compare costs for all airlines.
- Check the website of your destination. “The photos on the website are the ‘gems’ you’ll want to see,” said travel expert Jiffy Johnson.