Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Vacation Planning Tips

One of the things I love most in life is traveling/vacationing. I love being in new surroundings, exploring, re-charging, and making memories. I am a much happier human when I take some time to rest and recharge.

I make no secret about the fact that I am currently on a personal mission to move to South Carolina. There's a good chance that it will likely not happen until I'm a retired lady, and I'm okay with that (I think)....A girl can dream, right?! Gotta start somewhere.

We look pretty happy on the beach though...


One of the questions I get the most from friends, family, co-workers is how can we afford to travel so often. Sam (husband) and I try to take a week long vacation 2x's per year with a few weekend trips scattered throughout.

My first two suggestions are to plan out a tentative vacation schedule at the beginning of the year and set your budget. I work in Employee Benefits Insurance which tends to be very cyclical in nature so there are times of the year that are more conducive to taking time off than others. By planning ahead you always have something to work towards/look forward to, and you aren't scrambling to find a 'good' time to get a way.

I do not make any claims to be a financial expert, but I know what has worked for us. We are very savvy shoppers when it comes to travel. We also spend time considering we hope to get out of each trip we take whether it be sightseeing, R&R, pampering, activities, etc. Currently we have $80/week transferred from our checking account to our "vacation fund". This takes so much stress out of the planning process. The money is readily available for us to spend solely for the purpose of vacationing. Very little thought is required in terms of budgeting in this scenario. I am a very firm believer that getting away, escaping reality, and taking time to reconnect is a MUST in life. This is a non-negotiable for me as long as we can reasonably afford it. This doesn't  set us up with a gigantic travel budget each year, but we know that if we take 2 cheaper trips one year, we can take a more expensive trip the next. We have gone to some pretty neat places, but have found that we perfectly content to spend time disconnected from the demands of work/home at the beach.

I have found one of the best ways to find awesome accommodations at very reasonable prices is to use rental sites like www.vrbo.com. This is a site where vacation home owners and rental companies post their rental properties. We have now used it 4x's with zero problems. I do consider us lucky, but it isn't difficult to do your homework and schedule an awesome, affordable vacation.

Here are my tips when vacation planning using a site like VRBO or HomeAway:

1. Pick your destination and set your budget. I urge you to consider what you hope to get out of the trip. We frequently visit Isle of Palms in South Carolina. I know when we go we will want to stay in a nice, comfortable house, close to the beach, pool access, decent kitchen, spacious living room, and a nice deck/balcony are all a must. I also know that we typically want a fairly large house because we often share this trip with my mom and her husband. On the other hand, when we vacationed to Maui last year we just wanted to a decent place to sleep and cook at a cheap rate as we did not plan to spend much time in our condo on this particular trip.

Here's the first house we rented on IOP. We loved it so much that we've stayed more than once!

2. Contact the owner/rental agency and ask very specific questions. Make sure you find out what is included in the rental. Sometimes you are required to bring your own linens. This is a no, no for me! I do not want to haul my own bedding, sheets, bath towels, etc. when traveling. Most houses include these items, but be sure to check the listing or ask first. Ask about wi-fi if this is a must for you. If you are headed to a beach destination it is a good idea to find out if the rental of the property will include any beach chairs, umbrellas, etc. This was extremely important to us when we went to Hawaii, and was the deciding factor when we chose our condo. We knew we wanted chairs, an umbrella, and bikes but wanted to avoid buying it or renting it separately when we arrived.

3. Make sure all the fees are included in the quoted rate. Sometimes owners/agencies will quote a base rate, but do not initially include taxes and cleaning fees. When I inquire about a home I ask them  to provide a quote for a TOTAL cost inclusive of any/all fees for the requested dates.

4. READ THE REVIEWS!!!!!!!! Reviews are key in my mind. I will not rent a place that does not have atleast 3 positive reviews. I can be pretty picky, and the last thing I want to do is be unhappy on vacation. Luckily for us, we have had AMAZING experiences with owners we have rented from. Many of them have checked in with us via phone and email during our trip to make sure we have everything we needed. Often times the owners are more than happy to tell you the best hidden treasures of the area.

5. Don't be afraid to negotiate. We typically book our trips 5-6 months in advance, and planning ahead can help you save. There is nothing wrong with asking the owner/rental agency if they are willing to provide a discount for early booking. Worse case scenario, they say no. Saving some pennies for a fun activity on your trip is just a bonus!

6. Understand your rental agreement. Just be smart. Understand the rules and you'll be good to go. Check in and check out times can be variable. I always ask if we can check in early if needed. Often times people are willing to be flexible when they can. During peak vacation season it is usually very difficult for them to flex too much with the cleaning and turning of the homes that need to happen.

Here are some of the places we have stayed/are planning to stay...

Isle of Palms- Yellow House

Isle of Palms- Ocean Front House

Isle of Palms- House with Pool

Maui Condo

Obviously none of this is rocket science, but just some little tidbits that I have learned from my personal experience from using these sites. I have found it to be a really nice change of pace from your typical hotel or resort!

If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email! I would love your input on other vacation related topics you would like to hear about...

Counting down the days to our next trip,

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