For the first time in 14 years, I got a tax refund rather than a tax bill this year. I would not recommend giving the government interest-free use of my money, and will make adjustments this year so I don’t get a refund. But it was unexpected, so I decided to use it to treat my two oldest girls to a trip. Last week we spent a few days in the destination of their choice: Colorado.
Travel is generally not a frugal activity. But making memories with my kids while they’re still at home is a priority, and research shows that spending in alignment with values does make us happy. Because I need to be very careful with my money, I try to make sure that my expenditures have maximum utility. Hence, five frugal things, travel edition!
- I booked flights that were bleeding early because they were nearly $100 cheaper per ticket than flights that took off later in the morning. You usually pay for convenience, and travel is no exception. I do have a Delta SkyMiles credit card (affiliate link – you can get 10,000 bonus miles for signing up with my link) that accumulates points and have used them for free flights in the past, but I chose not to redeem them for this trip. I’m hoping to use them for a European vacation at some point! Travel reward cards are a whole other blog post, and there are tons of people who utilize this method to hack their travel and share their methods*.
- We stayed in a (tiny) AirBnB instead of a hotel. I’ve found AirBnB to almost always be cheaper for a family. But even with just three of us traveling, it worked out to be the cheaper option. One reason is because we could go to the grocery store to buy some food instead of eating every meal out.
- I looked up a friend who lives in Denver, and she got us free tickets to the Botanic Gardens. It was beautiful, and catching up with a friend is even lovelier.
- We did eat out a fair bit. I agree somewhat with Jim Gaffigan, who says that vacations are just eating in a place we’ve never been. Ha! But we made it “count” by choosing restaurants that gave us an experience versus just filling our bellies. For example, trying a new dish at a Nepalese place and a coffee shop with a view of Pike’s Peak. And we chose to have a large meal in the middle of the day and (American portion sizes being too large anyway!) took home leftovers for dinner.
- We carried reusable water bottles with us everywhere, including in the airport, so we stayed hydrated (a bit more challenging in the drier climate of Colorado!) and avoided buying water.
- I made a list of all the things the girls wanted to do, as well as popular destinations in Colorado Springs and surrounding areas. We prioritized the free options first (and there are many in this area filled with natural beauty!). After barely exhausting free activities, we found we didn’t have time for the pricey ones. We felt satisfied with what we did, and had a nice balance of doing and relaxing.
I did something similar when I traveled to Asheville, NC recently. I Googled “free things to do this weekend in Asheville” and made a list, and we created our itinerary around that.
- When my oldest daughter’s feet were getting torn up by her shoes (we were clocking 15K steps per day which was lovely!), we went to a thrift store and found her a pair of like new Keen hiking sandals for a song.
- We also looked, unsuccessfully, in the thrift store for Colorado t-shirts to give as presents for the younger kids. Thankfully we found some in Manitou Springs on our final day for $5 each, which is similar to thrift store prices anyway!
- Because we needed to rent a car, I checked my credit card benefits and discovered that it covered car rental insurance. Declining the rental company’s insurance saved me some money.
That’s actually 9 things, but who’s counting?
What are some of your frugal travel hacks?
*Of course, it goes without saying that I only use credit cards to buy things I’d be buying with cash, and I pay the bill long before any interest comes due!