Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Top 10 Tuesday: How We Save to Explore

In honor of September being College Savings Month, I thought I'd share a few tips on how we save in order to travel and do more with our arrow.  (Because if the ultimate goal is that he goes to college, he'll need some interesting adventures to write about in his college admissions essays!)

1.) Consider traveling closer to home.  Our past few trips have only been a few hours away from home.  So we saved by avoiding flying.  It also meant we could get to our destination, and have more time there, without staying overnight along the way.

2.) Traveling usually means eating out.  Skip the kid's meal.  If your kids won't eat the entire kid's meal, I say skip it and supplement.  Our arrow has a great appetite, but even he can't muster an entire grilled cheese, fries, and soda (nor would I want him eating some of those things in large quantities.)  So we usually order him a side dish, and bring a few things he likes to eat with us.  A side dish is usually a dollar or two, instead of a $5 kids meal. 

3.) Check out guidebooks from the library.  I rarely buy a guidebook these days, and yet I'm old-fashioned and still like to use them to plan a trip.  I usually get them from the library, or print out info sheets from attractions or restaurants I know we want to visit from home ahead of time (in case internet is spotty at our destination).

4.) Rent a cottage, cabin, or apartment instead of a hotel room.  With a little research ahead of time, we have found this to be a much cheaper option.  Not only have we found a better nightly rate than a decent hotel, but we save on meals because we have a kitchen.  And we save even more on happiness, with more space to play and relax.  (Better yet?  Camp.  We'll be doing that in a couple of weeks!)

5.) Research your destination in advance.  I don't plan our trips down to the minute, but I usually have a rough idea of what we want to see.  Then I can try to find coupons, free admission times or other bargains.

6.) Spending time outdoors is cheap.  I've commented before on how strongly I feel about getting outside with your kids.  It happens to be nearly free entertainment, too.  Even the larger state parks and national parks are very reasonably priced, considering you can stay all day and have lots of fun.  If you need some outdoor age-appropriate ideas, check out Go Explore Nature and Nature Rocks.

7.) Ask for gift certificates for holidays and birthdays.  Many grandparents and relatives are eager to please, and may ask for gift ideas.  Consider a hotel gift certificate, or annual membership to a zoo or museum.  This will give you hours of fun as a family, and yet not dip into your bank account.  Isn't that better than the latest toy?

8.) Pack a cooler for the car ride.  When I grew up, the highlight of the road trip was pulling over at a rest stop, and my mom unveiling a great picnic lunch.  We sat on a picnic table and watched the cars rush by on the highway, while munching on tuna sandwiches.  Plus, you'll always have cold drinks on hand and don't need to stop for that and spend more money.

9.) Shop for treats ahead of time. Entertaining kids while on the road or in a plane sometimes requires some new fun things.  I'm constantly on the look out for sales on dvds, little toys, new books, stickers, etc., and then I don't unveil those goodies until its travel time.  If you go out the night before on a frantic rush for stuff, you're likely to spend more.

10.) Combine trips.  Traveling because of a wedding or other special event?  Tack on a few days and explore the area.  You have to pay to make that trip anyway.  Why not make a vacation out of it, instead of taking two separate trips somewhere?

Now it's your turn!  What are some of your favorite money-saving tips for getting out and about with your kids?  Please leave a comment so we can all learn from each other.

This post is a part of Top 10 Tuesday at Oh Amanda.