8 ways to cut costs & impact on vacation

This year, I’m taking a vacation.

Well, to be honest, I’m taking a few.

I know flying isn’t low impact, by any means, and until last week, I hadn’t been in a plane since May 2004. However, I hadn’t seen my dad in a year and a half, and he lives a 14-hour drive away. Little Cheap and I squeezed in a long-weekend visit in April, and rather than spend all our time off in the car, we flew.

To celebrate Mr. Cheap’s finishing three years of grad school, we are going to take a grownups-only trip to New York City. We’re going to walk all day, visit every museum and gallery we can squeeze in, and eat exotic food. Not to mention sleep in and visit old friends.

And this summer, we’re all heading across the country to see the other side of the family, including cousins Little Cheap hasn’t seen in three years, and to let our little Pisces hit the beach. We thought about driving on that trip, but it’s hard to stomach six days of driving for the round-trip, so most likely we’ll fly there, too.

How will we try to minimize our footprint?

  1. Fly direct. I choose this for convenience whenever possible, but this Marketwatch article mentions that planes use the most energy taking off and landing, so you save something (beyond your sanity) by avoiding a transfer.

  2. Carbon offsets. When I purchased tickets directly from Continental, I could immediately link to a site where I could choose one of several carbon offsets to instantly purchase. Talk about motivating! And with airfares skyrocketing, what’s another $11?

  3. Use public transit. When we go to NYC, we will fly into Newark so we can take the Air Train right into Manhattan. It’s easy and, at $15 a ticket, cheaper (and probably faster) than a cab too. We’ll take the subways and buses while we are there, with no need to rent a car. Coming home from Minnesota, we planned to take our bus system’s Sky Ride from the airport back into the city (full disclosure: our plans were derailed by a sick child, and even the shuttle bus system would have taken us nearly 2 hours, and WAY out of our way, so we wound up taking a cab after all). But assuming your health allows, check out your destination’s public transit options.

  4. Rent a smaller car. I’m hoping we can rent a hybrid when we go to the East Coast this summer (I’d love to try one out). Even if we can’t, we’ll rent the smallest car that can accommodate us to try to get the best mileage.

  5. Rent an apartment. In New York, we looked at renting an apartment instead of staying at a hotel, although my timing was too late in the spring “high season.” Renting an apartment is usually more economical (for one thing, you don’t have to eat every meal out). And you aren’t paying for — or creating — the infrastructure of building a special lodging just for tourists. We rented an apartment in Paris seven years ago and did a home swap visit to California two years ago. It’s a great way to travel. Check listings on Craigslist or other ad sites, but remember, buyer beware — be cautious about where you send your money.

  6. Turn things off. I’ve known people who shut their water off when they go on vacation, in hopes of preventing a flood when no one is there. For our trips when we’re all away, I’m going to emulate them and go a step further: Turn off the hot water heater and unplug everything except the refrigerator in an attempt to bring our energy use down to almost zero while we are not living in our house.

  7. Bring snacks. You can’t bring liquid snacks on a plane anymore. But pack your own chewing gum for the ups and downs and bring along granola, homemade oatmeal cookies, chunks of cheese or nuts to give yourselves an energy boost without running up your credit card at the post-security shops.

  8. Make your own meals. If you’re staying in lodging with a kitchen, bring along home-cooked and frozen meals and you’ll save a bundle. Even if you buy frozen pizza or frozen lasagna to make life easy on vacation, a family of three can save $25 a meal over a mid-range family restaurant. Over a week, that’s almost enough to pay for someone’s airfare.

We certainly won’t be traveling this much every year — but I’m not ready to just stay home (and give up seeing most of our relatives) for the rest of our lives.

How do you shave costs — or your environmental impact — when you travel?

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10 thoughts on “8 ways to cut costs & impact on vacation

  1. Jenna says:

    Sounds like you are going to be having a lot of fun this year!

    Here at the Nerdly Nest, we do a few things each year to keep us moving cheaply and greenly.

    Camping is a big one for us, running the gamut from actual weeklong campouts – to simply using campgrounds (and friend’s families backyards) to shave off the expense of renting motels and hotels.

    To save cash, we eat out at lunch time (cheaper then dinner) and wander markets for the makings of our dinners. Gives us the chance to explore the towns food in all its incarnations.

    Carpooling, trains, and the use of “We’ll take the cat to your grannies for $20 in gas, and pick up your snowshoes from your aunt Maud for $10” add up quicky in the savings.

    One last thing? Keep $$ low by getting creative about presents and mementos. Keep menu’s, flyers, take pictures and journal your trip – don’t buy a bunch of made in china plastic (unless you actually ARE in China!) trinkets. If you DO buy something, make sure it really is from the area, and is something you can use once you get home. I buy small skeins of yarn from LYS and then make myself “memorial” socks or scarves.

    We’re flying and taking a cruise this year (a prize from the hubby’s job) and it has me more nervous. I grew up in a flying family – lots of pilots – and the whole idea of not being in the cockpit to make sure everyone knows their job makes me nutty.

  2. erin says:

    We will be making our yearly trip to the coast to stay in a rental house. We share the house with other families and cook all our meals. Our kids are happy just to be at the beach and will probably get some ice cream (on our last day!). The place we go is very non-commercial. Just a sleepy town so no draw to spend money. Sharing the house with friends is fun and economical. We will drive there (it is a 2 hour drive). I can’t wait!

  3. cheaplikeme says:

    @Jenna, yes, camping is a good one! And great point on souvenirs … we seldom buy souvenirs, or only for people who are doing us a favor (like keeping the dog for free or keeping the kid for free!). Then our savings pay for the souvenir.

    Priceline is another good option when you have to have a hotel reservation … we have gotten a room at a 4-star hotel in Vegas for $60 and stayed at a Sheraton in a nearby town for about $50, I think — and they upgraded us to a club-room floor where we got complimentary breakfast.

    @Erin, lucky you being so close to the coast! We are somewhere between 17 and 28 driving hours from an ocean here. I calculate the “break-even point” where it’s worth it (timewise) to fly at about 8 hours. Budgetwise, it might differ …

  4. Cam says:

    Watch out with #6. One year my parents turned off the AC, or set it to only keep the house at 90 or something. Well, they returned to the highest summer electricity bill that they had ever had. Why? Because the fridge had to work that much harder to keep things cool when it was that hot in the kitchen. Just something to keep in mind.

  5. cheaplikeme says:

    Ooh, interesting! Maybe if you are gone long enough to turn off the AC, the fridge should be turned down/up too. I wonder if refrigerator age contributes? I might have to investigate this one …

  6. CT says:

    “Gone long enough to turn off the AC”? My husband’s lucky if I let him turn it on at night during the worst part of July. I have to wonder if that fridge was leaky or defective, because I barely use air conditioning, and we certainly don’t see a summer spike in electricity bills. We do see a spike in Popsicle purchases, though.

  7. organicneedle says:

    We always fly direct too….a must with two toddlers. We like renting beach houses or at least efficiencies so making breakfast and lunch is easy. The one big tip that I didn’t see mentioned is scouting out local health food stores or chains like Whole Foods before you go. We go to the keys every year and I have mapped out where there is a Whole Foods on the way from the airport to the island. No wasteful backtracking or searching. This way we can buy all the healthy stuff we need and avoid the crap food trap. Besides being a big waste of money, I find my kids aren’t at their best when they get too far from their usual diet.

  8. organicneedle says:

    Also…another good way of both making your vacation dollars count and treading a little lighter is to look up local conservation groups or wildlife centers to see what they offer. We have found some really great bird sanctuaries, marsh preservations, manatee rescue centers, etc. that use the money they make from tourists to educate the public and protect native environments. Not only do we ALL enjoy these outings, but if we do end up bringing home any souvenirs they tend to be books which is more than fine by us.

  9. cheaplikeme says:

    Great point on not changing kids’ diets — for everyone’s enjoyment. With kids, a house or apartment also lets them “play” and be normal — which takes a lot of stress out of vacation.

    And you’re right, getting to know the natural environment where you are visiting can provide the most amazing and memorable experiences of the whole trip!

  10. Cam says:

    @CT
    The fridge was not defective and I remember it b/c my folks called up the electric company and demanded an explanation and it was the electric company who explained it to them. I think the difference is, for those that don’t use AC, is that you probably get your windows/doors open and keep fans going to get air. My folks closed the house up–all the windows and doors locked shut. It was probably over 100 degrees inside the house–we were living in muggy, hot Georgia at the time. The point is that it was much hotter than anyone could have lived in.

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