Life’s a Beach

14 Feb
I am an O.C.D. plan maker. I usually set out my plan for the day with work, plans to go out a few days in advance, and vacations… weeks. With that being said, I hate making appointments, booking flights and hotels, and making reservations. Basically, I can think far enough ahead about what to do, but putting my plans into action is usually last minute. Last Friday, I was presented with the idea of hopping in my car and driving to San Diego. I stepped outside of my box and canceled my plans for a girls’ night out with my best friend (sorry bff) and headed to the coast. I tapped into my travel saving tips and got an awesome, much needed, mini-vacation without hurting my budget. I believe everyone needs a break every now and then, so I have decided to share how to go on vacation without spending a fortune. 
Flying or Driving
I drove to San Diego, which usually is the only option when you’re trying to be spontaneous and watch your cash. If you have a gas guzzler, you might be better off renting a car. Hotwire.com and Kayak.com are good websites to compare car rental prices. Once you find a good deal, figure out the name of the car rental place and go to their direct site to look for specials or coupons that you may not find on a search engine. 
If you decide to take your own car, some gas saving tips are essential. First, if your car suggests “premium” gas, use it. You may think you are outsmarting your car by feeding it regular, but it could have devastating effects on your mileage. Your car’s computer will “put a hold” on your ignition to prevent detonation. In layman’s terms it means that if regular gas can’t handle the high speeds your car can accelerate to, it will cause an explosion. Your car’s computer will prevent the explosion by consuming more gas than normal. It can cause a drop in gas mileage that will end up costing you more than the money you will save by dropping to a lower price. Also make sure your tires are inflated to the proper pressure, the route you take is the shortest, only use your air conditioning when absolutely needed, and prevent using cruise control on hilly roads. 
If you opt to fly and the tickets are sky high, go to Bing.com and check out their price predictor. It will tell you if the price is expected to go up or down. If you need the ticket at that moment, you can try Priceline.com to bid your own price but you don’t get to choose your times or airline. Look into smaller airline companies like allegiant.com or southwest.com since these airline companies aren’t usually listed on search engines. Another option is to book one-way. You may find that booking two one way flights, possibly on two different airlines, may be cheaper than flying round trip.
If your schedule is flexible or you choose to book ahead, Orbitz.com will give you prices for every weekend in a month or allow you to choose a range of days to see what will be the best deal. If your flexible on the vacation itself, always ask the airline once you check-in, if the flight is full and sign up to get bumped. You will get out on the next flight available, which is normally within a couple of hours, and get a free round-trip ticket to fly within the 48 states that is good to use for up to 1 year. 
Hotels
I have a friend that travels for months at a time and will opt to say in hostels to save on money. Call me spoiled, but I need the luxury of a hotel, not to mention… have you seen the movie Hostel? Yikes. With the oversaturation of hotels in nearly every tourist-driven city, you can stay at 4-5 star resorts for a 2-star price. Make sure you are getting the stars they claim. If you have the time, this is what you need to do: 
1. Go to Hotels.com and type in your destination. It will give you a list of hotels and rates. Narrow your search down to the location where you want to stay and how many stars. 
2. Go to Hotwire.com, type in your destination and location, and it will provide you with a list of hotel ratings and prices without the name of the hotel. Hotwire.com will give a higher star rating than hotels.com, usually by ½ a star. The goal is to see the prices of the location you are looking at and not the hotel itself. 
3. Go to Priceline.com and chose to bid your own price. Choose your destination, location and star rating. Priceline.com star ratings’ are usually the same as hotels.com. You can gauge which hotels are up for bidding by comparing Hotwire.com with Hotels.com. Whatever price Hotwire.com has, bid on priceline.com $40 less and work your way up. You will get a lower price 90% of the time than on Hotwire.com, but you won’t ever go higher. 
This is an amazing way to save hundreds on hotels. I bid on the Manchester Hyatt Downtown San Diego and got it for $80/night, when it was priced on hotels.com for $180/night…. Suckers! 
Vacation Delights
While you are on vacation, the best money saving tip, are coupons! Sign up for Groupon.com by entering your email address, choose the city where you will be staying, and they will send you deals daily on restaurants, spas, services, and more. Yelp.com is a great place to find specials and get reviews on places you would like to check out. Some places list specials on Google Places, (www.google.com/places) as well. If you are on Foursquare.com, when you check in to a place, look for “nearby tips” and it will provide a special at the current location. Lastly, if you have time, check out the city’s visitors’ bureau. Usually, it will provide you with a package of goodies. 
The bottom line to saving money while on vacation is just researching. Not everyone wants to take the time to deal with the minor details when planning, but the short time it will take you to research could up saving you hundreds in the long run.

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