For every travel success, there's a failure.
As 2013 gets into full swing, and we start looking forward to new trips - both big and small – I've been taking some time to reflect on what worked well for us when it came to travel finances in 2012.
Several key things worked really well for us. We were able to use our American National Parks pass to the absolute max, and we employed it several times when we visited Hawaii in February. The card not only paid for itself several times over in the 12 months we had it, but it also encouraged us to visit locations we normally would not go to and to take full advantage of park services, including special lectures and nature walks.
Of course, not everything worked so well! So, in fairness, I’m also looking at what we could have done better. But let’s start out on a happy note!
We didn’t have to buy much new travel gear. We were fortunate that the clothing and supplies we invested in on past trips were still in good condition. We did have to invest in a new tent – our old one famously got destroyed in a rain and wind storm – but this purchase would not have been put off that much longer anyway, and we were happy with the price and quality of our tent. It served us very well over the camping season, and it made for very dry and comfortable trips.
We enjoyed good success with the Vermont $200 challenge, which saw us take a trip for two people, two days, for $200. While technically over budget due to a few bumps in the road, we still managed to have a very frugal weekend trip and we are quite excited to do the experiment again in the near future.
We did a good job of making economy airplane seats feel more like a first class experience when we flew to Hawaii. We were organized and prepared for the trip. I was able to hit up duty-free and slather on some very overpriced face cream samples! We were given lounge passes to use during a layover in Vancouver and it was fantastic – relaxing, enjoyable, and filling! We loved watching the planes take off, eating soup, salad, chips & salsa, drinking red wine. Hey, even using a real bathroom was a nice treat! Considering how much time we spent on these long haul flights, we enjoyed every minute we spent in the lounge. Having free passes was wonderful, but considering how much time we spent and how much we ate (and, okay, how much we drank), the $40 passes would have easily paid for themselves twice over.
On the negative side, there were a few lessons learned in terms of car rentals in Hawaii. Despite being pre-paid in advance, there was some ambiguity on paying the tax and we should have known better and read the terms more carefully in advance. We were also foolish to get spontaneous upgrades in both Hawaiian locations and, as it always is, the upgrade cost was far more than the $100 fee they advertised. In the end, our transportation budget was higher than anticipated- and that’s never fun.
Hawaii was also a budget buster when it came to snacks. How is it that snacks can add up to be so expensive? Shave ice, that’s how! I did a great job of budgeting for meals, but snacks escaped my radar. And a shave ice – c'mon, from one of the good places – it costs $5-6 a pop. That’s a lot more than a soft serve cone from a street vendor or a bag of chips (both favourites from when we visited the American Southwest in 2011). Every night, around 10:00pm, I would be feeling lazy, while my husband was still wide awake. I'd send him for stroll along the waterfront and order him to come back with a shave ice. And he always obliged!
Lesson learned. You WILL eat snacks on vacation. Every day! Budget for it! It sure adds up on a 15 day trip.
As for disasters, well, let's just say we refer to it as the Hawaiian Christmas that will never be. We had several expensive family obligations throughout the year, some of which were unexpected. After careful reflection I've realized that family visits are a lot more expensive than they first appear.
Not all of it was essential, but in the rush and stress of the moment it was just done. Not all of it was unpleasant – but after 2 days, the expensive coffee shop lattes were not even a treat anymore, just pure fuel to survive the day. The most depressing moment came when I realized one of us could have flown to Maui for the duration of the visit. And the other one not far behind.
We would have loved to travel over Christmas. And not even to Hawaii – any trip would have been wonderful. We never thought we could afford it. Turns out, we could have! This may look like a cynical picture of things – like I'd rather go to a resort than visit with family. Hey, sometimes it's true! Seriously, that's not always the case.
But it will make me think long and hard about budgeting and planning far in advance of the next family visit and, if we really want to travel for a future Christmas, I know we’ll be able to find the money.
As always, I welcome and encourage your comments. Have you ever learned a hard lesson from a trip?
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