By: Alyson Komyanek
Even those of us on a budget deserve a vacation. Although we may not be able to swing a three month stay in Australia or head down to Miami for Spring Break, a wise budgeter can plan a fantastic weekend get-a-way.
Selecting a destination should be your first task. Since it’s just for a weekend, it shouldn’t be any where that requires a plane, helicopter or boat to get to (as if you’d have access to any of those things anyway). As a Philadelphian, I would choose the Poconos for a winter get-a-way or possibly the Baltimore Harbor for as a summer trip. If you live in Myrtle Beach, consider running off to Charleston for a few days or San Diego if Los Angeles is where you call home. Or if you live at the Jersey Shore, take a trip to Atlantic City. The destination should be a place of interest to you, but not too far that you spend most of the weekend traveling. Anything longer than four hours probably isn’t worth your time or money.
Now that you know where you’re headed, you need to figure out how to get there. Trains are often ignored when it comes to vacation planning, but they are rather inexpensive and enjoyable. Tickets can be purchased in advance online or for the more spontaneous traveler, at a ticket window. Trains typically have restrooms, snack cars and allow you the option of plugging in your laptop. You may even luck out and be able to access WiFi! Ticket fares depend on your travel locations, but can be as cheap as $20 per person. Since we’ve already decided that you won’t be traveling far, driving would be an option as well. If you’re vacationing with a group, it might be the best way to go (as long as you remember to ask for gas money).
While in town, you’ll need a place to stay. Hotels are great, but can cost well over $100 a night and all of us money-savers know that’s ludicrous. So, consider your network of friends and family. Does your Great-Aunt Mona have a friend with a condo in Redondo? Maybe she needs work done on her car and your husband happens to be a Mechanic. He can help her out with the car and in exchange, maybe she’ll let you stay the weekend at her place. If you’re good with numbers, offer to do your neighbors taxes and instead of charging them, ask if they’d be open to you spending a free weekend at their mountain house. Someone in your inner circle knows someone, who knows someone, who has a vacation house that they probably wouldn’t mind letting you borrow in return for your help. On the small chance that I’m wrong about that, it’s possible you can still get a way cheap. Consider a Bed and Breakfast or asking some more friends to come along to help split the cost. For the tech savvy traveler, you may want to check out couchsurfing.com, a website that allows you to connect with locals in locations all over the world in search for a place to stay. Despite the name, many profiles even offer spare bedrooms, and thanks to your social media network, you may even find a friend-of-a-friend willing to host you already signed up.
While on the trip, you should try and experience as much of the town as possible. Don’t eat at chain restaurants that you have at home. Instead, try places that are unique to the town. Get a cheese steak in Philly or try some famous gumbo in New Orleans. Get a tour of the White House if you’re in DC or head to the Mall of America in Minnesota. This should be the portion of the trip you splurge on. What’s the point of going away if you’re going to eat Burger King and stay in your room all weekend? Save on transportation and lodging, but when it comes to site seeing and eating, spend the cash, because unless you hit the lottery…you probably won’t be going back there anytime soon.