How We Saved Money On Vacation

Let’s just get this out in the open – vacations can be insanely expensive.  In many cases, long trips have the ability to break the budget if not planned carefully.

Our trip to Canada was initially budgeted at $3,000 – for 10 nights/11 days.  I’m sure someone could do it for this amount, but we quickly figured out that this was a massive under-estimation.  So we up’d it to $4,000, and I mentally prepared to go way over that.

Until just now, I actually thought we had spent quite a bit more…but after running the numbers, it looks like we were definitely under $4K!  I’m really proud of this.  It was an expensive vacation, but we put a lot of work and thought into making it the biggest bang for our buck.  Neither of us wanted to feel like we were being cheapies, but we also didn’t want to come home feeling guilty of hard earned money being frivolously spent.

It can easily be said, that we had an awesome time, and never felt cheap, but we did make some very important budget decisions.

Eating In


One of the biggest activities on most vacations is EATING.  You need to eat, and where better to indulge then where you can try new things, and eat your heart out.  Yet, you hear it all the time – people hate going on vacation because they eat so much, and gain so much weight.  Plus, eating out three times a day (plus snacks and drinks!) can add up very quickly.

Going in to our trip, we knew we were going to eat out a lot.  So we prepared for a balance.  I did some research and found an all-suites hotel that offered rooms with full kitchens.  These types of hotels are everywhere, and contrary to popular belief, they aren’t always the expensive options.  These types of hotels are built with long-term stay in mind, so if you look in the right places you can get some rockin’ deals.

We booked half of our stay at one of these hotels for less than $110 per night.  Our room had a full kitchen (fully stocked with everything minus food), laundry room, living room, study, bedroom and bath.  AND it was nice!  No rundown place here.  Bellhops everywhere opening the doors, there was a market downstairs to pick up last minute items and groceries…there was even a dentist on site!  This decision was not only a huge financial one, but it enabled us to prepare at least two meals a day in our room, not only lessening the stress on our purse strings – but our belts as well.

Even if you can’t find a full kitchen room, most hotel rooms come with a mini fridge/coffee make/microwave.  These can come in handy to make instant oatmeal, keep bread and cheese fresh, keep milk cold…  Think about the basics you would need.  Will having a full out breakfast with pancakes, eggs and bacon in a restaurant everyday really make your trip that much better?  Or is breakfast just the meal to get you started – and if so, why not make it like you do on a regular basis?

This worked great for us, and we were able to splurge on dinners most nights without feeling bad about it.

I even remembering having this mentality while travelling through Europe with my family when I was a kid.  My Mum would make sure we bought fresh bread and hunks of cheese for our hotel fridge.  Those would often times become quick meals/snacks and kept us from going way overboard.

ATM Love


I don’t know about you, but I rarely, if ever, use ATMs at home.  I never even carry cash….  But cash definitely comes in handy when travelling, and when abroad you have the added worry of having the correct currency!

To get the right currency you have to worry about exchange rates, where to get the cash, how much to get…etc…it’s a little stressful.

An ATM can save you all of this worry.  You might not know this, but ATMs are known for having some of the best exchange rates.  In most cases, they are better than those special exchange stands, and even banks.  As long as you aren’t out in the middle of nowhere, ATMs are usually pretty easy to find as well.  Worse case scenario – you’ll have to access one at the airport upon arrival.

It goes without saying though, (or maybe it does, since I’m saying it) the very best way to maximize the power of your dollar, is to utilize ATMs and your credit cards as much as humanly possible.  Don’t stress about having the cash before you go, as long as your destination isn’t remote central, because ATMs are your friend!

Technology Power


I’m a tech nerd.  I can’t be without my phone and access to internet.  It’s a problem – I have it.

So, I knew that I needed to plan for these things before we left.  A lot of people don’t think about the costs of travelling abroad when using their phones…and when I heard that calls out of Canada would cost me almost $.70 per minute, I was SHOCKED.  Obviously using my phone for calls was out…but I knew I needed to have some access to family and work in case of emergencies.  I am just not the type of person that can walk away from work without panicking that I’ll be needed.

My initial thought was to take my laptop with me and check my email once a day or so at the hotels.  Then I realized that would be sucky on my wallet since hotels usually charge upwards of $10 per day for internet usage.

That took me to Plan C – I checked with Verizon and they let me know that I could maintain the internet plan on my Blackberry for $70 a month (pro-rated for the days I actually was out of the country) for global access.   Done!

I just got my phone bill, and for 11 days of global access internet on my phone and a few phone calls I had to make when we were up there, our additional costs were less than $20.  That was quite a deal and enabled me to keep connection with my office.  I’m glad I did because I ended up needing to help co-workers a few times while I was away.  A small cost to keep my peace of mind.

So my suggestion for all techies out there – don’t doubt the abilities of your cell phone provider if you absolutely feel like you need to have interwebs/phone service.  Oh and one other thing – if you have Verizon, they now offer Skype service on data phones.  Which means free calls, Skype-Skype as long as you have a data plan.  This is a fantastic option for world travelers.

Know The Details


This is actually a funny one, because I didn’t know to prepare for this, but ended up doing it in any case.

I had no idea going in that Ottawa stores charge for plastic bags (GO THEM!!!),  but I brought two of our grocery bags with us for going to the farmers market downtown.  One was just a light canvas bag and the other was a ChicoBag – which I love, love, love and want a million of.

These came in handy not only for the market, but when we found out that the stores charge for plastic bags, for carrying snacks during the day, and purchases we made through the days.

This obviously will not be the situation everywhere you go.  But this rule goes no matter where you go!  Plan for where you are going.  Research so you know the little kicks and qualms about your destination.

An aside – GO OTTAWA! I have no idea if the rest of Canada is implementing the plastic bag charge rule – but I love it!  Phoenix, you better get on this train!

Use Your Resources


Most of the time we were in Ottawa we either had access to a car, or were walking on foot everywhere.

There was one day though that we needed to get about 10 miles away, during rush hour and had no car.  We seriously considered taking a cab.  A cab fee would have been somewhere around 20-25 dollars!  A huge fee to pay when I knew Ottawa had an amazing public transit system.  But, I was scared of taking that step when I didn’t know where to get on/off.

In the end, we took the plunge and rode the bus.  It was super quick, easy and cheap.  I can’t even believe I was about to take a cab.  Me = lunatic.  So definitely put yourself out there for the resources available to you!  Don’t discount something just because you don’t know the details of how it works – ask and use it!  Whether it’s a bus, train, water taxi, horse drawn carriage…know what is available.

So there you have a couple of ways we utilized our dough to it’s maximum potential!

Anyone else have some travelling money saving tips?


4 thoughts on “How We Saved Money On Vacation

  1. Great blog.
    Absolutely take advantage of free breakfast at hotel or breakfast bars/cereal for the morning. I know it would have been difficult for you to do going on a plane, but if we are on vacation, I always make up some chicken salad, fruit salad (can usually take the dishes and pick up the fruit to cut up at destination) to have for lunch/snack, then dinner out. But even with that, only allow for 1 or 2 dinners that will be more expensive than usual, other nights, pizza/subs carryout.

  2. Your dad and I learned a valuable one regarding restaurant eating while visiting Paris with some friends. After a day of Paris perusing, we dressed to the nines (I mean, evening gowns and bow ties) and headed out for dinner and the Folies Bergere, deciding to do what the Parissienes do, walk. We only had a couple of hours before the show so we chose a Moroccan restaurant and ordered what we thought was simple and basic, therefore, QUICK. We ordered grilled steak and salad… in Paris… in a Moroccan restaurant. As we sat there, people came, ordered, ate and left. By time we got our grilled steak, we had fifteen minutes to showtime. What we learned? Eat the specials! My goodness, what was coming to the tables around us was amazing, smelled great, made our mouths water and was so much quicker (and would have cost us about a quarter of what we paid for our steaks and salad). The steaks were awful, salty and tough, we missed the can-can because we were late to the Folies (which was amazing, by the way) but we learned a lesson. Thereafter, we had two questions when eating in restaurants; 1) what are the daily specials and 2) what’s that person eating?

  3. Cara, that is so true. I love road trips and they afford you the ability to think ahead about what’s important to spend your money on and what you can just make do. When we did the first family trip to Disney, we drove so we took a cooler and I packed the toaster. I did some of the dry good grocery shopping at home which saved us some money. With the toaster and the coffee pot in the room, we had the ability to have a decent breakfast (no suite, just a room) while we all showered and dressed. With kidlingss, that was a real help. One adult/one kidling liked to wake at the crack of dawn and go get breakfast. The other adult/kidling liked to leisurely wake up, putter a little, eat a little and get dressed. With the ability to have a decent breakfast in the room, we were all satisfied. We’d wake 7’ish… put the tv on and while we took turns showering and dressing, we were also having breakfast. We didn’t feel so rushed but all of the needs were met.

    The other good thing, with kids, is to eat little and often. With all of the extra walking around, energy gets burned off fast, making grouches. You end up spending more because then you have to either cut your day short to go back to the room to rest (which of course means you are not getting value for your day), or you have to find a restaurant where you can sit for a length of time, which means paying a lot more. Some granola bars, trail mix, nuts, cookies, fruit, bread/cheese…. all easy to carry….. inexpensive….

  4. Jaye, you and D are so inspiring with the way you’re saving money! YOU GO GIRL!
    I don’t know about the rest of Canada either, but I know Toronto is BIG on charging for plastic bags as well. Not just at grocery stores either, at almost all retail stores as well!

    An aside, I’m so happy and excited to hear that you guys are planning on moving back to Ottawa eventually! Makes me feel a tiny bit better about having missed you guys 😦 (only a tiny by though lol)


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