How We Vacate

Posted on April 25, 2013. Filed under: Real World, Travel |

After I posted about our trip to San Francisco, Sonoma, and the central Californian coast last fall, I thought I could share how we plan our vacations and what we do to save money so we CAN go on a nice vacation.

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We are in our late twenties, just getting started paying off a mortgage and school loans, but it’s all about priorities. Travel is one of our top financial priorities at this stage in our lives. If you want something bad enough, you make it happen.

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He went for it. He got it. Plain and simple. We could all learn from Mason.

Here are some other situations, devices, personality traits that help us travel.

Our jobs have great vacation policies:

We are both blessed with jobs that give us 3 weeks of vacation a year. Adam has been with his company for 15 years, so his vacation rate will see a nice increase to 4 weeks next year. I know not everyone has a job where you can take time off whenever you want. For the most part, we can go somewhere at any time with proper planning.

Me in Forsyth Park

Me in Forsyth Park, Savannah, Georgia

Adam in front of the fountain

Adam in front of the fountain in Forsyth Park

The biggest drawback is if Adam is going to take a big chunk of time off – a week or more – we have to apply for it in advance. Sometimes, we apply for it almost a year in advance to guarantee that he’ll have enough days off in a row that we can go somewhere. He can always turn it back in, but if we don’t request it and the days get blocked off, we’re SOL. And with Adam’s current position, it’s not feasible for him to be out of pocket for more than 8 business days. This makes international trips tricky because so much of your time is spent just getting there.

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St. Lucia for our honeymoon

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In short, we have the days to take off, but we have to plan in advance and compete with Adam’s co-workers to get approval.

We have a credit card with reward points:

Credit cards with reward points are the best things ever if you’re financially responsible. 10 years ago it was a little scary to put everything on your credit card because you couldn’t track it carefully. Now that financial institutions and accounting software are so integrated, we have a nearly instant snapshot of our credit card spending. We pay for nearly everything with our credit card: groceries, gas, lunches, nights out, clothes, etc.

We especially use it for big purchases like our recent landscaping, living room furniture, and Christmas presents. We pay our credit card bill off in full every month so we never have to worry about interest or our credit score. Our credit card reward points make our bigger trips feasible. We didn’t pay for our airfare for our trip to California last year. We were able to use our points to purchase our 2 round-trip, non-stop tickets from Atlanta to San Francisco. It saved us about $800.

There are many options out there for reward-based credit cards with different reward structures, annual fees, credit limits, etc. Like everything financial related, do your research and find what’s best for you. Our credit card reward system has a ton of reward choices: everything from airfare, rental cars, hotel rooms, to kitchen appliances, magazine subscriptions, and a knife block.

I am a compulsive planner:

Advance planning – how we decide where to go

I plan vacations for fun during my lunch break, on a lazy Sunday, in my head during my commute. I also have a running list of the places we would like to visit. It’s a travel bucket list. I’m sure a lot of people have one of those.

Once you look at a long list of places, it’s fairly easy to prioritize them based on life circumstances, desires, whether you’ve been there already, whether or not it would be easier to get there as two childless people, or it would be a better idea to save that trip for the future kiddos.

Traveling-With-Kids

Courtesy of The Harried Mom

Last year we decided to stay domestic because we didn’t quite have the money or the time off for an international trip. Adam had never been to the west coast and I really wanted to go to Californian Wine Country. Plus, San Francisco is one of my favorite cities. It was an easy decision.

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We would love to do a ton of international travel in our lifetime, but we realize that we will only be able to do a few trips pre-babies. The rest will have to wait until we can leave the kids stateside (see ‘ya lata’!), bring them with us (which is so expensive), or wait until they’re out of the nest. When we factor that into our decision-making process along with the places we would most like to go with our current budget, we usually come up with a handful of locations. Once I narrow down the destinations, I craft rough itineraries of sights and activities to get an idea of how long the trip should be. If it’s longer than 10 days, we have to evaluate if we still want to go there and crunch everything in, if we should give something up, or if we should go somewhere else. Putting together a basic itinerary provides both of us with the information we need to say yay or nay. It’s so helpful.

Shopping flights

I use Kayak to set-up alerts. Usually these are for specific dates since Adam has already requested off and been approved for his block of time. I track the alerts for a couple of months. I read somewhere that the sweet spot for purchasing international airfare is 34 days out, domestic is even closer at something like 25 or 28. We still try to cover at least half of our airfare with points if not all of it. But the amount of points it takes changes with the market. It’s good to track fares because you want to cash your points in at the same time you would buy a ticket to get the best deal.

It is highly possible that airfare could prohibit us traveling to that destination. It really does depend on where you go. We are fortunate enough to live in Atlanta and have a hub airport. There are so many places we can fly to direct or with one layover. Even so, if airfare makes up over half of the trip budget, we seriously reconsider.

Shopping lodging:

I cannot stress how great of an invention tripadvisor.com is. I use it for all of our planning along with millions of other people. We get creative when it comes to accommodations. Sleeping and eating are the two main areas where you can really save some money, and we like to eat. We’re not fussy and we know we’ll only be in the room to sleep, so we don’t bother staying at chains or fancy places. Our requirements in lodging are as follows: great location, clean, has the basic necessities, safe, less than $200 a night or more (less than $150 is AWESOME), and it must have a ton of good reviews. Sometimes it is challenging to find something that meets those requirements, but it can be done. In California, we stayed at an old boutique hotel right in Union Square, Sonoma was a B&B right off the square,

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and Carmel was a vacation rental by owner a mile from downtown. It ended up being this super nice studio cottage in this sweet couple’s backyard.

carmel cottage

We’re planning an international trip and I’m only looking at family-owned accommodations – B&B’s and guest houses. It’s more authentic, you meet more people, and you have more money to eat, drink, and to buy keepsakes.

Budgets:

Like I said, I get compulsive about planning and that includes a budget. Since we’ve been on a couple of trips together, I have a good idea now of what should be included on our travel budget. We love to eat, so our food budget is pretty big. On the other hand, I gave us a lot to spend on shopping and souvenirs in California, and we hardly brought anything home. One thing I highly recommend is once you finish your budget, add a 10% cushion on top of that. With a little research, it’s fairly easy to predict the price of accommodations at your standard. I usually start with airfare, add in accommodations, food (after I’ve scoured forums for price ranges related to those locations), tours/activities, car or local transportation, shopping, and surplus.

It really is possible to travel if you can get the time off, save your pennies, and plan like a fiend! I get such a rush when I plan out a fun trip on a tight budget. I’m a nerd.

Anyway, that’s how we do it and will continue to do it. Maybe one day we’ll buy a sailboat and float around the world. That’s if we win the lottery.

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[…] a compulsive freak. I find a project to focus on and pour all of my energy into that whether it’s planning a trip, training a puppy, whipping up some curtains, launching an exercise plan, or plotting our next home […]


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