A Poor Man's Guide to Great Vacations
New York City Harbor
Our Very First Trip
A Poor Man’s (or Woman’s) Guide to Great Vacations
Let’s face it, in this bad economy you might be asking yourself, why in the world am I writing about going on vacation? Most of us can’t even make ends meet. My answer is poverty is a temporary state that can be improved upon with a little time and ingenuity. Try to force yourself to believe that your circumstance is NOT the result of your own failings and embrace adaptation. Once you have, then you can ultimately make the best of your situation. With all that being said, I have good news…you can take a vacation for next to nothing if you do your homework and plan first.
In 2000, I wanted to take my first vacation. I was a single parent of three very small girls, but I couldn’t rest until I had figured out a way to take my meager $1,000 and create the most wonderful experience for myself and my children.
- I began by Googling activities we wanted to do and then learned everything I could about them.
- Afterwards, I researched every discount I could find for those activities and settled on the closest destination with the most expansive values.
- I then planned a week’s trip to this destination during the down season to save on travel costs.
1. Reasonable Destination: I planned a “stay-cation”, where I wouldn’t have to travel far on my first outing. I did this for two reasons, I wanted to remain close to home in case of trouble, illness, etc. and I knew taking a road less traveled would lead us to inexpensive adventure. I live in Buffalo, New York, so my obvious choice to vacation was in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland is only three and a half hours from Buffalo. Its downtown area had been not long renovated, and proved to be a fabulous spot to indulge in site-seeing, shopping, live music concerts, and seasonal festivals. I found all of these great things in the Cleveland Convention and Visitors Guide on the internet. Believe it or not, I planned to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but missed it because there was so much more to do!
2. Discounts: Most of my best discounts came from making early reservations. I planned my trip six months in advance. Reserving this early made me privy to the low ticket sales for “early birds” and other special offers. On the second day of my vacation, I took my girls to an indoor amusement park and exposition held once a year. It was one low cost for our family of four (about $65) which included food vouchers and unlimited rides! The only additional money I spent was on arcade games.
On the third day of our trip, we went to a “Little Bow Wow” concert at the Palace Theater in Downtown Cleveland. This cost me around $35.00 per ticket for my girls and mine was about ten dollars more. Why so cheap? Well, Bow Wow is from Cleveland and he regularly goes home to put on special, low cost concerts for friends, fans and family. Many artists do this. Ashanti has family in Buffalo, and she recently performed for free at a local sports stadium. Get the hint?
I even received a discount on the discounted Bow Wow tickets. The local ticket outlet also offered a promotional coupon of $10.00 off each ticket. Although it was the same outlet as the one we use here in Buffalo, I couldn’t purchase the tickets here. The event was exclusive to Cleveland, and I had to wait until I arrived to purchase the tickets at the outlet, and take advantage of the deal.
3. Travel Costs: This was the easiest part. I planned our trip during Easter break, as it is a low point in the travel season. I decided to drive to Cleveland and took my Ford Focus in for general service the week prior to be sure it was road worthy. The car had great gas mileage. I only had to fill up my tank once and it carried us the entire distance. It proved to be a fantastic asset to our long ride. My children slept both ways comfortably in the spacious backseat to the sounds of Jill Scott.
We stayed at a Hampton Inn I found online that was situated smack-dab in the center of downtown. The hotel offered a daily continental breakfast and free valet parking. These perks made it possible to tip the valet well, who in turn gave me lots of insider tips for cheap shopping. Tips also worked well with the housekeepers, who liked us so much they invited us to their Easter Sunday church services and to a free dinner afterwards. It was one of the best times of my life.
My great experience in Cleveland emboldened me to try it again in 2002. I used the same game plan and took a trip via Amtrak rail to New York City. Believe it or not, I spent a week in New York and only paid $1,300.00! This included train fare, cab fare, hotel ($109 per nightJ), shopping, site-seeing, entrance fees and food - all right in the center of Manhattan. No kidding! My discounts came directly from standing in Times Square. There were hawkers lined up on Broadway wanting your business like nobody’s business. One led me to a 1930s-like pinball arcade called “Bar Code” that ended up costing me $50.00 for hours of fun and frolic for my kids. (The movie theater isn’t this cheap!) However, I was deeply disappointed to learn later that the arcade closed in 2003 when a fight broke out and shooting occurred. Eight people were shot and six were either stabbed or trampled. This is the kind of stuff I meant when I referred to wanting to stay away from trouble. The clientele of the arcade were adults and children the day I visited. There were also metal detectors at the entrance. Not clear what went wrong. Weird.
In 2004, I had the nerve to do it again and took my girls to Disney World for five days! They were teenagers by then, so I didn’t have to worry about the security blanket of staying close to home. We traveled by Southwest Airlines (free baggage). As you know travel after 9/11 has become difficult and expensive, but I did manage to save some money by booking our departure for early morning on a Tuesday. Tuesdays and Thursdays are low travel days and I saved about $30.00 total both ways. For our hotel accommodations, I took advantage of one of those offers that gave out four free tickets to Disney World and discounted 4-day stay at a five-star resort in exchange for listening to a 90-minute time-share presentation. Here’s a site that offers timeshare promotions like the one I took. Be careful to ensure there are no contingencies or obligations to purchase before you agree to the presentation. I choose a suite that offered one bedroom, dining area, sofa bed and kitchen nook. I paid $220.00 for four nights and $149.00 for the fifth night. To save on food costs, I purchased groceries at the local super Walmart and cooked all of our meals. I also scored two extra Disney World tickets and four Universal Studios tickets the first day I arrived from a kiosk along the main highway in Kissimmee. They are a dime a dozen. My girls swam in the hotel pool while I was at the condo promo. I had to remember to keep saying “NO” or I would’ve been the “scammee”, rather than the “scammer”. I don’t recommend this to the faint-hearted.
My only regret in planning is that I didn’t learn of the park hopper pass upgrade which would’ve allowed us to travel between parks for just a little bit extra. It was a park secret that wasn’t in the brochure. I found out from a coworker after I returned from my trip. Her family had just gone to Disney World a month prior to our trip. She said she saved a ton of money by buying the Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World. It had a lot of valuable information on the best unknown deals found at Disney depending on the time of day and venues. At Disney prices for food, souvenirs and other extras can add up fast into hundreds of dollars. You even have to pay for parking, which was about $50 bucks!
Do your homework and do it early. You can literally use your shrewdness and income tax refund to create a little joy in life, regardless of not being wealthy. Good luck!
Buyer Beware!! Timeshares can be hazardous to your wallet. See Chuck's hub on the logistics of timeshare purchases: http://hubpages.com/hub/Vacationing_With_Timeshare_Freebies
Eventhough I received my free theme park tickets, the sales people weren't too pleased with my frugalness. They made me walk back to the main street after the presentation. This was more than two miles away!