I imagine you may have clinked the link to this post with a healthy amount of skepticism. And I totally get it! I have read the testimonies of travelers who get to far off places for pennies on the dollar and think, “No way, how?!” And for those who share the ins-and-outs of their travel planning, there usually comes a point where I give up hope on being able to do what they do- just not realistic for me!
You see, the Haff family is relatively modest when it comes to finances. We would be described as “lower middle class.” Could also be described as “makes too much to qualify for government assistance but can’t afford day care for two kids” and also “surviving on eggs and PB&J sandwiches towards the end of months ending in 30 or 31,” if you know what I mean. That being said, there’s no way we could afford a retail Hawaii vacation. A luxury Hawaiian vacation for two can easily climb to $7000 without even breaking a sweat. We don’t have a credit card that awards us in miles, we don’t have any connections to employee discounted airfare or resorts, and we didn’t win the lottery or sell a few organs on the black market for extra cash. Here’s how we did enjoy an amazing Hawaiian vacation for only $4000, and what it took to get us there!
First- and most importantly- the best decision towards affording a Hawaiian (or any!) vacation is to not be living paycheck to paycheck. If you are up to your eyeballs in debt, now is not the time to be planning some pricey R&R, no matter how much you feel you deserve it. Make sure you are controlling your money, and not the other way around (wink wink Dave Ramsey). Hawaii won’t sink into the ocean before you get to see it- so don’t put off the freedom of having your finances handled just for 7 days of sunburn and 2 days of cramped airtime! We were (and still are) putting money aside every month towards a future vacation. Sometimes, it’s as little as $50- but constantly saving for a getaway is a crucial first step. I realize this might take the wind out of some of your travel-hungry sails, but if it weren’t for responsible planning, even this affordable option wouldn’t have become a reality for us.
Secondly- be flexible! There are some amazing deals at your fingertips thanks to the World Wide Web, but you must be willing to travel during the less popular times of year to take full advantage of the savings. This doesn’t necessarily mean being ready to go at the drop of a hat, but having an flexible mind and calendar opens up a world of savings! One of the best ways to stay on top of any popular travel destination’s cheapest fares is subscribing to a notification service like Next Vacay. This is not exactly how I stumbled upon our half-price flights to Honolulu, but our e-mail from Next Vacay did put me onto the trail. I was like a bloodhound after a rabbit! Which brings me to my third guideline for sensible travel…
Be creative, and also patient! If you see a great deal for a trip that seems out of reach because the airport of origin is hours, or even states, away from you, don’t despair! Our discount flight to Honolulu originated in Denver- and we live in Oklahoma. Not a quick drive or a cheap flight- unless you can wait for a sale to connect! Our round-trip tickets to Hawaii from Denver were $426 each- a sweet deal! But how were we to get to Denver without ruining the savings? It just so happened that Southwest was running their spring sale and we could get flights from OKC to Denver for $355 total- bringing our Hawaiian airfare total to $1208! It took a lot of problem solving to rectify two different round trips with two different airlines, but it just so happened to work out! Had we been able to book our tickets a few hours earlier, we would have had some even better savings. The main focus was the great deal from Denver to Hawaii, as I’m fairly certain we could have found more great deals on tickets from OKC to Denver to match with the dates and times we needed. Be willing to get creative and be patient for the right opportunities. It IS possible to get tickets to exotic and far away places without breaking the bank!
Be mindful. When it comes to accommodations, what are your choices and needs? To spend six nights in a Hawaiian resort we would have been matching our airfare price tag (and that’s a conservative phrase) – and that wasn’t okay with us! We weren’t concerned with having food readily available or bottomless beach side cocktails, so we perused Airbnb. We found a centrally located house that had the necessities (safe, bed, shower, fridge, wifi etc.) but didn’t break the bank. We also did the same type thing for our car rental. Through Turo we were able to rent a car for about half as much as it would’ve taken with a commercial company.
There are also many ways to save on money during your trip, and one of the most effective ways is to limit the amount of times you eat out. Planning to eat out once a day can give you a lot more freedom to spend your budgeted money on worthwhile activities. We usually ate breakfast at our Airbnb and packed a lunch to take with us for the day so we could enjoy a nice dinner out. We also were very choosy about the activities we paid for, and made sure to plan our trip with lots of cheap or free alternatives! Hiking and beaching/snorkeling were free for us (thanks to our Airbnb host for allowing us to use his snorkeling stuff!) and we thoroughly enjoyed doing those things almost every day! Also, finding truly local places to eat will lower that price, as well. Most touristy areas are more expensive and not necessarily and better than where the locals frequent. And don’t you truly want an authentic experience anyway? Don’t be afraid to get off the beaten path and try new things!
Limiting your meals/drinks in airports is another way to avoid unnecessary expenses. Those airport restaurants are overpriced, and while it might be unavoidable to eat, sharing plates could be another way to cut down on food costs. Plus, you know in your head that stuff’s never worth it anyway!
There was also a unique opportunity for us to sit in on a timeshare-like presentation that afforded us some extra cash and free touring tickets to one of our planned activities. It did cost us about 120 minutes of our time, but we decided that was well worth it. If you can spare the time and are presented with such an opportunity and know what you’ll be compensated for, it might be a great idea! Just as long as you know you can resist the urge to give in to their sales pitch, that is! These companies might be on the street trying to fill their booking, but be very cautious when money is asked for- don’t fall for a scam! You can check the Better Business Bureau and other sources to confirm the legitimacy of any company trying to get your attention (and money!).
So there you have it- not a ton of details on our trip but some good guidelines for anyone wanting to plan a budget friendly vacation! We’ve got Italy on our list next, but with our growing family we’re not exactly sure when that one will happen. But that’s alright, we’ve got to save up on it anyway!