I’m a huge fan of traveling in the off-season or shoulder-season of popular destinations. Peak season is unfortunately when crowds and prices are at their peak, which is why I dislike it. We even pulled our kid out of school to do so, but not everyone is comfortable with that. Sometimes when you have school-aged children, you just have to travel when everyone else is traveling. I am amazed at how much having two little people who don’t weigh 100lbs combined can impact our budget while on vacation! We went to one restaurant where a kids’ meal was $7.95 each, not including drinks. By the time we added a drink and tax and tip on that….that’s easily an extra $25 added on to every restaurant meal. Wow!
Here are five tips and tricks to help you maximize your time and your money while traveling in the peak season.
1. Use off-peak days and times~Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be the slowest days at restaurants and shops. Many places even offer specials to try to drive more traffic in on these days. Want to try the popular restaurant that everyone raves about? Go on a Tuesday, when your wait time will be much less than it would be on a weekend. There’s a legendary and popular episode of Seinfeld that pokes fun at senior citizens eating dinner at 4:00 in the afternoon. But, there’s a reason that restaurants offer early-bird specials in the late afternoon, no one is in there! Dining at 7 or 8 at night may be more fashionable, but in our household with kids, it’s also a recipe for disaster. Not only is your wait time for a table likely to be longer, your wait for food and everything else will be too. Not to mention asking children who normally dine at 5 or 6 to wait until 8 or 9, no wonder they act up!
2. Use coupons-Coupon use is at an all-time high. Once you get to your destination, look in the lobbies of local hotels and grocery stores for coupons and booklets. Go to the daily deal sites and sign up for the city that you’re visiting, as soon as you make plans to go. Then keep your eyes on your email for daily deal offers for restaurants and venues you want to visit. Make your dinner plans around places where you can save money.
3. Visit things backwards or in reverse-If you are visiting a zoo, amusement park or other similar venue, start at the back if possible and move through it in reverse. Some attractions require that you walk through it in a designated pattern, but if they don’t, start at the back. This way you won’t be moving through the attraction with a mob of people, such as if everyone starts at the admission gate at the same time when it opens. At beach towns, everyone goes to the beach during the day and the boardwalks at night. Do the opposite-go to the boardwalk in the morning and go to the beach in the late afternoon and you’ll have the place to yourself.
4. Upgrade your room-That’s right, I said upgrade. But how is upgrading going to save you money? Easy. You’re already paying a room premium to be at the beach in August or the ski resort in February. Upgrade to a room with a kitchenette and save on some meals. If a bigger room costs an extra $15 or $20 per night, that is savings you can often get back by skipping one family breakfast in a restaurant.
5. Make a budget for extras and stick to it-This often is where vacation budgets go awry. As is appropriate, explain to your kids that this is what their budget or allotment for extras is, either in a dollar amount or by item such as “1 toy/1 shirt/1 hat.” This will not only help your vacation budget to remain intact, but will help teach them good money skills, decision making and learn to value items. Every year, we save our pocket change all year long and then we dig out the quarters before we go to the beach and use them in the arcade. My son knows that’s it-once those quarters are gone, he doesn’t get any more.