My wife and I took our first beach vacation last month to the warm, sunny skies of Fort Myers Beach, Florida.
We had a lot of fun relaxing, hiking, running, sight-seeing and exploring during the six-day trip.
And it didn’t cost us a ton of money. We weren’t penny-pinchers by any stretch, but we did try to keep our expenses in check and for the most part, we succeeded. I thought I’d share some tips for any of you who are thinking about getting away from Minnesota’s long, cold winter by escaping to a beach. It’s worth it.
Save up. It makes sense – and cents – to avoid the plastic as much as you can so that means putting away a little money from every paycheck into a “vacation account.” We started to do that about six months ahead of time.
Do your homework. Research your options, check hotel rates, read online reviews and get tips from friends who have been to the destination you’re planning to visit. Way before we booked a hotel, for instance, we found out specific information about different places to stay – whether they were quiet and secluded or more lively and closer to bars and restaurants, for instance.
Watch for hidden fees. Some of the hotels charge extra fees for almost everything you can think of – beach towels, extra coffee, beach umbrellas, housekeeping services, security deposits and other miscellaneous charges dubbed as “resort fees.” We thought we had everything covered until we discovered another company, separate from our hotel, was renting out the beach chairs. We thought it wasn’t worth the $30 or $40 (per day!) for a couple of chairs that the company would collect an hour before sunset, so we skipped it and just used our towels. That was the only let-down of the vacation.
Consider bundling. After you’ve zeroed in on where you want to stay, see if you’d save money by adding the flight and a rental car into a package. We saved more than $200 this way.
Stick to a budget. We decided to keep our daily expenses – dining, drinks, entertainment, store purchases, everything – to no more than $100 a day. We looked at it as a challenge. To keep track, we put $100 into six envelopes, one for each day we were there. At the end of each day, if there was any money left over, we added it to the next envelope. We actually came home with some money – without tapping into our savings or using credit cards.
Look for low-cost things to do. Our hotel was just six miles from a beautiful state park, Lovers Key, where we hiked through a mangrove forest and saw shorebirds, dolphins and manatees swimming in nearby canals. We spent the whole afternoon there and the fee was just $8. Our picnic lunch also saved some dough. On another day, we took a short drive to a secluded area, Sanibel Island, where we combed through a huge variety of seashells, watched locals fish, and took in the sunset on a secluded beach. That experience ran us $5 for parking.
Look for specials and coupons. Check websites, travel reviews and Facebook for happy hour and specials offered at bars and restaurants. Our hotel had $5 daily specials on wood-fired pizzas and signature drinks, and a dish I really liked, wonton fish tacos, was just $6.
Eat in. We rented a room that had a kitchenette, which included a small fridge and microwave. On our first day there, we bought some simple grocery items – eggs, bagels, cheese, bread – and had breakfast every morning on our balcony overlooking the gulf.
All in all, our vacation took a bit of planning, research and comparing but it paid off. I can still hear those waves rolling in and feel the sun on my face.
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“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.