Most people think of vacations as exclusively summertime activities, but if you’ve ever taken a vacation in the winter months you know how much fun it can be. Some people like taking winter vacations to escape the cold, while others embrace the snow and use their skis, snowboards and skates.
The problem with winter vacations is that they can be expensive—traveling to warmer areas isn’t cheap, and popular wintertime destinations like Vail and Aspen can be even more expensive. So how can you take affordable winter vacations that you’ll remember until the snow melts?
Here’s how to Plan an Unforgettable Affordable Winter Vacation
Determine Your Winter Vacation Priorities
The first thing you need to do when planning affordable winter vacations is to figure out what your priorities are for your trip. Your thoughts about winter will play a big part in this. Are you taking a winter vacation to take full advantage of the winter weather, or are you more of a warm weather type of person?
Once you know whether you’re fleeing from winter or running headlong into it, you can then start to think about what activities you’d like to do on your winter vacation. If you’re trying to escape the winter chill, you might consider:
- Lying on a beach
- Visiting a theme park
If you’re looking to embrace the winter weather, though, you might consider activities like:
- Downhill skiing
- Cross-country skiing
- Ice skating
Make a Winter Vacation Budget
After you’ve established your vacation priorities, it’s time to start creating your winter vacation budget. This is a lot like a regular monthly budget. Instead of trying to balance your income against your expenses, though, you’re going to be listing all your vacation expenses to get a sense of what your trip will cost.
In order to create a vacation budget, first list every type of expense you expect to encounter on your trip. This can include:
- Airplane tickets
- Rental car fees
- Hotel rooms
- Lift tickets
- Equipment rental
Once you’ve listed your potential categories, you’ll need to start listing how much you expect to spend on each of them. The best way to do this is to research prices, which usually consists of going online and looking up the rates for hotels in your destination, air fare and activities like kayak rental or lift ticket fees.
Create your winter vacation budget today
Consider hidden costs
An important aspect of affordable winter vacations is keeping costs under control, especially hidden costs. These can include:
- Parking fees
- Wifi access
- Equipment rentals
Trying to figure out how much to budget for these expenses can be a little tricky, but you can still do some research to get an estimate. If you’re heading to Tampa, for instance, you can see what the parking costs are around the city through Google Maps.
Build flexibility into your winter vacation budget
One of the biggest questions people have about vacation budgets is this—what do you do if something unexpected happens? What happens if you decide you want to indulge in another activity, or your car breaks down or you have to spend another night at your hotel?
The best way to account for unexpected expenses is to build some flexibility into your budget. You can do this by making an unexpected expenses category that’s about 10% of your total expenses. If you really want your budget to be flexible, though, you can even try to estimate some unexpected expenses, such as:
- Staying in a hotel for an extra two nights
- Paying for a minor car repair
- Buying a ticket for an attraction you might want to visit
Search for Winter Vacation Discounts
By this time, you should have an idea of what you’ll want to do on your vacation and how much it’ll cost you to do it. Next, you’ll want to start looking for discounts.
You’ll want to look for discounts even if you’re not worried about the price tag of the trip. At best, they’ll save you even more money, and at worst, you’re only out the time you spent discount hunting. Here are some ways to save money on your trip:
Look through travel sites
Travel websites are great resources for finding exclusive discounts on travel expenses such as air fare and lodging. By browsing through travel sites, you can score great deals and discover hidden discounts on lodging. Take the time to compare prices from each site, as well as airline and hotel websites, and find the best offers available.
Save money on hotels
Winter vacations differ from summer vacations in that you’ll usually want to get a nice, heated hotel room instead of braving the great outdoors. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find discounts.
The easiest way to get a discount is by booking your stay in advance. Hotels like knowing that they have a guaranteed room, and by booking in advance you’re likely to get a discount. You can also look through sites like Vrbo and Airbnb to see if you can find a less expensive place to stay.
Save money on meals
Eating at new restaurants, especially small local restaurants, can be one of the most fun parts of a winter vacation. Unfortunately, eating out all the time can get expensive fast.
Consider reducing the cost of meals by buying groceries and creating your own food. You can even explore local markets to get some local favorites without breaking the bank.
If you do want to eat at a restaurant, do some research and see which places give you the best food at the most reasonable price. The odds are good you’ll find a fantastic local restaurant most tourists don’t know exists.
Book package deals
If you like winter sports, you’ll be happy to know that many ski lodges offer package deals where you can get some decent accommodations and a lift ticket, all at a discount. When you’re looking at different package deals, make sure you look for ones that have the features that you want. You’ll also want to keep your eye open for any other amenities that might be valuable to your situation, like children being able to stay free.
Pick the Right Time to Travel
You can save a lot of money on your winter vacation just by picking the right time to travel. As most veteran travelers know, prices are much higher during holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and even Valentines Day. However, travel is a lot less buy in the first couple weeks of December, and prices are correspondingly lower, and outside of Valentine’s Day, experts say February is the cheapest month to travel.
Look for Alternative Locations
Let's be fair, some winter vacation spots are just expensive regardless of what discounts you find. Places like Lake Tahoe and San Diego might be off limits if you're trying to plan an affordable winter vacation, but they're not the only winter vacation spots. Plenty of other great places exist that offer great winter vacation opportunities, and you won't need to pay an arm and a leg while you're there.
If you're looking for relaxation on the beach, for instance, you might want to visit an area in the gulf shores instead of heading to southern California. If you want to do some outdoor activities, though, you don't need to go to one of the ritzier ski resorts in the United States--you can find plenty of skiing, snowboarding and skating opportunities here in Minnesota.
It's also worth pointing out that you can also look for locations with alternate winter activities that are more budget-friendly. Nature lovers might enjoy free things like hiking a trail in a state park, while people who are more interested in urban entertainment might travel to Nashville to see the Grand Ole Opry or some up-and-coming country star.
Are There any Budget-Friendly Activities to do During a Winter Vacation?
Yes, there are plenty of budget-friendly activities to do during a winter vacation. Some great activities for affordable winter vacations include exploring local winter markets, going on winter hikes or snowshoeing trips, enjoying free events and discounted museums, and trying out affordable winter sports like ice skating or sledding.
Got questions about saving for a winter vacation? Ask us!
Take Affordable Winter Vacations With First Alliance Credit Union
Winter vacations can be a lot of fun, whether your perfect destination is getting a tan on white sand beaches or visiting ski resorts. Even better, with a little planning you can take affordable winter vacations where you'll have a good time without breaking the bank. Think about your winter vacation priorities first, create a vacation budget to see how much your trip will cost, and then look for discounts to help you save money.
You can also get help taking affordable winter vacations by becoming a First Alliance Credit Union member. Potential vacationers can use our free downloadable vacation budget to figure out the costs of their trip, then start depositing money in a savings account or money market account as they start saving for their goal. You can even open a personal line of credit to help cover vacation costs.
What's your favorite winter vacation? Let us know on Facebook!