12 nights total. I am not rich and the vast majority of those expenses were free...
Well this year I finally figured out how we could go on some vacations by not breaking the bank or borrowing money we don't have. Actually, I figured out how to go on 3 different vacations, 12 nights combined, for practically FREE!
Here's what I did...
I got 5 FREE nights of stays at Hilton owned hotels.
For Disney World, I got our park tickets and $500 worth of food for FREE.
(If you would like to know more about credit card churning, please read this blog by Mr Money Mustache. Like I said earlier, it's a game, and also a job. I have spreadsheets I keep track of and I have to stay organized in order to benefit from churning. I'd be happy to show you my spreadsheets and method through email or over coffee.)
If it wasn't free, we found ways to pay less than normal.
When eating out, we discovered most restaurants serve way more food than one person needs or can possibly eat in one setting. I learned in Disney World to not ask the server, "How many servings is this?" But instead, "How big is this?" Sometimes Shane and I would split a meal and get Josiah a kids meal, and other times a single meal was big enough to split 3 ways! Oh and believe me, we never went hungry! We ate at the best, most expensive restaurants. When we were planning our trip, we studied reviews of past customers before deciding where we ate, so we knew we would enjoy each and every meal.
We also minimalized our thinking with souvenirs. I bought a mug I really liked and used it every morning I drank coffee in the hotel room. We allowed Josiah to have a Stitch doll he oddly fell in love with. We never went into souvenir shops with the purpose of buying souvenirs; We only bought what we absolutely loved.
(BTW, if you are planning a trip to Disney, you need to know the Dining Plans are MORE expensive than paying for your meals individually... unless you plan on eating a filet mignon 3 times a day. There are blogs out there of the best restaurants to eat in Disney, but among our favorites were Via Napoli (Epcot), Le Cellier (Epcot), Seasons (quick service, Epcot), Pinocchio's Village Haus (quick service, Magic Kingdom), and Flame Tree BBQ (quick service, Animal Kingdom). We also LOVED T-Rex in Disney Springs, and the Spirit of Aloha dinner show at the Polynesian Resort.
As a family of 3, we spent $1,700 total for our 7 day trip to Disney, including flights, hotel stay, tickets, food, AND souvenirs. If it weren't for the churning and minimalist thinking, we would have spent closer to $3000! We ate at the best restaurants, and never skimped on fun. I could have done Disney World for a lot cheaper or even free by staying in a Hilton hotel rather than a Disney resort, but staying on site in Disney was worth it for the experience, as well as the complimentary Disney shuttles to and from the airport and all the parks. Some things are just worth spending money on.
(In case you were wondering, we stayed at the Port Orleans- Riverside. It's one of the moderately priced Disney hotels, but so underrated! We spent a whole day just exploring and enjoying our resort.)
As for our trips to the beach and Atlanta, they only cost us a tank of gas and food. The beach was free, and for entertainment in Atlanta, Shane and I went to a Braves game. The game was $100, paid for with my Birthday money. Other than that we shopped and ate.
I've heard it said people can do whatever they want if they want it bad enough. Vacationing is definitely that for my family. My new goal is to get to either Alaska or Hawaii or free in 2017.
Now, go and find ways to add more value to your life!