How We Saved $4000.00 on Our First International Vacation

In October, my husband and I took our very first international trip to Greece.  It was the trip of a lifetime – and that is really an understatement – but as you can imagine, it was also expensive.  I am happy to report, though expensive, it did not break our bank account. In fact, we saved a ton.  How did we do that? 1. We saved for it and paid it all in cash.  Unlike many Americans, we did not return from our trip with debt. 2. We used our super-saving-ninja skills to get our expenses down as much as possible. That’s what we are going to talk about today.

The bulk of our savings came from a handful of choices we made.  First, we flew out of Tijuana, rather than the San Diego Airport.  We did not pay for the bulk of our meals.  Lastly, just about everything else we did was free.

The purpose of the trip was to attend a Chautauqua.  If you were like me one year ago, you had no clue what that means. Is it like a Chewbacca?  No, not even close – though that would have been a cool gathering too, I am sure.  I’ve explained our Chautauqua experience in an upcoming post, if you are interested to know what the heck one is.  (Urban Dictionary, a bit salty sarcastic, is of no assistance on this one.)

$2000.00

The first area we saved was on our plane tickets.  Having never travelled internationally before I had NO IDEA how expensive plane tickets were.  When I first started watching them, I could not believe my eyes.  They ranged anywhere between $2000.00 and $5000.00 a piece and that was for economy.  At that point, I had already bought our tickets for the Chautauqua so I was already past the point of no return. The only flexibility we had was our departure city.

I knew of a friend that flew out of Tijuana all the time, with her children, so I had to assume she felt it was safe. So, out of curiosity, I looked….I was SHOCKED at the difference.  The difference was big enough that it really was not an option.  We were already embarking on an international adventure, so why not add one more adventure to the mix. By flying out of Tijuana, we saved about $2000.00 on our tickets.  Not a bad way to start an adventure. I will be writing on that experience as well in case you’re wondering what that was like.

It’s also important to note, flight prices vary based on a number of factors besides destination.  For instance, if I you were to look up the prices to fly to Thessaloniki in March of next year they would be less than $1000 and it would have been cheaper to fly out of San Diego as opposed to Tijuana.

TIP #1 – Research your flights before deciding your destination as well as date of travel.  You can save hundreds, thousands, by having a bit of flexibility and adventuresome spirit.

SUPER SAVER TIP #2 – If you don’t want to pay anything for your flights, then there are several resources available on how to do that with travel rewards via credit card hacking.  The guys over at Travel Miles 101 have that covered.

Meals $1000 

Meals while traveling can be a budget buster.  In the past, one of the ways we have minimized our meal expense was to book at a hotel with at least a refrigerator, but preferable a kitchen. When we travel with the kids, this is almost non-negotiable.

This trip we packed non-perishable snacks; lots of nuts, cheese crisps, granola bars, and dried fruit. It kept us satisfied in between our flights and other periods we were in between meals.

Finally, as part of our package, meals were included.  This was huge.  We received 3 delicious meals at our five-star resort every day.  These varied between buffet style and plated meals.  We were able to both indulge in traditional Greek food, as well as dishes prepared by a master chef. They were divine.

Look for experience packages that include meals in your travels.  This one thing will save you additional hundreds of dollars, maybe more, depending on how many people you are traveling with.

TIP #3 – Get a package that includes meals (though be careful and analyze whether that makes sense.  Sometimes it doesn’t)

TIP #4 – Pack your own food and snacks.

TIP #5 – Get a room that has a kitchen and/or a refrigerator.

EXCURSIONS and MISCELLANEOUS SPENDING $1000.00

Another benefit of purchasing an experience package is that a couple of our excursions as well as transportation were paid for.  We were able to enjoy a walking tour of Thessaloniki as well as a tour of the museums at the foot of Mount Olympus and a bus tour up the mountain.  This also allowed us precious time to spend with our fellow travelers and get to know them better while seeing thousands of years of history.

Others in our trip hiked and went in to town to explore.  Also free.

Curtis and I opted to simply enjoy the resort on the days there were no excursions.  We were on vacation to relax and enjoy ourselves.  Reading a book, overlooking an infinity pool that expands over the Aegean Sea is how I would describe paradise.  It was enough for me.  And Free.

Don’t forget to look for coupons or other discounts for excursions.  There are so many ways to save, if you are intentional about it.

TIP #6 – Prepay for Excursions.

TIP #7 – USE COUPONS!

Curtis and I left for Greece with a spending budget.  Because of the intentionality of our spending, we came home with two-thirds of that budget unspent.  A much better position to be in than coming home with debt. Pre-FIRE movement, we would have come home from a trip having to rearrange our budget to account for our over-spending as well as work for months to pay off our credit cards.  To not have the stress of coming home to that?  It’s priceless.

How have you been able to save on your travel expenses?  We’d love to hear it.

Love and Prosperity

Your GirlFIday

 

**Photo by Alex Antoniadis on Unsplash

 

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Kids and Thorns – The Impossible Task of Perfect Parenting

 

This post is not the normal type of post.  This one has nothing to do with finances.  But being a parent is at the heart of our financial journey, so I thought I would share some of what life looks like in our house….

In case anyone is misled by pictures of smiling children in the most adorable Halloween costumes – but seriously, those are the cutest, right?  I have to let you all in on something – our life is not all roses.  Whoever (or is it whomever? I never get that right) thought up that phrase forgot, roses have thorns.  Today was a particularly thorny day.  And, I am not talking a little prick on the finger thorny.  I am talking those big huge vines of thorns that sprung up in Sleeping Beauty. Massive – huge – black – ugly – thorns.

 

I would hate for anyone to look at our life and think that we have our shit together.  (Whoops – I should’ve warned you, I am not in the mood today to keep my potty words to myself.)  Some days in the Mays house, it mirrors the apocalypse.  Children turn into little demon-babies and Momma gives Linda Blaire a run for her money.  Today was not my proudest moment.  Not by a long shot.

 

You see, when you sign up for this parenting gig, no one tells you that one day one of your precious angels, that really should worship the womb that birthed them – or the heart that grew them, will scream in your face how much they hate you and call you out on your poor parenting.  In their eyes, you ARE supposed to be perfect.  They have NO idea – that it really is the most impossible task. Impossible from the start.

 

Impossible when you let the baby cry in the crib a little longer than you probably should, because you just need ONE second so you don’t crumble into a sobbing mush ball too.

 

Impossible when your four-year-old, trying to be a big boy, isn’t quite tall enough to reach the cereal and tips the box spilling cereal dust all over your freshly swept floors. And then, out of sheer frustration, because that was the first time you had swept the floors in three weeks, you chastise him for not asking for help. Yeah…so clearly NOT perfect.

 

Impossible when your special needs boy, who has had such a hard time at school because it is JUST TOO MUCH for him, misses out on a treat like his brothers. Guilt hits you in the pit of your stomach.  The look on his face. You ARE an awful parent.

 

Or when your adult child points out all the ways you have screwed up, like you aren’t aware, pouring salt into every insecurity you already have about your parenting. Ah, how do they know? There is no fooling anyone around here.

 

Sometimes it is just a perfect storm for these types of days.  Then, I stop and wonder, do other parents have these same types of days?  Maybe we ARE doing it all wrong.  Maybe it’s not the perfect storm, maybe WE are the storm?  I think I have seen that meme somewhere. I don’t think this is what they meant though.

 

What if WE are creating the chaos.  I don’t know what to do with that.  If that is the case, how on earth do we fix that?  Parenting is permanent.  You don’t get to say, “whoops, my bad – I am defective – here’s the kids back.”  Nope, this gig is for life and that’s a really looooong time.

 

I am not quite sure how to repair the destruction caused when these storms have let loose in our house.  I suppose it starts by taking a look around and first assessing the damage. Then starting with the stuff we can tackle ourselves and, maybe – if necessary – we call in the National Guard. Do they have a hotline?

 

As I write, it is 3:30 in the morning and my house is quiet except for my faithful boy Odin.  Thank goodness for the loyalty of our furbabies.  Now that’s the real deal unconditional adoration right there.  My brain is still reeling from just how god-awful a day it was yesterday.  From reports of really sucky behavior at school by half of the Littles to the horrible fight with my daughter. The worst?  My sweet little four-year-old was a witness to all of it.  UGH.  You see?  Bad parenting.

 

As I think about how events unfolded, I cannot forget the divine intervention that also took place.  You see, sometimes God just knows when and where to place people in your life – just to let you know he IS STILL THERE.

 

Even in the middle of the chaos, there is still soccer practices to get to, groceries to pick up and webinars to attend.  Thank goodness for technology, Wi-Fi and mobile hotspots. This is how post-millennial moms get all the stuff done. While setting up my laptop to listen to a scheduled webinar at the park, so I can be “present” at soccer practice but also keep any eye on my other boys, I happened to see a friend’s old neighbor and fellow foster-adoptive Momma there on a Thursday.  Not her normal day or time to be there, but you see – God.  That’s kinda how he rolls.

 

As we were catching up, the conversation naturally flowed to the common struggles we both share of having babies born with disadvantages.  That’s a really nice way of saying our babies were born to moms who abused their bodies with drugs and a whole host of other things while carrying our children.  In utero-trauma is a thing – and it has lasting consequences.  You think when you adopt a baby you can love them to healthy.  And for the most part, that is true.  But health is a spectrum.  There are varying degrees. My boys ARE healthy.  They are sweet. Active. Thriving.  But they also suffered in utero trauma and that means that sometimes their brains do not react the way we want them to. They have difficulty with relationships, boundaries, self-regulation. Handling noise – any stimulus – emotions. ALL.THE.EMOTIONS.

 

As we sat and talked and I watched her struggle with her youngest, who was having a really hard time and openly defiant and refusing to let her mommy have more than a 30 second attempt at conversation at a time – I was grateful.  Grateful because in that moment I realized we all have our struggles.  We all have our challenges.  Moments of chaos happen to all of us. And we are all just doing the best we can.  She described some of the difficulties they were having and I could see tears welling up.  I hear you Momma.  I share your frustration.  Your exhaustion. Sometimes it is all too much.

 

In the middle of our fragmented conversation, her phone rang, it was her 13-year-old calling to tell her she made dinner and it was ready and waiting for them. After getting off the phone, she began packing up and shared with me how awful a mom she is because her first instinct was not to be grateful her daughter had made dinner, but to be irritated that she now had to pack everyone up and leave practice a bit early to get to the dinner waiting on them.

 

I get it. I totally get it. How many times has my first instinct been not of kindness, appreciation or gratitude. To not see the effort of my children and their intention behind an action. Yeah, I get it. We are selfish beings by nature.  To some extent we cannot help it.  It takes intention. It takes awareness.  And sometime we are so exhausted by life that we are just too tired to be intentional or aware and our human-ness is revealed.

 

So, when my daughter yells at me and tells me I am selfish, and I want to scream with all my might that I am not – I need to acknowledge she is right.  She is right about a lot.  I am selfish and I am not as good of a parent as I want to be – in fact, I miss that mark by a lot. But I also need to give myself a little grace and also realize that we are all flawed.  Most of us moms and dads are just trying to do the best we can with these precious treasures we have been given. The roses are beautiful – but the thorns serve their purpose too. They protect the roses from being eaten – allowing them to grow.  Maybe that’s the purpose of these really awful days too.

 

Love and Prosperity, 

Your GirlFIDay