Take Vacations During Off-Peak Travel Times

November 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

One of the greatest joys I have as a traveler is going to a normally-busy place sometime in the off-season and feeling like I have the entire place to myself. Mackinac Island, Disney World, overseas trips to Germany and The Netherlands. They all feel like a private playground when I visit while everyone else is at work or school.

It’s like I’ve discovered a secret location that only a few people know about. We all stroll casually around, smiling at each other, knowing we’re in on the same secret. You can walk up to rides, there are no lines for museums and exhibits, there’s no one on the beach, and you can get seated within minutes during normal meal times And you’re spoiled for choices when choosing a hotel room at an inexpensive rate. It’s glorious!

I’ve also been in Disney World, Chicago, and several resort towns during peak vacation times, and it’s — well, let’s just say I didn’t feel so special on those days. Hotels are expensive, traffic is evacuate-before-a-disaster heavy, you’ll wait for a week at a restaurant, and the crowds are so big that even an extrovert like me just wants to crawl under the covers for a week.

As a result, my family has been a regular practitioner of traveling during off-peak times. Hotels cost a lot less, there are often discount packages available for some destinations, and you can get a more personalized experience as the staff can focus more attention on you, or at least not be so harried when they try to help you.

So I’m very interested in Offpeak.io. It’s a website that analyzes the travel times in major cities and give you an idea of what’s a peak travel time versus an off-peak time in a chosen city, so you can book your travel plans accordingly. The site is still in beta, but what I’ve seen so far is pretty spot on.

You can use Offpeak.io to find out if there are any major events going on in your chosen city — sporting events, festivals, and holidays — what the weather should be like, and even check the average hotel rates and number of available hotels.

The results appear in a bar graph showing occupancy rates. The smaller the bar, the more rooms there are; the higher the bar, the more crowded everything is going to be. The hotel room rates follow the median price for a hotel room too: higher bars mean higher expected rates.

The occupancy/room rate graph from Offpeak.io will let you know about peak and off-peak travel times.

The occupancy/room rate graph from Offpeak.io will let you know about peak and off-peak travel times.

The end of January and early February are always off-peak travel times because there are no major holidays, and everyone is back at school (which makes running around Disney World a dream!). You can find hotel rooms for a median rate of $78 on a February weekday in Edinburgh, Scotland, but then the weather is cold and rainy at that time. A comparable hotel in Boston will cost $189, which is pretty cheap for Boston, but the city is going to be most likely buried under a foot of snow.

Offpeak.io has information on 111 cities, including Amsterdam, Mexico City, Osaka, Cape Town, and Melbourne. But no Indianapolis, Offpeak? Seriously? You’ve got Cleveland in there, but not Indianapolis? (Hint: The end of May is horrible for finding a hotel in Indianapolis, especially on the west side. If you’re not going for the Indy 500, stay on the northeast side.)

Be sure to pay attention to the weather in your area, and plan your travel methods accordingly. You may find a cheap hotel rate in Boston and Chicago in January or February, but you can almost count on the weather being a factor in any cancelled flights, highway closures, and hotel availability. On the other hand, when are you going to find hotel nights that cheap in Boston and Chicago at any other time of the year?

When do you like to travel? Do you go the same time as everyone else and just fight the crowds? (You’re a better person than I am!) Or do you like to go when no one else is around? Share your strategies with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

How to Travel Light On a Family Vacation

February 24, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

I’ve been a long-time proponent of traveling light because I hate carrying a lot of stuff. I’ve gotten to the point in my work life that I never carry paper, and it bothers me when someone hands me a piece of paper. (I even scan business cards with my phone and hand the card back to the owner.)

Minimalism is the key to travel, and I’d rather do without something not-so-important than lug it along “just in case.” That’s how I keep my business backpack so light.

The Atlantic Ultra Hardside luggage collection

The Atlantic Ultra Hardside luggage collection

My family has been bitten by the minimalist bug as well, and we’ve spent the last several years shedding unwanted stuff in our lives. So it’s only natural that we adopt this approach to our travel, and we’ve gotten pretty good at it. Here are a few things we’ve learned over the years.
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Avoid These Budget-Busting Traps on Your Next Vacation, Part 2

January 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

You can plan and save, clip coupons, and work on strictest principles, but you’ll almost always go over budget on your vacation.

It happens to all of us; it doesn’t mean you’ve failed at vacation. Chances are, you fell into a budget-busting trap without even realizing it. Last week, we looked at two major budget busters, including eating in restaurants for three meals every day, and booking surprise, spur-of-the-moment activities.

To help you avoid overspending on your next vacation, here are two more budget traps to watch out for.

Vacation souvenirs can really drain your budget if you're not careful.

Vacation souvenirs can really drain your budget if you’re not careful.

3. Buying Souvenirs

Maybe it’s just me and my family cutting down and trying to live minimally, but I don’t quite understand the allure of souvenirs. Sure, it’s nice to have a little knick-knack that reminds you of your trip. But go on enough vacations, and pretty soon you have a full shelf of tchotchkes, and maybe even no idea where they all came from.

Of all the souvenirs we’ve bought over the years, I don’t think we have any over 10 years old. But we’ve kept all the photos we’ve ever taken.
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Avoid These Budget-Busting Traps on Your Next Vacation, Part 1

January 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

It doesn’t matter how much we budget and plan our vacation, we almost always go over the amount we planned on spending.

I don’t just mean me and my family, I mean all of us. If you’ve planned and taken a vacation, I’m willing to bet your rainy day fund, that ultimately you spent more than you planned. It hardly ever fails.

To help you avoid overspending on your next vacation, here are two budget traps to watch out for. We’ll have two more next week for you.

A hotel with breakfast included is a great way to avoid eating out too many times on vacation

Hotel Niwa Tokyo breakfast buffet – If you can eat like this, you can skip lunch completely!

1. Eating Three Restaurant Meals Every Day

Eating in a restaurant three times a day can be a real drain on your wallet, especially since most restaurant portions are oversized to begin with. But most Americans have been taught that we “need” to eat three meals a day. And if you’re staying in a hotel without a kitchen, chances are you’ll eat three restaurant meals.

But do you really need to?

Space out your meals so you eat two larger meals in a day — say, a late breakfast and a normal dinner. If you get hungry in the middle of the day, have a snack, not a full-blown lunch. I’ve started carrying peanut bars when we visit the amusement parks to get me through the day. It’s certainly cheaper than a $10 mediocre burger, and we save a little money so we can instead spend the GDP of a small country on dinner!
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Best All-Inclusive Resorts for Families

November 11, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

One vacation on my wish list is one of the all-inclusive resorts I keep hearing about. To stay at a place where everything is managed for you, from the food to the activities to the entertainment. The only thing missing from my dream vacation would be my own little golf cart that I could drive everywhere, including through the buffet line at breakfast.

All-inclusive resorts cover everything while you’re there. And there’s plenty to do at most, depending on which resort you choose. They’re also more budget friendly than you might imagine: you can save as much as 25 percent on an all-inclusive resort, compared to a pay-as-you-go vacation, which may often have a few surprise charges, like an expensive meal or impulsively chosen extra activity.

The Balsams Grand Resort at Dixville Notch, NH, one of many all-inclusive resorts in the US.

The Balsams Grand Resort at Dixville Notch, NH.

All-inclusive resorts also eliminate the need for a rental car. Generally, everything is on property, so you can always get a resort shuttle, or hire a cab. Plus, they usually have airport shuttles to pick you up and take you there.

If you are interested in an all-inclusive resorts vacation, you don’t have to leave the country to do so. There are several located within the United States that are also exceptionally family friendly.

If you like Vermont, you may like the Tyler Place Family Resort on Lake Champlain, featuring 165 acres and a mile of private shore on the lake. There are craft classes you can take, sail boarding, paddle boarding, bicycling, swimming, canoeing, and plenty of places to sit on Adirondack chairs and hammocks and just relax. They have activities for the kids throughout the day, and you can even turn them loose for a kids’ dinner, while you and your spouse relax in a quiet dining room.
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Change Up Your Roles on Vacation

July 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

If your family is like mine, everyone has specific roles. Someone does the dishes, someone mows the lawn, someone cooks dinner, and still others go to work at a 9-to-5 job.

And yet, when we go on vacation, it seems like the only person to get a break is the person who has the actual job. Everyone else is still in their same roles as at home. (Well, the person mowing the lawn gets a break too.)

Coleman stove

My dad used to cook on a stove like this when we camped on our vacations.

When you’re a family traveling on a budget, one of the best ways to save money is to rent a house and cook meals in it, reducing the number of times you eat in a restaurant. In my family of five, we can spend $100 at a casual diner without putting much effort into it. But when we make our meals in a vacation house, we can stretch $100 over a week of dinners.
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How to Stretch Your Family Travel Budget

June 24, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

It can be hard when your family travel budget doesn’t allow you to take a vacation outside your neighborhood, let alone out of town. And while there is something to be said for spending two weeks with relatives, for me it just doesn’t 100% count as “a fun vacation.”

Cinderella's Castle in January at Walt Disney World - Erik Deckers — We really work our travel budget hard just to get here!

Cinderella’s Castle in January at Walt Disney World

So if you have the travel bug, and want to take some family travel time, here are a few ways to stretch your family travel budget and get a little more out of your vacation. These are little tricks my family has used to be able to take a nice little vacation somewhere once or twice a year.

1. Go in the off-season

Prices are always lower when it’s not the high season. Disney World in January and February is wonderful, because most kids are back in school, and Spring Break is several weeks away. Heading up to Mackinac Island, Michigan (or anywhere in the northern Great Lakes states) in September is great, because the colors are already changing, but the official fall travel season hasn’t started yet.
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Eight Budget Travel Ideas for Families

February 19, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Taking a vacation can always be a little on the pricey side for families, especially if you’re trying to hit the major vacation spots in the middle of tourist season. But there are a few ways you can travel and save money, while still seeing some enjoyable sights.

An AirBNB in San Francisco.

An AirBNB in San Francisco. Imagine staying here instead of an expensive hotel.

We’re not recommending staycations or suggesting you “rediscover your hometown” for a week. We want you to get out and actually see the world. So here are a few budget travel ideas you can use to stretch your vacation dollars further.

  1. Go during off-season: A lot of tourist destinations see major slowdowns in January and February (after the holidays), in May (after Spring Break, before summer vacation), and in September and early October (post-summer, pre-fall break). If you can get away in the slow times, prices are lower, lines are shorter, and crowds are smaller.
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