Planning your travel season on a budget

Many mark spring as the official beginning of travel season. We feel like we travel all the time but we actually spend most nights in our own beds. That’s because we believe in exploring our own area and saving money. There is so much to see within driving distance of our home we will probably never get to it all!

Don’t get me wrong. We love hotels, cabins and vacation homes. But we are on a tight budget like most people. So here are some tips for planning your travel season at home and on the road  without going broke.

Plan a staycation just like you do any other vacation.

Set a budget and create an itinerary. Since you don’t have to worry about traveling time, you can set aside seven days or even just a single day if you have a small budget. The internet is full of blogs about any location, even your own hometown. When you plan it, I think it feels more like a “vacation.”

New Echota, Calhoun, Ga. One of our “staycation” destinations

Contact your local visitors bureau for information.

Local convention and visitors bureaus have a wealth of information about what to do in your area. You may find some money-saving coupons there as well.

Try to include something for everyone.

Our teenager likes to eat and shop. We also had to accommodate my schedule as a freelance writer and our budget so we chose our activities carefully. Our three-day staycation last year began with a tour of my hometown of Rome, Ga. On the second day we went to Atlanta to visit Lenox Square Mall, then it was off to the World of Coca-Cola.  On the third day, we went to see the Atlanta Braves and some of the sites near SunTrust Park in Cobb County.

World of Coca-Cola

Discover your local parks.

Some of my favorite childhood memories are going to the local playground. Some parks offer more than swing sets and slides today. Manning Mill Park in Adairsville, Ga has a beautiful lake, playground and picnic areas. If you are more outdoorsy, find a park with campgrounds and a fishing area. Lock and Dam Park just outside of Rome has a campground and fishing area.

State parks also offer outdoor family fun without breaking the bank. In our area, Red Top Mountain State Park has a beach area and great places to hike. You could spend an entire day there and not do it all!Check out some history.

Our family has made it a priority to learn all we can about our area. Recently we visited New Echota State Park in Calhoun, Ga. This state-funded site does charge less than $10 to get in but it’s worth the money. You can also take advantage of a great deal from Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites. An annual pass that allows you to see all of the historic sites for one low price.

Take me out to the ballgame.

We live in Braves Country and we love to take in a game. We watch for special deals for the team. We have good seats and never pay more than $20 per ticket. But the best deals are at the minor league parks. We live near three. We love the names of some of the teams. Last year, we watched the Chattanooga Lookouts play the Montgomery Biscuits. You will not only see future All-Stars but you may also see some current stars. Often major league players will do rehab assignments with a minor league team and you can see a superstar!

Check out the small towns in your area.

These tiny hamlets are often ignored but are rich in history and fun! In Northwest Georgia, we head over to Cave Spring. There’s a large spring-fed pool that is guaranteed to cool you off during these hot days. You can soak in some local history at the Historic Vann Cabin. Take a picnic and eat at one of many spots near the pool or dine at one of the downtown eateries.

Historic Vann Cabin

Finding the best places to spend the night

Everyone has different standards about where they want to stay. Some people won’t stay at a roadside motel but insist on a 4-star hotel in a metropolitan area. Others love camping or cabins in remote locations. And that is ok. You can find great deals no matter what you like.

We have stayed at many budget hotels and the majority of them were great. The managers and staff of these hotels want your business so if something is wrong, they are likely going to make it right. No one wants to have a negative review on TripAdvisor.

Maples Motor Inn

We also look for locally-owned motels. Our favorite destination is the Smoky Mountains and our favorite place to say is Maples Motor Inn. I thought this was our secret until TripAdvisor named it one of the best in America. The rates are reasonable and our rooms are always spotless. I have been staying here for decades and I have not had one bad experience.

Airbnb and other companies offer private homes and unique places to stay. We stayed at this great home offered by Evolve when we visited Highland, N.C. The big plus was the kitchen. We saved a lot of money cooking our own meals rather than eating out restaurants. And because it was a private home, we were so comfortable we didn’t want to leave.

Saving on meals

Eating is one of the best parts of travelling for our family. But you can blow a lot of your vacation budget if you are not careful. We have several rules:

  1. If we are staying in a place with a kitchen or microwave, we try to eat some of our meals “in.” That way we don’t fee bad when we drop a lot of money on an upscale restaurant.
  2. We do our best only to eat at local eateries but sometimes, it’s in our budget’s best interest to grab a cheap meal at a fast food establishment.
  3. The Smoky Mountains and other sites that attract a lot of tourist have coupon books that can save you a lot of money.
  4. Again, plan ahead. And stick to your plan. I am terrible about changing my mind but my husband will tell you that every time I do, it costs us extra money.

So how do you plan for your vacations and adventures? I would love to hear your tips!

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