My girlfriend and I decided that we needed a break from a long and cold Wisconsin winter. We began looking at islands in the Caribbean and finally settled on the island of Aruba. Located about 15 miles north of Venezuela, Aruba has consistent warm weather and very little rainfall. The weather is perfect year round. Aruba is also considered to be the most expensive island in the Caribbean.
We booked our flights and patiently marked the days off the calendar. After months of waiting, the day finally arrived. We landed in Aruba on January 1, 2009 and would have two weeks of swimming in the ocean and laying on the beach. Perfect!
Exactly how much credit card debt did I go into in order to pay for a two-week vacation on the most expensive island in the Caribbean? ZERO.
A lot of people think that a vacation is a great time to indulge themselves in ways which they normally wouldn’t. That means ocean side condominiums, room service, steak & lobster, $10 frozen drinks, and spa treatment. These things can add up to a large bill by the time you go home.
What did we do in order to keep the cost of our two week vacation less than half the cost of an all-inclusive hotel stay for one week?
Get Off the beach. This is the best way of saving money on a place to stay. The large chain hotels such as the Raddison, Holiday Inn and the Hyatt are found right on the beach. While the convenience of these hotels is something to consider, the price tag that comes along with them is absurd. If you are willing to stay a just a couple of minutes inland you can save yourself a considerable amount of money by staying at motels which are operated by locals.
Travel During the Low Season. Tourism tends to peak at certain times of the year depending on a variety of factors. Research when the low season takes place at the destination you are interested in traveling to as it is not consistent throughout all areas of the world. While our trip to Aruba was during peak season we were able to keep our costs low in other ways.
Buy Local. Another way of saving a great deal of money is to purchase groceries at a local store. You won’t find grocery stores in the tourist areas. You will have to do a little exploring in order to find them, but once you do you’ve found a great way of saving a small fortune. We bought very basic foods which we could prepare easily in our hotel room. Peanut butter and bread for sandwiches and canned soup. The money that we saved from buying groceries allowed us to eat at the most expensive restaurants on the island.
Souvenirs. DON’T BUY THEM! Take photos instead. When I am traveling I will mail postcards to my friends and relatives, take photos for memories and bring home some local currency for my coin collection. Nothing more is needed. We did bring home a small bit of sand from the beach. Total cost of sand: $0.
Public Transportation. Taxis are incredibly convenient. You can get to any place on the island and when you are in an unfamiliar country, having the security of a taxi to take you exactly where you want to go can be very helpful. They are extremely expensive though. We began riding the public bus whenever we could. What would have been a $10 taxi ride turned into a $3.00 bus ride. Incredible savings, especially if you are moving around often.
Be Flexible. When we were planning our trip we considered renting a vehicle to travel around the island. When we arrived, vehicles were not readily available and were considerably more expensive than the listed price. We had our hearts set on visiting other parts of the island so we decided to book an island tour. It was the best part of our entire trip. Soon after we got off the beaten path we realized that had we rented a vehicle we wouldn’t have been able to visit the places we had on our list anyways. The terrain was too rugged for most vehicles and I wouldn’t have had the courage to drive a rental vehicle through these areas.
When you consider taking a vacation, consider as well whether you are there for a hotel room or for the culture of the country. What I found during my time near the high-rise hotel area is that the beaches are crowded with American tourists and generally unpleasant. We found that the beaches away from the hotels were far superior and less crowded. Getting away from the tourist areas allows you to get in touch with the local culture and meet pleasant people.
I love vacationing and doing it on a limited budget opens doors to exploring frugality in some of the most expensive locations on Earth. I can’t wait for my next international trip to see what kinds of great deals I can find.