1. Where To Go
When deciding where to go, the first thing to consider is your budget. I would love to go to Disneyland or Disney World every 6 months but that's just not in the budget. Plus I think my husband would get really sick of Disney! Having said that, some of my favorite vacations (besides Disney) have been the more low-key inexpensive vacations.
Some other things to consider are what type of vacation you want. Do you want to go somewhere warm? Do you want to be busy the whole time or do you want to relax? How far do you want to go? Are you going to fly or drive? What time of the year are you going? Do you want to stay in a hotel or a condo or vacation rental? Are you going to eat out or cook your own meals?
2. Where To Stay
Once you figure out where you're going, you'll need to find a place to stay. I usually check most of these sites, if not all when I'm booking a vacation. I've been able to find some great deals with the following websites.
Any employee of the government (local, city, state, federal, retired) can book through this website. There are some great deals on this site. All of the resorts here are the same resorts that could be booked through RCI or a similar timeshare. All of their Space A resorts are $349 for a week and sometimes they have sales which makes it even less than that! But you might have to go during the off season. Watch for their buy one get one free sale at the end of the summer. Last year we booked a resort for a week in October and got another week free in November at a different resort. They were both in Utah so we didn't go far but it was fun to have two mini vacations and only spend $349 total.
Vacationrentals.com, Vacasa, VRBO
All three of these websites have vacation rentals that are listed by the owners. I've seen some really good deals on these websites. A few years ago we used Vacasa to book an 8 occupancy vacation rental right on beach in Oregon for about $850 a week. That's a great deal considering we were right on the beach.
If you own a timeshare, this is a great place to book vacation rentals. I'm not saying to rush out and buy a timeshare. We've sat through timeshare presentations and they always seem like a good deal. But once we realized how much we spend on vacations vs how much we would pay for maintenance fees we came to the conclusion that the way we're vacationing is a more affordable option for us. But we do have access to RCI and we use their Extra Vacations to book a lot of our vacation rentals. It's definitely a great way to go if you have access.
Groupon has a lot of hotels and vacation rentals for a discounted rate. There's even all-inclusive resorts including a flight from a designated airport.
Priceline, Expedia, Travelocity
All of these websites are great for finding hotels. I always compare all of these sites before booking a hotel.
3. Flying vs Driving
When deciding whether to fly or drive there are many things to consider: the cost of the flight, the cost of a rental car, the price of gas, how far you're going, etc. We usually drive when we travel within the western U.S. but I've realized that flying can be affordable if you know how to plan it. See my posts on flying for less money and getting a good deal on a rental car.
4. What to do while you're there
One of my favorite things about traveling is going to new cities and doing things I've never done before. When I go to a new city, I like to be prepared and I like to feel like I know the place before I get there. So I spend a lot of time researching the city and finding things to do.
This is how I do it:
I love this website. They list everything to do in any city ranked in order of popularity. I always read the reviews to find out what other people had to say as well. I also look up restaurants on this site to find out where to eat while we're on our trip. Then I go to the restaurants' websites and look at their menus. That way we know what we want to eat before we go and we're not just driving around aimlessly looking for somewhere to eat and hoping that it's good.
I always check the groupons that are available for the city that we're traveling to. Sometimes they have some really fun activities for half the price! We've also bought groupons to restaurants before we've gone on a trip.
My husband and I went to Florida for our 10th anniversary and we bought a bunch of certificates from restaurant.com. We paid about $3 for each one and then we had to spend a certain amount at each restaurant. It was essentially like getting one meal free. It was a great way to eat out and save some money.
The city's website
If you look up the city you're going to there will be a list of things to do while you're there. Sometimes there will be special events going on during your trip.
I hope all of these tips help you plan your next vacation. If you have any questions or additional tips, please feel free to leave a comment. Have fun planning!