Being that Mr. B and I consider ourselves beginners in all of this – even though we have a quickly approaching financial independence (FI) date and a nice war chest – we haven’t really delved into some of the more “extreme” tactics used in order to get to FI faster. I mean, we do the typical stuff like couponing, upcycling and re-negotiating our contracts/monthly bills, but there is a whole other world out there related to FIers who live off their dividends and travel the world for free based on “travel hacking.” From what I understand, this requires a great deal of time and effort, opening credit cards that offer free miles/hotel points, spending just the right amount on each card to qualify, and cancelling at the right time, etc. That’s a bit too time consuming for me and Mr. B based on our current work loads and family obligations. So… I’m going to tell you about how our latest vacation cost us just a fraction of the full value – I’ll call it travel hacking for the every man!
To preface, our plans for most recent trip came about in honor of the great Gene Wilder’s passing. We decided it was the perfect time to introduce our toddler (AKA the Nugget) to Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a movie we had both cherished as kids. After watching the entire movie (and actually sitting still for almost all of it), and several requests the next day for YouTube videos of Varuka Salt singing “I Want It Now,” Mr. B and I decided we should take the rugrat on a weekend getaway to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania. We’ve been telling her it’s called Willie Wonka’s Hershey Park so you can imagine how excited she must be.
Well, being that its already September, there aren’t very many days left in the amusement park season, so we opted for the last Sunday of the month in hopes of a lesser crowd. We started out by looking up hotels. We use hotels.com because they have pretty cheap rates, great customer service, and for every 10 nights you stay, you get one night free up to a certain dollar amount. Since we will be driving from NY to PA, we will have our car and aren’t locked in to staying at an overpriced hotel within walking distance to the park. We decided on a very nice 3 star chain hotel we are familiar with, with a queen bed and sleeper sofa for the Nugget (Baby B is staying with Grammy B as there would be nothing fun on this trip for her). The cost of the room is just $75. An already great price. But, on top of that, I had previously been given a credit of $40 from Hotels.com for a stay in which we requested a king bed and were given two doubles – I told you they had great customer service! So, the new cost of our room was just $35 and it includes free parking, free wifi and even better, free breakfast.. who doesn’t love waffles???
On to the tickets. So, for a family of two adults and one nugget (who gets in for free), with tickets costing $64.95, the admission alone would have been $129.95. That’s a lot of money! Now I know that AAA offers a discount of around $8 off per ticket, but that’s still $120+ for just tickets. Here is where a little know-how helped to save us a ton… The last time we took a family vacation, we went to Dutch Wonderland (also in PA) and learned from a very damp afternoon that the park offers entrants rain date or “do-over” tickets if it rains for more than an hour on the day you attend. What we discovered was that since many people drive far distances to get to these parks and the rain date tickets would otherwise go unused, a secondary market developed for the resale of these do-over tickets. So, I went onto our local Facebook buy sell swap page and asked if anyone had any tickets they were looking to unload (for a deep discount of course), and low and behold, a woman responded that she had two rain date tickets she did not intend to use. I purchased these tickets from her for $40 or $20/ticket – a savings of nearly 70%!!!
A friend and colleague of mine who I share a lot of FI tidbits with had recently taken her family to Hershey Park and I asked her if she had any tips for a cheap/successful trip. She told me that she had purchased her tickets full price at the gate due to an unforeseen situation and it included, at no extra charge, souvenir cups which normally cost $9/cup and gives you 99¢ refills for your entire stay at the park. I asked her if she wouldn’t mind lending me one cup, which I would gladly return cleaned, and she was more than happy to do so. Water and ice are free at the park, but having some lemonade or soda to share after all that walking around is totally worth the 99¢.
Now on to another typical expense… food. I already told you that our hotel gives us free breakfast on Monday, but we still need to account for Sunday’s breakfast, lunch and dinner. Since we are driving up and going to the park the same day, we will east breakfast at home before we go and will pack the car with a cooler for snacks, drinks and lunch. Typically I stick with peanut butter & jelly and turkey/cheese sandwiches as they are always a fan favorite. What we’ve discovered though in our never ending search for easy savings, is that 1) road side eateries like McDonalds and Wendy’s don’t allow outside food in, 2) eating in your car with a toddler is a recipe for disaster and requires a change of clothes, and 3) large rest stops like the ones dotting I-95, make it hard to resist buying treats from the likes of Carvel and Starbucks. What we’ve found as a better, cheaper and even cleaner option, is a stop at a nice chain hotel. These large hotels always have really nice lobbies with ample room to spread out and eat, clean bathrooms with no lines, and sometimes even free coffee. Now, you might be thinking… that stuff is only for the guests. But, I can tell you that when we visit a chain we like, we look to stay in them in the future because we know the amenities are on point. That leaves just dinner (and park snacks) to be accounted for: I bought 3 Hershey chocolate bars for .89¢ a piece before we left so we can each have a sweet treat and the nugget doesn’t know it isn’t from the gift shop, and we anticipate buying some overpriced ice cream and/or popcorn during the course of the day ($15 estimate). As for dinner, almost all pizza restaurants have the ability to deliver a pizza pie to your hotel and it’s always a good option. I’ve also found that many of the magazine and flyers in the hotel’s lobby will include coupons for said Pizza places which is an easy win. I’ll estimate a pizza with tip will cost another $20.
To review, what could have been a very costly trip, will actually cost us around $113.66 plus about $50 in gas and tolls. That brings this amazing weekend getaway for 3 to just under $170. I’d say that’s a pretty sweet deal.
Sound off below and let me know how you save while traveling and if you’ve ever employed any of my above referenced travel hacks!