How We (Usually) Vacation For $500 Or Less

This photo was taken at Walt Disney World just last week. We were gone ten days and spent about $500 for the entire trip. Want to know how we did it? :o)

First, please know in advance that everyone's situation is different; I am well aware of that. This is just the story of how we have done it, and I hope that it inspires you to think creatively about your next opportunity to vacation.

This year, my husband had clients to see in Tennessee, which is conveniently located about halfway to Florida for us (we live near Chicago). It just so worked out that we spent three days in Tennessee while he visited those clients, all expenses paid other than my and the kids' meals. He was reimbursed for the gas there and back, his meals were taken care of, and the rather nice hotel was absolutely free to us as well :o)

From Tennessee we continued on to Orlando. We had a two bedroom suite at a gorgeous resort, paid for by all the travel rewards points my husband had accrued over the past year. We belong to Marriott Rewards, a *fantastic* program for anyone who does a reasonable amount of traveling.

In Orlando, we spent a couple days relaxing around the resort, which had a huge pool for the kids, playground area, basketball courts, arcade room, and fitness center. One evening, we spent a night on the town touring Downtown Disney. We spent another day at the Blue Springs State Park, marveling at the hundred or so manatees that had made their way into this warm spring to protect themselves from the otherwise chilly waters. Another day was spent at Disney, with free admission since we had participated in the Give a Day, Get a Disney Day program.

As you can see, we really didn't pay for much other than food, half of the fuel, our $6 state park entrance fee, and a few other random expenditures, like the $20 Wooly Mammoth Build-a-Bear we bought for our oldest son at Downtown Disney :o)

While we're away, we often eat at Maggiano's italian restaurant... their food is delicious! We don't like the pricey bill that commonly accompanies the food, though, so this is what we do: We call ahead and place an order for a large order of spaghetti and a small chopped salad. We make sure to mention that we are staying at a hotel, and ask them to include disposable plates, utensils, etc. We also remind them about the bread and butter they include with every meal and ask for a little extra. Then, we pick up our order and eat it family-style back at our room. The whole bill comes to a little over $20, we can use drinks we already have on hand, and there are usually leftovers for the next day's lunch. A little goes a loooong way at Maggiano's when you do it this way!

One of our favorite frugal vacations took place a couple of years ago. Harbour Lake (formerly named Horizons), which is a timeshare operated by Marriott, offered us the opportunity to spend four days in a fully equipped two bedroom condo, overlooking a small lake in Orlando. This timeshare had two HUGE pool areas for the kids, one of which had a pirate ship that shot water cannons and had several water slides. We enjoyed these luxurious amenities for one flat rate of $199. That breaks down to only $50 a night! Some would say they wouldn't vacation this way, that timeshare presentations are too much of a hassle, but Marriott was very classy about it. One hour of our time was all it took! It worked for us.

We love our vacations, and it's important to us that we take one every year. It's a wonderful time to relax and have fun together as a family. There are ways to get away without breaking the bank and creating debt. It just requires some creativity, flexibility, and a few vacation hours available at work!

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