I was recently helping a friend with her family’s vacation planning. They desperately wanted to go to Disney World, but felt like they couldn’t afford it.
“It’s just so much more expensive than other places,” she said.
I asked her what they were going to do instead.
“Well, we’ll probably go to Cedar Point, instead. It’s cheaper.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, already knowing that she was wrong.
“Pretty sure,” she hedged.
I sat her down and we started running some numbers. She could go to Disney World in value season for five days for about $2,500 for her family of four, including airfare. This included park tickets, a room at a “value” resort, some extra spending money, and the Disney dining plan which was being offered for free during her dates. They wouldn’t need a rental car since they can use the Disney transportation system. A similar trip to Ohio to go to Cedar Point would run about $3,200, including park tickets, airfare, rental car, and food. Disney turned out to be cheaper.
“Wow,” my friend said. “I had no idea.”
I had another friend who wanted to take her kids to Busch Gardens for a couple of days, but thought it was too expensive. She figured she’d just take the kids to the local state fair for the day. Once we went through the numbers and found some discounts, a weekend at Busch Gardens was only $50 more than one day at the state fair. The difference lay in the ticket prices. Tickets to Busch Gardens include all the rides and shows and there are discounts for multi-day passes. Tickets to the fair required her to buy tickets for each ride the kids would want to ride, plus tickets to some special shows, on top of a basic entry fee. Since the kids would want to ride everything multiple times and there were a couple of shows they wanted to see, the fair became expensive quickly. She would have to pay more in gas to get to Busch Gardens and a hotel for one night, but the ticket prices offset most of that.
This is why it’s important to do your research and price compare everything when planning a vacation. We assume that certain destinations are out of reach, but they may not be. Promotions constantly change. What is expensive today might cost less tomorrow if demand drops or a great discount is offered. The pricing structure may also make one destination more affordable than another, as demonstrated by the fair example. You cannot say for certain that one destination is more expensive or less economical than another until you run the numbers.
We also base our assumptions on the experiences of others. The guy in the next cubicle just got back from France and gripes about how expensive it was. What he doesn’t say is that they stayed in five star hotels and ate at pricey restaurants every day. Or that he’s already hip deep in debt and that ANY additional spending would put him further into the hole. Or that they had no idea what they were doing and just booked the first thing the travel agent offered. Just because someone says a destination is expensive doesn’t mean that it is (or has to be).
Even if your destination is expensive, there are many ways to make an expensive destination cheaper. If you’re careful, you might be able to bring the costs down so they are comparable to “cheaper” destinations. Travel in the off-season, drive instead of fly, bring some of your own food or snacks, stay in a less expensive hotel or stateroom category, and look for discounts and promotions on everything. Read up on your destination and make a plan so that you aren’t at the mercy of people who want to take your money. Get several price quotes on all of your vacation components, too. Some providers have access to deals that others do not, but you won’t know this unless you shop around.
Don’t automatically assume that your dream cruise or destination is out of your reach just because you’ve heard that it’s expensive. Do your research and compare the numbers. You may find that your dream destination is actually cheaper than your second choice, or that it only costs a few dollars more. Think how hard you would kick yourself if you went to a less favored destination and came home to discover that you could have had your dream vacation and saved $300.