I went to spring training in Arizona recently with some friends, and while it’s difficult to call four days away from home a real vacation, the short vacation still felt like a worthwhile one.
Four days off in a row is basically a long weekend, and it can be hard to justify the expense of a flight, hotel, rental car, meals, souvenirs and other expenses that often come with a vacation.
I’m a big baseball fan and a trip to spring training is worth the expense, but spending a lot of cash for four days of fun is still hard to justify. For example, spending $1,000 over four days is a lot more expensive per day — $250 — instead of over a week, though extra time will add to your cost. But my thought is if you’ve already spent the money on a flight somewhere, you might as well enjoy being there for more than a few days.
With some planning and the generous help of friends, I made the visit to Arizona an inexpensive trip. The financial tactics I used can be used for any trip, short or not, but can be especially helpful on a budget for a short trip.
Here are five ways to save on a short vacation:
Go where friends and relatives live
I have family and friends living in Arizona, and while I didn’t impose on them during this trip for a bed to crash on, some have invited my wife and I to stay in their homes if we’re ever in the area.
You never know if those invitations are sincere or not, but if they are, then three nights is probably the most amount of time you’d want to spend there for the sake of everyone. You want to be a good guest, and after three nights it can get difficult.
The high school friend who hosted us during this trip is an incredibly nice guy and has offered to let me stay at his house. On this trip I was traveling with two other friends, so there wasn’t room for all of us.
Still, he was nice enough to drive us around, and offered to let us use his family’s second car — which we declined. Luckily, we found a place to stay that was a short drive from his house. And that’s another area to see if a friend or family member who lives in the area you’re visiting can help you out in — transportation. Many people have second cars that sit idle all day, or you could use Lyft, Uber and public transportation.
When planning a short vacation, start with places where you know people who live there, and be sure to offer them the same hospitality in return.
Don’t fly on a Sunday
Our trip was from Wednesday through Saturday on Southwest Airlines. Flying on those days made the tickets pretty cheap, as did flying after the morning rush.
I looked into adding an extra night, but flying back home on a Sunday would have doubled the cost of my flight. Everyone wants to fly home on a Sunday, it turns out, and airlines take advantage of this by charging extra.
It’s also worthwhile to sign up for email alerts from your favorite airline for sales and last-minute deals. Southwest offers last-minute packages that can include a flight, hotel and car.
Plan for one major event each day
We were going to spring training, so going to a baseball each day was our main goal. It was about 95 degrees each afternoon and our seats were in the sun, so after the game we were pretty exhausted.
To avoid vacation burnout, I like to have a few “off” days during vacation where nothing is planned. But with a short vacation of only four days, it’s worth it to do as much as you can in that short time without burning yourself or your travel mates out.
Our goal each day was to get to a baseball game, then play it by ear afterward. The heat was exhausting, so a few hours to rest after the game was worthwhile.
Did this make our trip cheaper? Overall, yes. It gave us one major expense for the day and got us to focus on the purpose of the trip — to see baseball games. We went to four games in four days, with our final game a 1 p.m. A’s game Saturday before our 6 p.m. flight home Saturday.
Instead of doing a lot of tourist things each day, we focused on one thing and then relaxed.
Cheap lodging for a short vacation
After being unable to find a decently priced hotel room for the three of us, we found a condo for rent on Airbnb. It was reasonably priced at $200 per night (our trip was only for three nights), so it was only $200 per person for the entire trip.
We also saved some money by buying groceries on our first day for breakfasts for the next three days and for dinner one night. It can pay off to have a kitchen.
I’m not a big fan of Airbnb for a few reasons, but this one worked out fine. The condo was across the street from the Chicago Cubs spring training facility, which we went to on our first night for a game and walked to, and was a short drive to our host’s home.
Again, if you can find a friend or relative who has a bed for you for a few nights, that’s the best option. Otherwise look for hotel rooms well in advance of your trip or use Airbnb, VRBO or other online sites to stay in a local’s house.
Deals on daily expenses
Beyond the basic costs of getting somewhere and having a roof over your head are the daily costs that make vacations enjoyable. Some are necessities — such as cold water bottles on a hot day — and others are fun things you want to do in a new location.
The simple need of having enough water to drink in the desert is expensive at a baseball game. A 16-ounce bottle of water was $4 at a spring training game. Luckily, the stadiums allow each person to bring in one bottle, so we froze bottles of water the night before a game and that was enough to quench our thirst for at least a few innings before we had to buy more water.
One day I drank 100 ounces of water. Most of it was free or cheap at a grocery store, but I still bought two $4 bottles at an A’s game.
Whatever your vacation budget, consider going grocery shopping and making your own meals at least half of the time. You’ll save money for other things.
Another area to save is in your main daily activity. Ours was a baseball game, and our kind host used his work contacts to get free tickets to a few ballgames.
I don’t expect to get that lucky on every short vacation, but if you know someone in the city you’re visiting, they may be able to get you free or discounted tickets to some event in town.