A few years back I found myself in a situation where I was doing a bit of traveling each weekend. Literally, every weekend I went away for at least one night and as often as I could manage it, two or more nights. The trips were usually not too far away, I usually stayed within an hour or two radius of where I lived. No, I was not independently wealthy or able to do that traveling because of some financial windfall. Through the two and a half years I only missed going away on 3 different weekends and they were not due to financial constraints, each of those were due to external factors (snow, sickness and death). Even more incredible was the fact that I actually managed to travel each weekend on a minimal budget! It is possible to travel with limited funds! It is possible to explore the world around us without a large travel budget. It just takes planning and flexibility to make your travel plans work with little money, I travelled on a shoestring budget.
Be open to going anywhere when Travelling on a Shoestring Budget
For two and a half years I went away each weekend on a very limited budget. It was an integral part of a relationship I was in (and still am in) for those years. I coveted those weekend hours and decided very early on that I would do whatever I had to do in order to make those weekends happen. During that time, at the bare minimum I stayed somewhere for 1 night each week, but I was always trying to find ways to stretch it to a two night or even a three night get a way. I was not independently wealthy. I didn’t have a high paying job. In fact, I was working a job that paid $10 an hour. With that said, you can see that I didn’t have a whole lot of extra money to play with. Yet somehow, week after week I was able to pay for gas and hotel expenses for travel, it IS doable! It is possible to travel and explore on a shoestring budget! It just takes planning and flexibility.
Being Flexible while Travelling
The first major concept to travelling on a shoestring budget is that you have to have flexibility. When you are looking to travel on a limited budget it is important to be willing to go to whatever place is offering a deal. When I had a set place that I wanted to stay, I almost always ended up paying more money for the accommodations that I booked. But when I was open to staying anywhere, I was able to score some incredible deals. As long as I was out and about, traveling and exploring something new; I didn’t care. Most of the time, I was willing to go to the area that offered me the best deal. I managed to book us rooms at some incredible hotels at a minimal cost. We were still getting away and exploring but the open flexibility that we had to stay anywhere and have no set plans introduced us to areas and experiences that I may have never encountered.
The first thing I would do each week when I was going to make our plans was to pull up my hotel app on my phone or pull up the website on the computer. I used Hotels.com and found that site to work great for me, but any such travel website or app would work. Each week I would have a general idea of how far we were willing to travel and I would begin my search. I would first pull up the map on the website (The information is the same between the website and the phone application, but the map to find a good radius is easier to navigate on the website.) I would then filter my search results to $50 and under and check all hotels within the radius that we were willing to travel. If I didn’t have any hits, I would raise the amount I was willing to pay by slow increments until I found something. I would check the reviews of the hotel and if it looked ok, then I booked. Now don’t get the idea that we were staying in the low budget hotels. Quite the contrary. Many times, we were staying at top of the line hotels. These hotels will lower their prices if they have a lot of available rooms. They do not want an empty room and $50 or $60 for a room is better than an empty room that is earning them no income. Most of the trips took place over the weekends and that opened up quite a few business class hotels as most business is conducted on the week days. I found that weekends near an airport also seem to have better rates, for the same reason due to those business travelers. I just had to be willing to follow the deals and stay wherever and in whatever town that I could find a good deal on a hotel.
Sometimes I didn’t have as much flexibility. I may have needed to be close to a certain location due to an event or place that I needed or wanted to see. I still found some incredible deals but once again it took a willingness to be flexible. I sometimes drove 5 miles further down the road to save $20 or $30 a night. Do I really need the pool? If I had a busy weekend planned, I eliminated hotels with pools as that sometimes was enough to save me a few dollars. I looked at the trip from all angles. Distance, amenities and even the size of the bed. Seriously, changing the size of the bed you get in a room can make a huge difference in price! Look at the room from all angles. If the hotel price seems too good to be true, read the reviews. I was looking for a hotel for a three-night stay, but I was really tight on money. I was almost willing to admit defeat and only go away for 1 or 2 nights because that is what the budget was allowing. But I searched and searched and searched. FINALLY, I found a hotel room for $19 dollars a night. It was near Atlantic City, NJ. I was nervous because come on now, $19 a night. I was really nervous. I read the reviews and the hotel looked decent. The only thing that I could discern was that it was about 3-5 miles from the beach and that I was booking the room for early October which was off season. I decided to jump on the room and I booked it. The room was just fine. It was clean, comfortable and roomy. I was willing to drive a bit. I was willing to have a locally owned hotel without a lot of the amenities and I was able to explore and experience Atlantic City, NJ on a shoestring budget!
Planning your trips on a Shoe String Budget
There were moments during my two and a half year run of going to hotels every weekend that I wasn’t sure how it would work out. But each time I sat back and thought about where I could cut a corner in order to make it work with the money that I had available for the weekend. I didn’t always buy the fanciest food when I was out and about. You know you can get a pizza for $5 right at Little Ceaser’s Pizza Right? If travelling and exploring meant that I had to eat a $5 pizza, then it was the sacrifice that I made because I wanted to spend that time travelling and exploring. Sometimes the hotels would have a breakfast and I would definitely partake of that, it was already paid for in the cost of my room. But when I stayed in hotels that didn’t have a breakfast option, I would eat leftovers from the night before. (I always make sure that I have a small refrigerator in the room for the express purpose of saving my leftovers.) There were weekends that I took food with me. There is nothing wrong with taking a cooler along. Fill it with your drinks and one of your meals it will save you a fair amount of money! If you want to travel and explore you will look at all the options and act upon them.
Exploring the local sites on a budget is also an act of planning. As soon as I would book a room, I would begin to look at what museums, parks and attractions were in the area. There are some amazing local museums that are absolutely free. There are parks that have beautiful views and a variety of activities. There are attractions that cost little to no money. Sure, some things will cost. But many things will be free or quite cost efficient. If you do your research you will have a great roadmap to the activities and places that you wish to explore in the area that you are staying in. I did this every weekend. I found places to see and things to do. We discovered the New River Gorge this way. Hiking is free and we knew that there was some amazing hikes, such as the Kaymoor Miners Trail in that area! Some cost money and some were free, but they all remained well within my shoestring budget. I would just plan. If the attraction we wanted to see cost more, I would shave off some expenses elsewhere (such as food). It was totally doable and we saw some amazing things!
Traveling on a shoestring budget is quite fun. I did it for those two and a half years. I wouldn’t trade those years and those memories for anything. They opened a whole new world for me and brought me to a deeper and closer relationship with the person that I travelled with. We frequently talk about those days. When we made a leap that caused us to not need to travel as much, we both vowed that we would never give up our weekends away! I may not need to be on such a strict budget since we are not traveling quite as much, but old habits die hard. I look for the best hotel deals. I weigh out the options of what we want to see and what amenities are available to us at each hotel and compare the costs. I still look for many of the free and low-cost attractions. I still take the time to plan out our get-a-ways. We may not always be low budget anymore, but I figure the more cost efficiently we can travel each time, the more often we can do it!
Everything is starting to open up and we are just itching to get out. It is vacation season after-all! We want to have some semblance of normalcy in this crazy times we are living in. We want to have our vacations! But is it possible to travel and go on vacation safely in the times of a pandemic? Can you go away and not risk your health and the health of your loved ones? Would we even have fun or would it all be closed down? I am here to tell you that you absolutely can go on a vacation and still remain safe amidst the worldwide panic of a pandemic. I have done it and I have felt just as safe and even just as isolated as I do in my own house.
Initial Planning for travel During the Covid-19 Pandemic
The first step toward taking any vacation is in planning. But with a pandemic raging around us, planning a vacation takes even more work. As with any vacation, you are going to need to sit down and think about what you normally like to do on vacation and where you normally like to go. Researching those areas is the first step. . Are the hotels even open? Will I be in a large crowd? Will I have to wear a mask 100% of the time? These questions are very important as your first step in planning. We had talked about going to the Ocean and we really wanted to go. However, all we were seeing when we checked social media and news outlets were crowds of people. People standing shoulder to shoulder with no face masks. No thank you. I have family members that are in the at risk population. It's not worth it. SO for me, that was not an option. I have friends that have opted to travel to the beach amidst the crowds and potential risks. They weighed the risk and for them, it was not a deterrent. I have friends that have gone to an amusement park and spent a full day in a mask out in the baking hot sun. For them, it was worth it. But for me? Not worth it at all! This is a purely individual choice. If your first option for a vacation locale seems a bit risky look elsewhere. You will not enjoy your vacation if you are constantly worrying about your health and the risks that you are taking. Calculate the risks versus your comfort level when choosing your vacation destination
When we were planning our covid get-a-way, we decided that we wanted to go to places that were more secluded. We wanted our primary destinations to be out in nature where we would not be required to wear a mask and where we would not be in large crowds. I pulled up a map and I started to search for State parks and National Parks. I was able to narrow down our search for a Pandemic Vacation Destination to one or two places. Once I got to that point, I dove deeper into the details of the travel.
Planning the Details for a Vacation during a Pandemic
Once we had our possible destination chosen, I started to research hotels. I started to look at museums that may be nearby. I started to look at possible activities. I created a list and I researched each open. Were the hotels open? Would we need to wear a mask? What was the status of restaurants in that area? Would we need to take all of our food to go or were they offering in house dining. What capacity were they operating at...would there be sufficient room between tables? What regulations would be mandated at museums? Many of these answers were online, but I did have to call a few hotels and a few locations to get the answers I needed. I knew that the small details that we usually take for granted would be utterly important!
Make your lists and check for the details!
We have done a few get-a-ways since they have started to lift the restrictions. I learned some valuable lessons about travelling in a pandemic along the way. The biggest thing I learned was that you need to ask for the details. Each state has different regulations. Each town has their own set of rules and each individual business has the right to make their own decisions about how and when to follow those mandated guidelines.
We went to a hotel in Weston, WV that had an indoor pool. For the same vacation I then made reservations at a hotel that had an outdoor pool in Fayetteville, WV where we were going to be travelling. I had researched the state's website about the pandemic and had noted that pools were allowed to open. We were going swimming! We arrived at the first hotel and found that the pool was open, just as we expected. No problem! However, when we arrived at the second hotel with the outdoor pool, it was closed due to the pandemic. It was disappointing, but completely my fault. I did the first part of the research but failed to specifically ask if the pool was open. A few weeks later when we went away again, I called hotel after hotel to find one that had a pool that was open! I had learned my lesson!
Food during a Pandemic Travel
Food is another big item to research while traveling. As was mentioned earlier, different locations have different regulations and this also pertains to restaurants. Are the restaurants even open? Can they do delivery and takeout? Can you dine in? Food is a necessity and often a large part of vacation. Don't find yourself in a predicament where your food options are not to your specifications. Likewise, if you are counting on the hotel to provide your breakfast, check before you book. We have stayed at three hotels during the pandemic. One of the hotels simply shut down their breakfast. One hotel gave a grab and go bag that contained a piece of fruit a granola bar and a bottle of water. Better than nothing, but a far cry from what we typically get for breakfast at a hotel. The third hotel (Hampton Inn in Weston, WV) did an amazing breakfast. Even better? It was done in such a way that the quality of the food did not suffer yet they managed to do so while making everyone feel safe within this pandemic. We have seen three different versions of how hotels are handling this situation. Check with the hotel before you go if this is something that you are concerned with.
Be prepared on your Pandemic Vacation
Take your masks! The state you are visiting may not require masks, but you WILL encounter places that do require the use of a mask. While we were visiting WV on our first trip, we found that only museums were requiring masks. I had researched and called beforehand, so we were expecting this. On our next visit to West Virginia a few weeks later the museum we visited did NOT require a mask but the local gift shop/stores did. It really does depend on each area. Do you research and go prepared with your masks!
It is definitely doable to go on vacation during this pandemic. Your decisions will need to be determined by your own personal comfort levels and the safety and precautions of the area in which you wish to travel. Traveling during a pandemic will require you to research and look deeply at your destinations. You will need to chose your options carefully based on the amenities, restrictions and allowances of each place. It may seem like a lot of work, but it is well worth it when you can step back into living, forget about all the craziness in our world and have a fabulous vacation in the middle of a world wide pandemic.
Belief In Living
Travel with us as we explore!