How to plan a couple’s getaway for under $350

One afternoon my wife casually emailed me a blog post about a couple with a tight budget who went on a “babymoon” before their child was born.  Our budget is really tight because we are having to put every spare cent aside to pay for our medical bills and save for her maternity leave.  But, I knew my pregnant wife needed some time to get away before the craziness really hit, and our 6 year wedding anniversary was approaching…  I didn’t say anything to her then, but I was determined to make something happen.   A few years ago we started a tradition of going out to a really nice restaurant on our anniversary (think Ruth’s Chris, Melting Pot, etc) instead of giving presents.  I had $90 in cash already set aside for our night out, so after some research and a little inspiration from the blog post,  I decided to surprise her with a weekend couple’s getaway for under $350.  That includes hotel, gas, food, spending money, everything!

The Friday that I had planned to leave, my wife was having an especially stressful day at work.  While she was telling me about it, I sprung my surprise.  I told her to pack a bag with at least two days of clothing and to be ready to leave after dinner.  She was quite puzzled, but she didn’t complain!  The look on her face that night and the time we spent together that weekend was worth 100x what we paid.  Whether you are taking a babymoon or just need to rekindle the flame of red hot monogamy, time away together is important.  But it doesn’t have to break the bank — you could honestly do it for even less if you pick the right location!  Here are 7 tips to plan your own couple’s weekend getaway on a tight budget:

1.) Plan ahead.  When you first get the idea to take a vacation, go ahead and start putting cash away.  $10 this week, $20 the next… put it in a safe place where you won’t spend it (an envelope in a sock drawer or a home safe will do nicely).  Use this time to start doing research and to develop a general idea of what you want to do.  Pick a city that offers activities that fit your personalities and budget.

2.) Pick the right hotel and be open minded.  Lodging is your single largest expense, so it literally pays to take your time and make a good decision!  If you’re not used to frugal traveling, you also need to be open-minded about staying in a budget-friendly hotel.  This is where research is key!  When you find hotels that fit your budget, read the reviews closely.  Don’t just look at the “star” rating, actually read what people are saying!  A lot of people are picky and will rate a hotel badly if it simply looks dated or is missing swanky amenities.  However, if there are specific complaints about safety, cleanliness, or odors — that’s a deal breaker. Make TripAdvisor.com  your new best friend!  Give it a city and your travel dates and it will show you virtually every lodging opportunity available.  I keyed in what I wanted to search for, then sorted the results by price.  There were several options in the range of $45 – $60 per night, so I started reading reviews.  I narrowed it down to three selections.  Two hotels priced at $110 for a two night stay, and the third was $135.  A word of caution if you’re a budget nerd like me:  It may be tempting to go too far to the money-saving extreme.  The two cheaper hotels had middle-of-the-road reviews… some people had a fine experience, but there were a number of iffy complaints.  The third option was $25 more, but even the critical reviewers consistently rated the hotel as clean and friendly.  When you’re planning something for your spouse, sometimes going for the lowest price isn’t the wisest idea.  In this case, spending the extra $25 was a good idea.  One last tip… While I used travel sites to find and research hotels, I found that I could get virtually the same rate by booking directly through a hotel’s own website.  There’s nothing wrong with booking through a reputable third party,  but booking directly with the hotel made me feel less anxious that there would be a problem with our reservation when we got there.

3.) Be smart about food.  It is shocking how quickly food can drain your budget on a vacation!  As you’re leaving for your destination, stop at a discount store and buy drinks and snacks for the road and to keep in your room.  For $7 at Wal-Mart, you can buy a pack of 20 bags of assorted chips.  This will keep you from stopping at a convenience store or feeding your money to a vending machine every time you feel like a snack.  Also, plan your larger meals in advance and spend intentionally.  Decide if you want to spend your money on a nice dinner or save it for more activities.  And always look for coupons online!  We wanted to eat a “sit down” dinner on Saturday night, so I found a coupon for a free appetizer at Chili’s.  We used the coupon to feast on their chips with salsa and queso.  I drank a soda and my expectant wife had water.  For our meal, I ordered the “big mouth bites” with a side of stuffed mashed potatoes and an add-on bowl of chicken enchilada soup.  My wife and I split the food and we were both so stuffed that we had left overs!  Our bill was $16.  We left a $5 tip bringing our total cost to just $21.

4.) Find free and cheap things to do.  A simple google search for “free and cheap things to do in XYZ city” will usually pay out a wealth of ideas!  If the trip is a surprise, be sure to keep your spouse’s personality in mind.  Otherwise, plan out your activities together.  Museums are a great option because they come in different varieties such as art, science, and history.  If the weather is nice, look for parks — or for a more “adult” outing — an open garden.  Something new I discovered while researching our trip was historic homes open for tours!  The city I work in has several that are free, but the ones in our destination city typically charge $10 per person for a guided tour.  On Saturday morning, we ate a late breakfast and headed to the historic district.  We walked to the home that we wanted to tour and paid $22 for an hour-long excursion.  As a bonus, we got to take a free stroll through their beautiful and expansive gardens.  On the way out, we stopped at a sub shop and each bought a drink and a bag of chips to snack on while we rested.  We then walked down the block and boarded a trolly for a 45 minute narrated tour.  The trolly ride was $22 for our two tickets, but the driver was so entertaining that I dropped an extra $5 in his tip jar.   By this time, my expectant wife was exhausted, so we just hung out in our hotel room until time for dinner at Chili’s.  After dinner, we drove 20 minutes to a nearby beach.  We found free parking and walked down the boardwalk in front of an ocean sunset.

5.) Be creative.  The best ideas are often the least expensive.  Take a small DVD player with you to hook up to the hotel TV.  Rent a movie from RedBox or a local video store and bring popcorn, candy, and drinks for a movie night in.  Rent a convertible to drive through the city (or the country, beach, etc).  If you shop around, you can find some great deals on short term rentals.  If there are mileage restrictions or your preferred car is a gas guzzler, you may want to rent the car from a company in your destination city and just pick it up after you’ve checked into your hotel.  Go on a $10 shopping spree at a local thrift store to see who can make the best find.  Being creative will not only save you  money, it will make your inexpensive getaway feel a lot less inexpensive.

6.) Splurge effectively.  While you’re finding ways to save money on your weekend getaway, it’s okay to splurge once in a while.  But splurge on something that will really make the moment special.  It can be a special activity, or it can be something much simpler.  Remember that sunset stroll on the boardwalk from tip # 4?  When we got there, my beautiful expectant wife had to use the bathroom (of course).  So we stopped at the Starbucks next door.  On our way out, I made sure she bought her favorite (decaff) white chocolate mocha.  It wasn’t that expensive, but it communicated that I was thinking about her and that she was more important to me than just legalistically following a budget.

7.) Be together.  Don’t get so wrapped up in following a budget or planning activities that you miss really spending time together.  Remember – that is the whole reason you are getting away!  Be flexible, be smart, and relax.  Incidentally time spent talking, laughing, and being intimate is free and is absolutely the best investment that you can make! 

Our Getaway Budget
Hotel – $135
Gas (280 miles) – $35
Snacks & drinks – $32
Krispy Kreme – $13
Saturday Breakfast – $15
Historic District Parking – $7
Historic House Tour – $22
Historic Garden Tour – Free
Snack at Jimmy John’s – $6
Trolly Ride- $27
Dinner at Chili’s – $21
Starbucks Mocha – $4
Stroll on Boardwalk – Free
Sunday Breakfast – $10
Worship at local Church – Free
Thrift Store Shopping – $8
Sunday Lunch – $10
Talk, Love, & Laughter – Priceless
Grand Total = $345

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