29 - 2008

8 ways to cut costs & impact on vacation

This year, I’m taking a vacation.

Well, to be honest, I’m taking a few.

I know flying isn’t low impact, by any means, and until last week, I hadn’t been in a plane since May 2004. However, I hadn’t seen my dad in a year and a half, and he lives a 14-hour drive away. Little Cheap and I squeezed in a long-weekend visit in April, and rather than spend all our time off in the car, we flew.

To celebrate Mr. Cheap’s finishing three years of grad school, we are going to take a grownups-only trip to New York City. We’re going to walk all day, visit every museum and gallery we can squeeze in, and eat exotic food. Not to mention sleep in and visit old friends.

And this summer, we’re all heading across the country to see the other side of the family, including cousins Little Cheap hasn’t seen in three years, and to let our little Pisces hit the beach. We thought about driving on that trip, but it’s hard to stomach six days of driving for the round-trip, so most likely we’ll fly there, too.

How will we try to minimize our footprint?

  1. Fly direct. I choose this for convenience whenever possible, but this Marketwatch article mentions that planes use the most energy taking off and landing, so you save something (beyond your sanity) by avoiding a transfer.

  2. Carbon offsets. When I purchased tickets directly from Continental, I could immediately link to a site where I could choose one of several carbon offsets to instantly purchase. Talk about motivating! And with airfares skyrocketing, what’s another $11?

  3. Use public transit. When we go to NYC, we will fly into Newark so we can take the Air Train right into Manhattan. It’s easy and, at $15 a ticket, cheaper (and probably faster) than a cab too. We’ll take the subways and buses while we are there, with no need to rent a car. Coming home from Minnesota, we planned to take our bus system’s Sky Ride from the airport back into the city (full disclosure: our plans were derailed by a sick child, and even the shuttle bus system would have taken us nearly 2 hours, and WAY out of our way, so we wound up taking a cab after all). But assuming your health allows, check out your destination’s public transit options.

  4. Rent a smaller car. I’m hoping we can rent a hybrid when we go to the East Coast this summer (I’d love to try one out). Even if we can’t, we’ll rent the smallest car that can accommodate us to try to get the best mileage.

  5. Rent an apartment. In New York, we looked at renting an apartment instead of staying at a hotel, although my timing was too late in the spring “high season.” Renting an apartment is usually more economical (for one thing, you don’t have to eat every meal out). And you aren’t paying for — or creating — the infrastructure of building a special lodging just for tourists. We rented an apartment in Paris seven years ago and did a home swap visit to California two years ago. It’s a great way to travel. Check listings on Craigslist or other ad sites, but remember, buyer beware — be cautious about where you send your money.

  6. Turn things off. I’ve known people who shut their water off when they go on vacation, in hopes of preventing a flood when no one is there. For our trips when we’re all away, I’m going to emulate them and go a step further: Turn off the hot water heater and unplug everything except the refrigerator in an attempt to bring our energy use down to almost zero while we are not living in our house.

  7. Bring snacks. You can’t bring liquid snacks on a plane anymore. But pack your own chewing gum for the ups and downs and bring along granola, homemade oatmeal cookies, chunks of cheese or nuts to give yourselves an energy boost without running up your credit card at the post-security shops.

  8. Make your own meals. If you’re staying in lodging with a kitchen, bring along home-cooked and frozen meals and you’ll save a bundle. Even if you buy frozen pizza or frozen lasagna to make life easy on vacation, a family of three can save $25 a meal over a mid-range family restaurant. Over a week, that’s almost enough to pay for someone’s airfare.

We certainly won’t be traveling this much every year — but I’m not ready to just stay home (and give up seeing most of our relatives) for the rest of our lives.

How do you shave costs — or your environmental impact — when you travel?

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