Frugal Vacations: Traveling With Friends (Part 1)

We are planning yet another vacation with friends for one of the upcoming long weekends. After several months with no long weekends, we are itching to get out and have some fun. We have realized that traveling with friends is one of the most frugal ways to travel, and is a great way to squeeze a lot of fun into the precious few days of the vacation. In this part of the two part series, we will look at why traveling with friends can be a frugal way to have a vacation. In the next part of this series, I will list some of the do’s and dont’s that we follow in our group to ensure everyone can get the most out of the vacation.

So why is traveling with friends a frugal option for a vacation?

Either less expensive, or better quality accommodation
If you have gone on a long vacation to a popular tourist spot, you know that accommodation eats up a big part of your budget. In popular destinations, it is not uncommon for a room in a crumbling motel, bang in the middle of a busy street, with just one bed to cost in excess of $100 per night! Compare that to a fancy 2 or 3 bedroom cottage or a chalet in a scenic location that costs $200 - $400 per night, but can accommodate 8 to 10 people. The cost per head will be similar or lesser (depending on your specific situation), but you will get to enjoy a much better quality of stay. Here is an example of the cottage we stayed in during our Alaska trip. It cost us ~$48 per head per night (including tax + group discount), which was the most we paid for any accommodation on that trip. Included in the price was a “priceless” view of the Homer spit, the ocean *and* the mountains, breakfast served, a full kitchen to make “tea” the way *we like it* in the morning and a cupboard stashed with board games so we could play into the wee hours of the morning (since it was light outside until after 2am anyway!). Compare that to a motel in town on a noisy street which worked out to ~$42 per head per night, with no view, no breakfast and not even a kitchenette!

We did not spend our entire vacation budget on fancy accommodation like this all the time. Keeping the cost down was also a criteria. So on some of the days, where we were booked to the hilt with activities and only came back to the room to crash, we chose rooms in a motel, but with multiple beds in a room. They cost just ~$20-$40 more than what a room with one bed costs. Add a roll away bed for another $10 and you can put even the priciest locations within reach of even students on a tight budget. On an even tighter budget? Check out hostels. We looked into this during a couple of trips, but never really opted for it. But the idea is, a hostel costs as much if you are by yourself or in a group, but in a group, you will have one of the dorm rooms mostly for your group alone. That makes it a lot more fun than sharing it with the geeky dork who is taking the trip to visit the museums and wants the lights out at 9:30 pm!

Car rental is more affordable
Whenever we travel, we usually rent a car since that gives us a lot more freedom and flexibility to go where we want, when we want. Now irrespective of whether 1 person rides the car or 4, the rental cost is the same. With multiple drivers, there may be an additional charge to add a driver, and if you get a full-size car instead of a coupe, the cost may go up a little, but overall the cost per head goes down drastically.

Group discounts on a lot of activities, so much more fun too
We are big on outdoor activities. And other than hiking, most others cost money. Be it a ski trip or a simple canoeing trip, when you are in group of 6 or more, most joints offer a 10% discount. This can help you reduce what you pay for your activities, or help you squeeze in one additional activity for the same budget. And a lot of the activities are so much more fun when you do it in a group. Take for example skiing. The better half is quite athletic and picked up skiing within a couple of hours on the bunny slopes and was itching to take on more challenging trails. I on the other hand, could either muster balance or the ability to stop, but not both at the same time :) Believe me, it was quite embarrassing and disastrous! The second time we went was in a group, and I stayed on the bunny slope with a bunch of others having a lot of fun ribbing each other on our “abilities”, while the better half and a few others tried the green and black diamond trails and were happier with their more “thrilling” vacation.

Cost of meals can be reduced
In places where breakfast was not included in the board, we would buy a box of cereal and some milk, and brew our own coffee and save ourselves from springing a chunk of change for breakfast. On occasions, we take out food from restaurants in bulk and share it family-style so we can keep the cost down. On one of the long trips, on one night we actually picked up some groceries and had a BBQ cookoff! Depending on the size of your group, and your individual attitudes you can save anywhere between a little to a lot on meals, while traveling in a group.

Savings in unexpected forms
While we were on our previous vacation, I found that the batteries in my camera were leaking and would drain out within a short time. We were in a *very* touristy place, and a pack of 2 batteries cost ~$18. If we were on our own, I would have bought those batteries anyway, since I did not want to miss any photographs of our vacation. But since we were in a group and several others had cameras, I just decided to pass until we were in a bigger town and I could stop at a Walmart for the batteries. It was an unexpected cost savings. There were several other situations like this – for instance one of the other girls forgot to get her contact lens cleaner. I am sure in a touristy place that would have cost a fortune, but instead of buying one she just used the solution another guy had brought with him.

Overall, you can save quite a bit by traveling in a group. And if it is a group of friends that you enjoy the company of, you can have a lot of fun too. Remember to choose your group well though. One person with bad spending habits or a sour, whiny attitude can bring the whole thing down. But once you have a group that you like, set up some simple rules that avoid friction and maximize the amount of fun you can have. More about this in Part 2.

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