New Year travel plans for the frequent but frugal traveler

Visitors admire Half Dome from Yosemite's Glacier Point. Yosemite makes a great place for a mini-vacation if you live in northern or central California!

The Marchants of Baynes Lake, British Columbia, Canada, were our first Affordable Travel Club hosts a few summers ago.
Close-to-home mini-vacations, like exploring Rose Hill Cemetary in Black Diamond Mines Regional Park in the East Bay area of CA. The cemetery is final resting place of over 100 miners and their families from CA’s coal mining district, which boomed in the late 1800s.
The America the Beautiful federal senior pass has saved is over $3,000 in last five years. Get all the discounts (AAA, AARP, travel clubs, annual passes) that you are entitled to!
Church of the Steps (circa 1859) interior, in historic Mt. Adams district, Cincinnatti, OH. Use surprise trips (like for an Ohio wedding) as opportunity for exploration!

Extend your New Year travel plans; ideas for the frequent but frugal traveler…

With the New Year approaching, many of us are contemplating our upcoming travel plans. I’m reminded of the Susan Sontag quote, “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” My wife and I are retired, but even if you’re still working, we will get creative to extend your travel days.

First, don’t overlook travel close to home, or in your nearby region. Take weekend overnight trips to the gems like the gold rush towns in the Sierra foothills, or to lovely nearby towns like Lodi or Modesto. Within two hours are the allure of Lake Tahoe, Napa/Sonoma wine country, the Bay Area and the Big Sur coast.

I’m also reminded of the quote, author unknown, “travel while you can”. We’ve known too many friends who stated “we’ve got big travel plans upon retirement”; their health or financial situation changed and those plans never reached fruition. Work at staying fit, take brisk neighborhood or trail walks or use a gym membership (paid for as part of our Kaiser Permanente membership) to maintain your traveling tone.

Should business travel or unexpected trips present themselves, use them to tour new places; a niece’s August wedding gave us a chance to explore Cincinnati, OH, and we discovered the history and unique neighborhoods of the old “Queen City” on the Ohio River.

Don’t hesitate to use all your allotted vacation; if you can, harness a vacation week with a three day holiday weekend, making it a 10 day vacation. Or, if you can save unused vacation over to the next year, bank the days for an extended, longer vacation.

Use discounts for all they’re worth. AAA, AARP and other travel clubs discounts will save you money on many purchases. If you’re a veteran, many places offer 10% discounts; ask! When booking hotel or motel rooms, wait until the day the room is needed, and book through Priceline.com or booking.com, saving up to 50%. We once thought we had to book our hotel motel rooms weeks in advance; we never do that and rely on same-day reservations for big savings – and have never missed out on a  room.

For extended stays look at VRBO.com or Airbnb.com. Over the last two years, we’ve booked weeklong stays at beautiful beachfront condominiums on Kauai and Hawaii’s Big Island for about $105 a night. If VRBO existed 20 years ago, we would never have bought two timeshares. And, with Uber and Lyft, do you really need a pricey rental car for a week’s stay in many destinations?

If you frequently visit national parks, monuments and other federal properties purchase an annual pass or, if age 62 and older, the federal senior pass. Our America the Beautiful senior pass offers half off entry fees to all national parks and monuments, and half off almost all campground fees – saving us more than $3000 over the last five years as we toured the US with our classic 64 Scotty travel trailer (another marvelous way to see the country and save money).

Booking airfares? Most experts suggest booking about 60 to 90 days out, with best prices usually posted on Tuesdays. Pack light and save on checked luggage. Take Uber or Lyft to the airport and save on long-term car parking fees.

Meal savings? We take advantage of motel breakfasts, can get a cheap lunch almost anywhere.  For dinner, Susan and I have become expert at dining early by sampling several happy hour dishes while savings on drinks. If we splurge on a real dinner, we ususally split a main course and a salad, and never leave hungry.

For frequent travelers, consider inexpensive travel clubs like the Affordable Travel Club, affordabletravelclub.net; or Evergreen Travel Club, evergeenclub.com. Membership is $65 a year; when you travel you email or phone ahead a week or so, spend a night or several with one of the 2500 members in cities and towns across the US, Canada and world; hosts offer a nice bed, breakfast in the morning and you tip them $20 on the way out the door. It sure beats a $140 Comfort Inn!

We have met 10 classy members that way, making new friends in the US and Canada, and hosted almost as many, including a retired couple from England who have offered to put us up when we get to their country. Club membership also opened the door to us to six housesitting gigs in the last three years, at wonderful homes in Seattle (twice), Denver, Tucson, St. George, Utah, (and three weeks in Albuquerque, NM coming up). Virtually free travel accommodations, if you have the time and don’t mind watering plants to watching over a cat or dog.

In the next two weeks we’ll bring you bucket list recommendations for both California and the western United States travel destinations. Use holiday family time to discuss and plan the coming year’s travel plans. “Get traveling!”, Rick Steves would note.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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