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Destination: Vacation

How to get away from it all—for less

Sam and Gina haven't had a real vacation in almost five years. Between the "necessary evil" expenses—the mortgage, car payments, utilities, their three kids' school and activity costs, insurance, credit card debt—there just doesn't seem to be anything left over for expendable funds such as a vacation.

"And we don't want to put a vacation on our credit cards," says Gina. "We've already got too much debt!"

Good news: There is a way to have a memory-making summer holiday break without breaking the bank.

Timeshares

Why not share your time with timeshares? Some couples receive several weeks on their ownership program each year, and sometimes they can't use them all. Anne, from New Mexico, uses two of her three timeshare weeks and then "tithes" the other week to a couple on a tight budget.

Most timeshare owners pay an average of $250 for the week. If you can't find a solo timeshare, consider sharing space with a friend or family member. There might be a family in your neighborhood, church, work, or community who's willing to split that fee and share the space. Or you could offer to pay the week's worth of fees, because $250 is still an inexpensive rate for a week's worth of fun at a nice resort.

What to know before you go: (1) Be sure you agree on a price before you take over someone's timeshare. (2) Ask the other party about any and all expenses--including cleaning fees and maintenance charges. (3) Make sure you know what facilities are available. You may assume you have access to a full kitchen, and budget accordingly, only to discover there are no such amenities. Ask also about laundry facilities, recreation perks, parking, and any clubhouse benefits.


Vacation with friends

If you have friends you like a lot and think your friendship can survive vacationing together, then double up and cut your bills in half.

The Greaveses and the Mortons tried this, and enjoyed it so much they made it an "every other year" tradition.

The normal price of a week-long mountain cabin rental with three bedrooms was $900. "We made sure we knew all the costs ahead of time," says Loretta Greaves. Each family paid $450 and their own gas.

You don't have to rent a cabin to double up with another family. There are many different options available on www.findrental.com. Suite hotels that offer extra rooms are also a possibility, such as the ones found at www.orbitz.com or www.cheaphotels.com.

For those who love the outdoors, sharing campsite fees or RV rentals can lower the price of a camping adventure. At www.RVRental.com you can find rentals across the country that range from $117 to $385 per day. Depending on the RV, other charges to consider are hospitality, kitchen, and/or emergency road kits. (These kits usually include the essentials you'll need to maintain and operate the RV.) Be aware that cleaning fees will apply if the RV isn't returned in the same condition.

What to know before you go: (1) Set ground rules or expectations before you hit the road. Discuss private family time, or couples only time. If you have younger children, this can be a great opportunity to swap babysitting to have a night out without the kids. (2) Talk about if you want the vacation to be more structured or more flexible. If your needs differ, consider each family going separate ways during the day, then getting together for supper and evening fun.


Home swaps

The idea of swapping homes has been around a long time, but is gaining popularity thanks to the ever increasing number of web-based exchange services such as www.homelink.org, www.intervac.org, and www.homeexchange.com. Many swappers like the ease of listing their homes and the opportunity to visit places they might never have considered. The other advantage is that instead of leaving your empty house as burglar-bait, you have a built-in caretaker while you're away.

Most exchange services charge $30 to $110 per year. (Be sure you ask about the total charges at the time you list your home.) If the listed date for a specific location isn't within your desired time frame, e-mail one of the swappers and ask if they could be flexible.

The key question is: Is it safe to turn over your home to a stranger? But home swappers (and exchange services) report remarkably few problems. According to Dan Akst, a writer for MSN Money, "Home exchangers tend to be prosperous, mature, well-educated professionals—not the types most likely to trash your home." These agencies conduct a general background check and track the prospective "swapper's" swapping history. If you live in an area that isn't in high demand, then your possibilities may be limited. But you may be surprised at the number of foreign families who'd love to absorb a small town or Midwest environment.

This alternative is especially attractive to families with young children, for whom hotel stays and lots of restaurant meals are impractical and often not enjoyable. One strategy is to swap with families who also have children, thereby adopting a kid-friendly home.

Your main expense will be travel costs. For the best airfares, go to www.cheaptickets.com, www.expedia.com, and www.travelocity.com.

Most rookie swappers try an exchange near home to get their feet wet before they swap with a family in Italy or Bora-Bora. A family of four in New York, purchasing advanced-fare discounted tickets at $229 each, could pay the $85 swap fee and visit Paris for only $991. The Kongers, a newlywed couple, chose this option and discovered the joys of a Parisian home for only $600 and made friends with their new "neighbors" in the swap!

What to know before you go: (1) Leave instructions or a user's manual for your home. (2) Check with your insurance company to make sure the new family is covered. (3) And don't expect the Taj Mahal.

Volunteer your way

When Mac Thompson decided to start a second career in his forties, he and his wife, Dina, suddenly found their vacation budget greatly reduced. They opted to go to a Christian campground in Colorado where they'd previously vacationed—this time as staff. Despite an increased workload, they had plenty of family time with a ministry emphasis. "We saved a lot of money and had a great vacation, but the real blessing was in teaching our children the benefits of serving other people," says Mac.

Instead of paying $1,000 for the week, they had a working vacation for free. While not all campgrounds offer this trade-off, if your family enjoys the great outdoors, it would be worth your time to contact a local retreat center or campground. Go to www.acacamps.org for the American Camping Association or try www.google.com and enter your state and "Christian campground" to find a location near you.

Wilderness Volunteers, www.wildernessvolunteers.org, is a nonprofit organization that offers people of all ages a chance to help maintain national parks, forests, and wilderness areas across the United States. Everything from trail maintenance to re-vegetation projects are on the agenda. Participants provide their own camping gear and share campsite chores. Most Wilderness Volunteer trips last about a week and cost around $219 per person.

What to know before you go: This option is best for families with older children, since some work will be involved.

No matter what your budget, it's important to invest in a meaningful time for your marriage and family. In years to come, you may not recall the price of the condominium or quality of the room service. But you'll always remember the special times spent with people you love. You won't regret the investment because the memories are priceless.

Ellie Kay, MP regular contributor, is author of The Debt Diet (Bethany House). Visit Ellie at www.elliekay.com.


Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Fun; Marriage; Vacation
Today's Christian Woman, Summer, 2005
Posted September 12, 2008

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