3 Ways to Slash Vacation Costs



Land or by sea, these ideas make long trips more affordable

Vacations of any length can be expensive, especially the long trips we want to take as our work and caregiving responsibilities taper off. Yet, retirees and those approaching retirement can’t risk exhausting their savings to indulge their wanderlust.


To be sure, the cost of travel is rising. In 2013, overall annual leisure travel costs averaged $3,311 per household, a $400 increase from the preceding year. Three in 10 households spent $4,000 or more, according to a recent report by Phocuswright, a travel industry research firm. Lodging and transportation account for a sizeable proportion of the typical traveler’s budget, each making up about 25 percent of total travel costs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So how can you afford a longer trip that lets you travel slowly and savor and connect with people and places? I interviewed several boomers — all intrepid travelers — and found these three creative ways to substantially slash travel costs:

Repositioning Cruises

During certain seasons, usually spring and fall, cruise lines typically reposition their ships to different regions for the upcoming season. For example, a line may need to move ships that cruise in the Caribbean to ports in the Mediterranean. Sailing on these repositioning cruises can help strategic travelers save considerable sums.
The sisters estimate they spent about half of what they would have ordinarily spent on a vacation had they stayed in hotels.

Anita Oliver and Richard Nash have been full-time travelers since 2012, calling themselves retired nomads. The couple was visiting the Dominican Republic last March and wanted to travel to Barcelona, Spain. Although they had never cruised before, they learned that Norwegian Epic was making an 11-night trans-Atlantic repositioning voyage from Miami, Fla. to Barcelona.

“At the time we looked at air tickets, we were thinking roughly $2,000 or more to get the two of us to Europe,” says Oliver. “But the cruise was about $1,800 for both of us after we upgraded to a balcony room. Since we have to eat and sleep somewhere, we ended up with 11 days and nights free! At least $1,500 worth of savings. We viewed it as an easy way to get from point A to B and it was also a great way to relax and meet new people.”

More pros:

  • Repositioning cruises offer value; per diem rates are far lower than on ordinary cruises
  • They are relaxing because they are lengthier; to combat boredom, many are themed
  • Lengthier voyages tend to foster camaraderie among fellow passengers
  • They entail a greater number of sea days, compared to more hectic and active port days
  • Traveling slowly through time zones (e.g. on a transatlantic cruise) helps minimize jet lag
  • Depending on the line you cruise, pricing can range from a mostly inclusive package (meals, accommodations, room service, entertainment, enrichment programs) to a very inclusive one (e.g. wines, alcohol, specialty coffees, Internet use, etc.)
  • Itineraries often offer visits to off-the-beaten-path ports along the way


  • Compared to air travel, cruising is a slower means of transport for getting from Point A to B
  • Some people tire of too many sea days without a chance to explore ports
  • If you need to return, one-way airfares are generally more expensive than round-trip tickets (although, these are sometimes included in the price of the cruise)
  • You can incur substantial additional expenses if you visit the casino, indulge in spa treatments, or purchase costly Internet packages
  • You may need to add on ground transportation costs to reach or leave ports

Home Exchanges

The concept of a home exchange is pretty straightforward: Two people simultaneously swap homes for an agreed-upon time period with no payment changing hands, virtually eliminating the expense of lodging.

When Canadians Brenda Janke and her sister, Donna were planning a European vacation a couple of years ago, Brenda used a home exchange company called Intervac to swap her home on Vancouver Island for a 10-day stay in a two-bedroom apartment in a desirable residential area of Barcelona. Their convenient home base was a short walk to the beach and 10-minute subway ride to the city center.

“One of the greatest strengths of a home exchange is the money saved,” says Donna. The sisters estimate they spent about half of what they would have ordinarily paid for a vacation had they stayed in hotels. “Staying in someone’s home also gives you more comfort and space, making it a great alternative for families with children and teens. It gives you a glimpse into how other people live and takes you a bit beyond the pure tourist experience,” she adds.

More pros:

  • Swapping homes has become easier, because technology has spawned a number of companies facilitating home exchanges, such as HomeLink USA and
  • You can interview prospective home exchange owners using Skype, Google Hangouts and other free or inexpensive video conferencing technology
  • You can cook your own meals, which lets you eat healthier and save the costs of dining out
  • You’re more likely to mix with neighbors and other locals


  • Finding an exchange requires time and energy
  • Flexibility may be required to find a mutually agreeable time for the swap
  • You may encounter language or cultural barriers
  • Home exchange programs have modest annual membership fees
  • Your “home” is likely to be located in a residential area
  • You may encounter (and have to resolve) “homeowner” problems such as those involving plumbing, heating or cooling
  • You need to ready your own home for guests

By Irene S. Levine


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