Vacation savings: Are we there yet?

Stacey Vanek Smith Jul 3, 2009
Beach chair and piggy bank iStockPhoto

Vacation savings: Are we there yet?

Stacey Vanek Smith Jul 3, 2009
Beach chair and piggy bank iStockPhoto


Stacey Vanek-Smith: With all the news of housing prices, job losses and government bailouts you might have forgotten… It’s summer! Vacation season!

Of course, many of us — myself included — didn’t book our trips because of worries about the economy. AAA reports the number of Americans traveling this weekend is at a three-year low, even though gas prices are roughly half what they were last year. But it’s not too late for us.

Pauline Frommer, of the travel book Frommer’s, writes a series of budget travel books. We asked her to give us the skinny on where the good vacation deals are this summer.

Pauline Frommer: We are seeing the best deals in travel to pretty much every part of the globe that I have ever seen in my career in travel. And that includes the period right after 9/11, when travel was depressed as well.

I returned from Rome just this Saturday. My plane out there was half empty. We were all able to lie down in entire rows of seats. A year ago, that would’ve been a fantasy.

Vanek-Smith: I, myself, did not plan a summer vacation, because we were all sort of waiting to see with our finances. Now of course, we’re going crazy and have decided we have to take some kind of summer vacation. What do you recommend for people like me who didn’t plan ahead?

Frommer: Sure. The thing that you do is you follow the disasters in where you travel.

Vanek-Smith: Like an ambulance chaser, only for travel.

Frommer: Yes, be an ambulance chaser this summer for travel. For example, Ireland. The Celtic Tiger is now a pussy cat. It’s seen its economy melt down and we’ve seen incredible air/hotel packages to Ireland for the summer months — $699 for airfare from New York, six-day care rental and vouchers for B&Bs all over the country. Iceland, another example. Great prices in Iceland. Go where the disasters are.

The housing crisis is hitting people who have bought vacation condos. So you can play “Let’s Make a Deal.” I was actually looking at Hawaii. They lost a full 25 percent of the flights that used to get there, when Aloha Airlines went bankrupt and ATA. I’ve seen two-bedroom condos going for as little as $80 a night on the island of Maui.

Vanek-Smith: Wow, I’m sold. If people are having trouble with their finances right now, what’s the best approach to planning a trip?

Frommer: Travel providers really are desperate. What I’m worried about is we’re going to start seeing some go belly up. So this may be the first year that you consider getting travel insurance. I’m not talking about a hotel night or an airfare, but if you’re going to take a cruise, if you’re going to take a package tour, if you’re going to rent an apartment, you may want to get insurance, just to protect your money.

Vanek-Smith: You can find more of Pauline Frommer’s tips on frugal travel on our Web site at

Another cheap option? Camping. Kampgrounds of America has seen a record number of reservations and they say the number of rookie campers is up 20 percent over last year. So I headed down to a local outdoors store, Adventure 16, to find out what it costs to finance a camping trip.

Assistant Manager Heather Christianson helps me figure out what I need. She says she’s seeing a lot more people like me.

Heather Christianson: We’re seeing a lot fewer people looking for the high-end toys — the new, cool GPS watch or the brand new tent that’s 4 ounces lighter than their previous tent. People aren’t really shopping for that. What we are seeing a lot more of it people who are price conscious, they’re looking for activities they can do on a budget, and they may be new to this.

And there are some basics every beginner needs, like a tent.

Christianson: The basic ones will run you anywhere around $175, all the way up to $400.

Right. The $175 one looks fine. Next on the list: a sleeping bag.

Christianson: This is part of the UltraLamina series by Mountain Hardware. It’s also incredibly light, if you feel it.

Vanek-Smith: And how much is it?

Christianson: Something like that usually runs you about 190, 200 bucks.

So, $175 for the tent and $200 for the sleeping bag.

Christianson: Pack up! And now you want to tighten up those shoulder straps.

Vanek-Smith: Oh wow, OK.

Christianson: Do you feel how that pulls on your lower back?

Vanek-Smith: Yeah. Whoa yeah.

Christianson: Good.

The not-so-good thing about this Gregory Frame backpack is the $200 price tag, which brings my grand total to $575. And I’m not done yet.

Christianson: Hiking poles: from $40 to $110. Socks: about $16 a pair. Boots: $200. Fifty bucks for a pair of hiking pants that zip off at the knee. Synthetic shirt:$30-$35.

Doesn’t take long to hit the thousand dollar mark. Especially since there are all of these tempting gadgets around, like the Jetboil cook stove for 100 bucks.

Christianson: It will boil a liter of water in about 40, 45 seconds, even at 11,000 feet.

Vanek-Smith: Wow.

Christianson: Are you familiar with JetBoil?

Warren Linz: Yeah, I love it.

Christianson: Yeah, it’s my stove.

Warren Linz was there shopping, too. He’s a veteran backpacker.

Vanek-Smith: So you have the fancy stove. Do you spend a lot on gear?

Linz: Yes, I do. I spend a hell of a lot on gear. And it’s not cheap. It’s not cheap. It’s not like you’re saving money. I probably spend more on my gear than at the Four Seasons for the weekend.

Oh, but Heather says she can trick out a family of four for around $500, if they rent their gear. Warren says even with all his gear, though, he spends a few hundred dollars before every camping trip. But to Warren, a week in the wilderness: priceless.

Linz: It’s not about the money necessarily, no. It’s about getting out there, tasting the fresh air. To me it’s a place where you find a bit of peace and quiet and silence.

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