If you want to avoid the financial blues after your summer break, adopt these simple strategies to cut down on spending, writes Christine Long.
Ideally the summer holidays leave us feeling rested, rejuvenated and ready for the year ahead. But sometimes in our rush for renewal, we forget to take care of our financial stress levels.
Splashing out on a break we can't really afford can result in a holiday clouded by arguments or anxiety about money. And the infection can keep on spreading if you spend months afterwards paying off an overloaded credit card.
The secret to really enjoying the holiday season? Finding a way to take a break without breaking the bank. Wonderful holidays are possible on a limited budget. It just means being resourceful. You keep accommodation costs low, or limit the outlay on transport, or keep a lid on the cost of meals and activities while you're away, or a mixture of all of the above. Here are 20 ways to have a summer holiday that is restful on every level.
1. Be the first to know
Sign up to e-newsletters and Facebook pages and you'll be on the spot when airlines, accommodation providers and entertainment venues offer special deals. Often they are fertile ground for competitions, too.
2. Do a campervan relocation
Love a road trip but your car isn't quite up to the task? Imoova.com lists one-way campervan relocations in Australia, New Zealand and the US. The daily hire fee can be as little as $1 and some fuel can be part of the deal. You get an allotted number of days to complete the trip, and where you go in between is up to you. Imoova's William Brice says campervan companies often need to relocate vehicles during the busy Christmas season. "From the beginning of December we get about 200 vehicles in a day from all the suppliers. As most of these are faster turnaround trips, the companies offer fuel allowances to get their deals taken with us." He says there are often great east coast relocation deals over the Christmas holidays as part of a seasonal movement of vans from the north of Australia to the southern states.
3. Swap houses or mind another house
Turn the Christmas holiday rush into a positive by swapping houses with someone in another city or country. It keeps accommodation costs low, there's the option to cook your own meals and you get the inside track on the must-see places to visit.
4. Have a home-town holiday
You can still get that holiday kind of feeling without leaving home. Grab the Slow Guide to Melbourne or its Sydney equivalent (Affirm Press); or Sophie Cunningham's Melbourne or Delia Falconer's Sydney (New South Press) and let them revive your sense of wonder about places on your doorstep.
5. Be a non-conformist
When everyone else is flocking to the beach, think mountains, outback, the tropics or rural farmstay. Places that have been impacted by a recent natural disaster can offer sweeteners to tempt people back to the region.
6. Keep it short and sweet
Short on dough? Even a 48-hour getaway can offer a concentrated burst of enjoyment. Book a package to see a concert, an art exhibition or a theatre production in another city. Going all-inclusive helps prevent over-spending.
7. Be an early bird
So your ideal destination is out of financial reach this year. Get in early and book for next year. While the likes of Wotif.com and Lastminute.com.au have focused attention on 11th-hour discounts, there are often early bird reductions for people willing to book in advance.
8. Curb add-on costs
Stretch the holiday budget by booking self-catering accommodation. Trawl listings on Airbnb.com; find a hotel room with a kitchenette; or find a caravan park or hostel with a communal kitchen. Or keep an eye out for deals at resorts that let kids stay and eat free. Save on holiday gear such as luggage, surfboards or camping equipment by borrowing or hiring rather than buying your own.
9. Think win-win
One Sydney couple scored a week in a holiday apartment in Coffs Harbour in January. The price? Reworking the accommodation provider's website.
10. Club together
Searching for affordable accommodation as a single or a couple can be a tricky business. Renting a whole house with a bunch of friends or family or sharing petrol costs are great ways to spread the financial load.
11. Get cabin fever
Pitching a tent or booking a cabin are low-cost ways to unwind. Jenny Sewell, marketing manager of North Coast Holiday Parks, a chain of 24 caravan parks with campsites, cabins and permanent beach tents on the NSW north coast, points to an ocean-view site at its Bonny Hills park which costs $65 a night or $410 a week. "It is right on the beach and accommodates the whole family. Along with the brand-new camp kitchen you can enjoy all sorts of kid-friendly activities in the park at no charge," she says. At its Hungry Head park a cabin that accommodates six costs $150 a night or $1050 for a week.
Conservation Volunteers are just one organisation that allows people to give back while they travel. Its projects offer incredible life experiences at a reasonable cost. In December its three-day Montague Island project ($595) includes accommodation in a heritage-listed lighthouse keeper's cottage; meals; and the opportunity to help with little penguin surveys. Other projects cost as little as $40 a night.
13. Try the newbie
Look out for new accommodation, activities and restaurants. They will often offer discounts to get customers in the door. When Tune Hotel opened in Carlton in October, it offered double rooms for a bargain $39 a night.
A search for a room in January turned up a twin for $75; a double for $85 and family rooms starting from $120.
14. Settle for the gateway
In the hectic holiday season a "gateway" town can be your best friend. Being close to the action rather than in it often spells cheaper accommodation; fewer crowds and a better choice of places to stay.
15. Splurge, just a little
Allow for a little indulgence. Devote just one or two nights to a luxury hotel stay and the rest to a more basic option. Or treat yourself to one slap-up restaurant meal by BYO-ing breakfast ingredients. Donna Rodios, product director at Wotif.com, also suggests looking for accommodation deals with guaranteed inclusions such as complimentary breakfast, luxury upgrades, free parking or late checkouts: "It's much better to book them upfront than try to blag them once you're there," she says.
16. Wing it
Use Lastminute.com.au's Secret Hotel and Wotif.com's Wot Hotel features to get a hotel stay that is discounted even further than the norm, often by up to 70 per cent. The only catch is you don't know the hotel's name until you've paid. Not that fussed about where you end up? Try searching "Melbourne to anywhere in January" on Adioso.com and see what comes up. We found return flights from Melbourne included Perth ($239); Kuala Lumpur ($489) and Singapore for ($507).
17. Make the most of freebies
Summer is a great time to get out and enjoy free outdoor concerts or movie screenings. Pack a picnic basket. Buy a cheap bottle of plonk or two and savour the feeling of summer. Another way to enjoy a freebie is to use some accumulated reward points to have an outing.
18. Be patient
Hold off until the end of the school holidays and you'll be rewarded with cheaper flights and accommodation. Wotif.com's Rodios says: "We've got some amazing package deals like return flights from Sydney to the Gold Coast with two nights' accommodation from as little as $215 a person for travel in February."
19. Centre yourself
CBD accommodation that typically caters to business travellers will be keen to have your custom in the summer period. Ascott Limited, which owns Citadines on Bourke in Melbourne, is offering stays in its apartment hotel from December 1 to January 31 from $159 per night. At its Somerset Serviced Residences in Perth, Hobart and Melbourne guests get a free apartment upgrade.
20. Enlarge your idea of holiday
A holiday can be about more than a destination. Book in to learn a new skill or set aside time to explore a spiritual or creative practice.
Keeping your vacation budget on track
1. Budget blowouts can be a product of being too tight in the first place. Consciously factor in a few treats.
2. Know what's included. Cleaning fees? Service fees? Administration fees? Tours?
3. Prepare for add-on costs. If you're getting a campervan, for instance, fuel will be more expensive away from cities and staying in caravan parks will cost you.
4. Pack your lunch. It works when you're in routine. Stick to it when you're away.
5. Use a debit card rather than a credit card.
6. Resist the souvenir shop or wandering through cute little boutiques. Your bank balance will thank you.
7. Take advantage of discounts. Use vouchers and check out deal websites to get discounts on local restaurants and attractions.
8. Avoid being tired and desperate when you're looking for somewhere to stay or eat. It can be a straight road to over-spending.
9. Remind yourself that the best things in life are free. Sleeping late. Walking on a beach. Having a laugh with family and friends.
10. Family or friends stuck for what to give you for Christmas? Ask them to pop a holiday outing or experience under the tree for you.