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This weekend I wrote a post about living in the moment. I’ve been trying really hard to take advantage of right now. How many things do you have on your mental bucket list, just waiting for the right time? I have a lot on mine, places I want to visit, restaurants I want to try, things I want to do… So lately I have been trying to fit things on that list into my daily life, rather than waiting for a convenient time. Tax return season is the perfect time to check a bigger item off my list, since we have a little extra cash.
One thing on my list is going on spontaneous vacations. I love the idea of dropping everything and leaving. Our budget doesn’t allow that very often. But it hit me recently that there are a lot of places close by that we could go on a ‘mini vacation’ for pretty inexpensive. We live near Niagara Falls, Toronto, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Buffalo – all fun cities to visit for a day trip. We have been trying to decide what to do with our tax return, we wanted to do something fun and not too expensive. So last week when Kris randomly had a couple days off midweek (he is on a weird schedule for Emergency Medicine right now!) we checked off a bucket list item and jumped in the car and drove up to Niagara Falls for a spontaneous little mini vacation.
5 Steps to Planning a Spontaneous Mini Vacation
A mini vacation is a trip to somewhere close by, that place you always say you will visit when you have time, but never get around to. It is the perfect way to travel on a budget. Tax return season is the perfect time to take a mini vacation financially. If you want to take it a step further like me, you can switch over to Walmart Family Mobile and save even more money. All while still enjoying unlimited data, which is super useful on a vacation (*Includes up to 10GB of 4G LTE† data then 2G). Your tax return will easily cover a few nights in a hotel and some fun excursions, so here are the steps to planning your mini vacation.
1. Set your Budget
Before you start planning decide what your budget will be. We decided to use just a little bit of the money from our tax return and put the rest of our return in savings. One of the benefits of a mini vacation to somewhere nearby, is that you eliminate flight and car rental costs. Your trip will be a lot cheaper this way! It is the perfect way to vacation on a budget.
2. Choose a Location & Book it
Like I said above, choose somewhere close by. You don’t have to live near New York or Niagara to find a charming or interesting city to visit! Look up nice hotels or bed and breakfasts near you. If you have kids look up a hotel with a pool or indoor waterpark, or if you want an inexpensive romantic getaway, try searching ‘relaxing retreat/spa near me’ and find a place that offers a couples spa package. Remember to read reviews online before you book!! We never plan a vacation without reading lots of user reviews on TripAdvisor.
3. Plan Your Itinerary
This is the fun part! Once you are booked, start planning activities. I always like to have a loose schedule planned a day in advance so we don’t end up wasting time deciding what to do. I actually used my new Samsung Galaxy On5 phone (regular price is $119, however mine only cost $69 from Walmart!!) a lot to look up excursions and tourist attractions on the drive there. It is smart to book/plan 2-3 things a day, but have some flexibility and free time for changes in weather or the unpredictable behavior of a toddler (you never know when you might need an emergency nap time😜).
We only had one full day, but we planned some things for the night we arrived to. We walked along the falls in the dark. There was almost nobody else walking the falls that late. Both the kids were sleeping/calm in their strollers and it was almost as nice as getting some alone time as a couple (which rarely happens for us).
Make sure you have all the basics, but also try and pack light! I find that traveling with kids usually doubles the luggage amount, more stuff to carry is more stress, so if there are things you can eliminate from your bag, do it! I feel like I can enjoy every moment of a vacation so much more when I am not lugging around heavy bags and trying to keep track of valuables that I don’t want to loose.
One thing you don’t want to forget though is your phone! It is super helpful to be able to look up restaurants, museums, reviews, hours, directions, etc. I used to run out of data SO fast when we were on vacation because I use my phone almost like a mini tour guide. Now I have Walmart Family Mobile, so I never worry about running out of data. The plan was only $49.88 at Walmart!* Just pick a phone or Bring Your Own, and get your SIM Kit for only $19.88. I love finding small ways like this to save money so I can maximize my tax refund and enjoy little vacations like this one, without feeling like I am overspending.
*Disclaimer: All prices for phones and plans included in this post are accurate as of the date of posting; however, these prices are subject to change. Please refer to http://cbi.as/7e-jr or your local Walmart for current pricing.
The other thing you don’t want to forget to pack is toddler entertainment and snacks or the drive. For me this is almost as important as bringing a clean change of clothes. For my own sanity I like to travel with happy babies. Zoey played with my new phone a lot on the drive and I let her pack her own backpack full of whatever toys she wanted and a few snacks.
5. Take Lots of Pictures!
Just because your vacation is short and inexpensive, doesn’t mean you aren’t going to have a ton of fun! Take a million pictures so you will remember every moment. I take pictures of everything and have giant scrapbooks that I make and print online. A well documented memory can be even more fun to look back on than you remember it being the moment it happened. For example, pictures of our first apartment together felt really insignificant at the time we took them, in fact we hated that apartment! But now looking back on them is so much fun. Don’t let the fact that it is just a mini vacation, on a budget, stop you from documenting it as if you were visiting the moon. You will thank yourself later.
Kris schedule changes every month and is very unpredictable, so we never know when our next vacation might be. I am so happy we made the most of this little window of time! We went out to eat at the Rainforest Cafe (SOOOOO cool!), walked along the falls, swam in the pool at our hotel, enjoyed our FALLS VIEW hotel room, bought delicious fudge, went to Tim Hortons, stocked up on Canadian Candy, took a ferris wheel ride over the falls and visited the butterfly conservatory (amazing… Zoey never wanted to leave). Basically we packed every minute full of fun memories and I can’t wait to plan our next mini vacation! Till then we will enjoy fun family movie nights with our monthly free VUDU movie (perks of the new phone plan, $7 value, which is the price of a new release on VUDU!!) while we try to make the most of the time we get at home!
Where would you go on a mini vacation?? Does your family enjoy mini getaways as much as we do? What are you planning to use your tax return on?
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