Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Frugal Yet Luxurious Vacation

I feel like kind of a fraud here, admitting this, but here goes: Epu and I are flying to Mexico right after Christmas. In a year when we have found it challenging to get the preschool bill paid without dipping into our savings, how are we doing that?

No, we're not putting it on our credit cards. For one thing, we realized about a week ago that we had not gotten around to taking a single disbursement from our flexible spending accounts for health care and commuting expenses. So we sent in the receipts and nearly instantly had about $1,500 deposited in our checking account. Now, it would have been smarter to take disbursements throughout the year as we spent this money -- for one thing, we wouldn't have had trouble paying the preschool bill if we'd done that. And if we were completely responsible, rational people, we'd say, we need to put at least $1,000 of this into our savings account to replace what we borrowed when we were short.

But here's the case for not always being purely rational, responsible people:

1) About 5 years ago, I began staying close to home because I was getting along in my first pregnancy. Since then, I have been pregnant or breastfeeding CONTINUOUSLY. There has not been a stretch of more than two days in the past five years that I have not had a child physically attached to me. Right now the 22-month-old is almost weaned, and if all goes well, 30 weeks from now, we'll have our third child and the breastfeeding will start all over again.

What I'm saying is that we have a small window for a getaway here. And oh, do I need it. I have some serious parenting burnout.

2) We have a LOT of frequent flyer miles. Mainly because of credit card use, but also because we used to fly back and forth from San Francisco to Wisconsin several times a year (and then there was the year I collected thousands of miles from the backs of cereal and waffle boxes). My husband and I each have about 200,000 miles in our American accounts. We have always wanted to use them to take a first-class trip to Asia or maybe a South Pacific island with a stopover in Asia, but, with our decision to have this third child, we realize that such a long trip cannot happen for several years to come. Meanwhile, the value of frequent flyer miles is dropping, and who knows -- in this economy, American could file for bankruptcy and even cancel its FF program.

We're hedging against that possibility by using a portion of our miles -- 70,000 of them -- in the short window where we can get away.

3) With some research, I found a less expensive destination. We're flying to Los Cabos -- a great destination because it has a direct flight from Chicago, it's relatively warm there and FF seats were available. But we're not staying in Los Cabos, land of pricey resorts and tourist attractions. Not only is that too expensive, it's just not our style.

Instead, we're taking a bus to the city of La Paz, a few hours away, where we were able to get a week's lodging for $360 and where we can eat in restaurants for reasonable prices. A lot of people save money on vacation by getting a kitchenette and cooking, and I've done that too, but not this time. I am tired of being a galley slave and I don't want to wash a single dish on this trip!

4) Our activities will be low cost. We will probably take one ferry trip to an island with one of the best beaches in the world, and a snorkeling trip, but that's all I foresee paying for. Otherwise, we will take the bus to free beaches, stroll the city's malecon, and just relax. If we'd chosen a ski vacation, on the other extreme, our daily activities would cost more than our lodging.

So far, we have spent (or plan to spend) about $620 on our vacation -- for lodging, taxes and fees on the flights, and an expedite fee to get Epu a new passport. We will probably spend about $300 on other transportation (cab to the airport and back, bus from Los Cabos to La Paz, ferry). That leaves us about $500 to eat and have fun with, without spending beyond what we just got from our flex spending accounts. I think we will have money left over!


Dr. Mom said...

I am so jealous! That sounds wonderful! Have a great time!

Sara said...

Jealous, jealous, jealous...

However, having lived in Mexico and being pregnant now (like you), my mind drifts to the practical...DON'T DRINK THE WATER!!


Melissa said...

that is great!! can't wait to hear all about the trip!

Becky said...

Good on you! Of course you need a break. And thanks for the details on your destination. We have some cash in the vacation fund, and we'd like to go somewhere new, and I've never been to Mexico, and it seems like there are so many different places and kinds of Mexican vacations. . .it's overwhelming.