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3 Ways to Slash Vacation Costs

Posted on 
June 17, 2021

Written by By Irene S. Levine for Next Avenue

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.

Anita Oliver and Richard Nash (who blog at No Particular Place to Go) 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 (who blogs on Destinations Detours and Dreams) 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 HomeExchange.com
  • 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) "homeowners" problems such as those involving plumbing, heating or cooling
  • You need to ready your own home for guests

Pet Sitting

Pet owners taking vacations often face the tough dilemma of either boarding their furry family members in a kennel or taking them along on their trip. However, as another outgrowth of the sharing economy (like home exchanges), it's becoming increasingly popular for owners to connect with live-in pet sitters, willing to feed and care for house pets in exchange for lodging.

Betsy and Pete Wuebker (who blog at PassingThru.com) call themselves location independent entrepreneurs. By coupling online businesses with housesitting, they have been able to travel to 12 European countries as well as to Russia, Hawaii, the South Pacific and Australia. All but one of their housesitting jobs has entailed pet sitting. "When you scroll through listings on various housesitting sites, pets are generally part of the package," explains Betsy.

The couple says they're "crazy about dogs." They've cared for a German shepherd on Kauai (Hawaii), a Westie in Darwin (Australia), and an elderly Pug and French Bulldog puppy in Brussels (Belgium). They have gigs lined up to watch Labradors in Sussex (England) and a Springer Spaniel pup in Brussels.

Living in Fiji wasn't on the couple's radar until an intriguing opportunity arose. In exchange for pet sitting for two Dobermans, the Wuebkers got to live in a hilltop compound on the Coral Coast for ten weeks. They were able to immerse themselves in the food and culture of Fiji and forge friendships with locals as long as they returned home each day by 5 p.m. to feed the "girls" a hand-cooked, frozen dinner pre-prepared by the owners.

Prior to their stay in Fiji, the Wuebkers had lived in Hawaii. "Eliminating most of our expenses reduced our monthly outlay by at least $3,000," says Betsy. "So in total, we saved about $6,000, because everything costs less in Fiji. Not everything is available, but then again you don't need a lot."

More pros:

  • It enables longer, in-depth stays in remote locations
  • It's gratifying to get to know homeowners and their animals
  • Itinerant travelers who love animals and don't have pets of their own enjoy watching someone else's pets


  • You need to be comfortable with the animals you're caring for and spend time finding a good match for where you want to go
  • Responsibility for the pets has to be your first priority (e.g. many require medications, exercise, special meals, etc.)
  • Homeowners often want to communicate on a regular basis so they feel secure about their pet's well-being
  • Adapting to someone else's home and way of life requires flexibility
  • Things can go awry either with the house or with animals, usurping your time and energy

A Worry-Free Vacation Every Time

At Falcons Landing, our residents love taking day trips to nearby cultural events as well as vacations abroad with friends or family. While they're walking around Washington D.C. or the streets of Paris, our security staff are watching over their home and belongings.

When you can trust that everything at home is exactly as you left it, you can relax on your vacation even more.

Learn more about our other services included for every resident by calling us at (703) 404-5100.


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