Monday, October 29, 2012

Trip Planning 101

I think I might have mentioned this in an older post, but this Christmas Break, I'm heading out to Colorado with my brother and some friends for a ski and snowboarding trip. As the de facto leader of our group, it was up to me to plan out the trip. To make the best trip at the cheapest price, I borrowed some tricks learned from my dad, a little bit of my own intuition, and more than a little appreciation for seeing exactly how many people you can fit in a car, hotel room, etc.

We knew that we wanted to go to Colorado, but as to exactly which resort, we had no idea. I began to research our options, taking into account the characteristics of each mountain, the price, popularity (through online reviews) and other such factors. And that is the first major step in planning a successful trip: research.

If you have never been to a place before, how can you know exactly what you want to do? Researching not only helps to clarify this, but sometimes shows you opportunities you hadn't even considered. Patience is also important, because the longer you take to explore all of your options, the better deals you often find.

For a variety of reasons, we settled on Copper Mountain, just west of Denver in the heart of Summit County. Next we had to decide on where we would stay while out west. Our options included both those on the mountain (hotels, condos, etc) and those in smaller towns a short drive away. Once again, research came into play as it became apparent that "ski and stay deals" (in which your lodging and lift tickets are a combo package) would be the cheapest option. However, we still had to choose exactly what type of lodging would be best for us.

In my past experiences, lodging is the single biggest area in which you can save money. Most of the time (at least on trips that I would take/have taken) you are there to see and do things, not to stay in a hotel. Therefore, I see no reason to spend a bunch of money on a luxury suite. Many people look down on budget chains such as Motel 6. I have stayed in Motel 6s around the country and they have all been simple and sparse, yet clean and adequate. We're only there for the night, besides a bed with clean sheets and a bathroom, what else do you really need?

That being said, there are obviously no Motel 6s in the village of Copper Mountain. There are several in Denver, however, and we will be staying in one to give us a stopover on the drive out so we will be fresh when we get to the mountain the next morning.

Food is also a major expense that can be offset with a little bit of planning. Whenever my family goes on vacation, it was understood that when we got to our destination, we would stop at a grocery store, buy a styrofoam cooler and fill it with lunch meat, fruit, and other snack that would become our lunch for the duration of the trip. Eating sandwiches at a picnic area instead of stopping at a probably overpriced restaurant (especially in areas such as national parks where you are a captive audience) is a simple thing to do, yet it can greatly reduce your daily food budget.

With this in mind, we decided on a condo at Copper Mountain, because it comes with a full kitchen. When we traveled to Snowshoe Mountain, West Virginia last year, we also stayed in a condo and cooked and ate our meals there. Doing this is much cheaper that eating at the ridiculously expensive resort restaurants that cater to the extremely wealthy. Similar to last year, we plan to bring cheap foods such as hotdogs, hamburgers, macaroni and cheese, and the like. We even went as far last year as to head out into the woods before we left and bagged a couple of squirrels and doves which we cleaned and brought with us for a meal.

By following these principles, we are going to be able to afford to go out West and ski on a college budget, which we consider a minor miracle. With careful planning and research, eating on as cheaply as possible, and being willing to stay in less than luxury motels, trips can be cheaper than originally thought possible while still being just as fun.

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