Wednesday, April 8, 2015

10 Ways to Save Money on Vacation - Especially in Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge

Growing up, my family visited Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and
Gatlinburg, Tennessee every year. My personal love for the destination was so strong that I convinced my husband to get married there! Now, 16 years later, we still go every year with our amazing family of 5 kids and try to get in as many attractions and sites as we can.
Vacationing can be costly for any family, especially a family of 7, so I have to be crafty to get as many things on our to-do list in OUR BUDGET! Luckily for me, both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forget are FILLED with pocket friendly activities. While I have written these based on my family's destination of choice, you can actually use these tips and tricks ANYWHERE to save a little GREEN on your families annual trips!

They LOVE THE ANNUAL PHOTO in front of our Wedding Chapel - NOT!

1. BOOK VACATION STAYS WISELY - The internet gives you tons of options when it comes to where to stay AND how much to pay when booking a room. Check out HOTELS.COM for some great deals on rooms. If you really want to score savings, sign up and use EBATES to book your room through priceline. Not only will you find some awesome deals BUT you will also EARN CASH BACK (usually about 3%). Click here to sign up for Ebates. Of course look for places that offer free breakfast and even look for some that offer a dinner buffet or cocktail hours on a few nights.  They are out there and can save you big time.

2. Look for FREE activities in the area - this is where Google becomes your friend. There are always cool children's activities that can be found on the cheap! Local libraries and bookstores offer fun book reading activities, local park districts have nature walks and playgrounds, and you can even score free food of you are lucky enough to visit town during a food festival! Check the dates before you go!

3. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OUTDOOR DINING! This is very doable - especially in high "tourist" traffic areas. While there are hosts of amazing restaurants to try when visiting... some of the BEST food can be found at cute "concession" style stands. Here you will find great prices, usually large portions, and NO tipping required. All you need to do is find a quaint place to eat and most of your tourist areas will have some picnic tables or benches for just that! My favorite stop on our last vaca was Donut Friar tucked back in The Village. Donuts ran us about $2 per person and we were able to eat them at a super cute wrought iron table in a beautiful setting. We did breakfast for UNDER $18 (including my packed juices of course)!!!

My real snack bag!
4. PACK SNACKS! I know that this one seems to go without saying but you just don't realize how quickly things add up. If you just pack beverages and a few light snacks for both your drive and your day trips, you will be surprised how quickly your savings can add up. The average price for a drink at a restaurant  these days is about $2 per person. If you have 5 people in your family and each soda stop is $10--that's gonna add up! Eliminating just ONE snack stop per day will stretch your vacation dollars. BONUS TIP- pack a few spare paper cups with you on day trips! Not many places offer kiddie sized treats (ice cream, slushies, etc) so having spare cups will allow you to split up jumbo sized treats and make them perfectly kiddie sized - not to mention stretch the cost! To learn more about how to MAKE MONEY At the HERE!

5. Take Advantage of LOCAL COUPON books! Stop by the gas station and grab a local paper or the local coupon guides. Here you will find discounts and deals that can really add up. On our last vacation, these coupons saved me over $50! I know, that doesn't maybe sounds like a ton of money BUT it was basically a free meal or a splurge afternoon for Mom!

Some coupon examples!

6. STAY AWARE - In the time leading up to your trip, visit sites like Living Social and Groupon. These sites sometimes offer EXACTLY what you are looking for at a HUGE discount! For instance, I knew that my kids were going to want to ride the go-karts in Pigeon Forge so I kept on checking out those sites and finally found a Groupon Deal for HALF OFF GO-KART RIDES and golf! With 5 kids - that was a HUGE DEAL!

7. GET THE MOST BANG FOR YOUR BUCK - Look for longer activities that will keep your family occupied  for extended periods of time. On our visit, we visited the Nascar Speedpark where each child cost $19.99 (after using a coupon LOL). For under $20 bucks, they got to drive go karts, mini golf,  and ride rides ALL DAY LONG! The other go-kart stops on the strip will run you up to $5 PER RIDE or mini-golf game! We started the day at the park at opening, left for dinner, and then returned for 3 more hours in the evening. That was 6 HOURS of fun for a fraction of what 6 hours would have cost us on the strip. They even offer a week long pass for only $31.99.  Finding an activity that costs the same or just a bit more but lasts longer will provide more fun and more money in your pocket!

8.  Make a LIST and CHECK IT TWICE - If you are like me, you ALWAYS forget something in your travel bag. Everyone knows that you need sunscreen, toothpaste, socks, etc. but how often do we forget one of these items? Buying these at a tourist stop will typically cost you more vs. a normal store AND will eat away at your travel budget. Be over prepared!

9 . SAMPLES are your friend! Not only can you find restaurants, retail stores, and even moonshine producers (seriously, more than 3 places where you can do FREE FLIGHTS of moonshine and/or wine) with FREEBIES but you can also take advantage of free "check me outs"! While visiting Pigeon Forge, you can see tons of awesome dinner shows and musical concerts BUT with my large family, they are all OUT of the budget. If you are walking down the strip, you can swing over by the Lumberjack Feud hall and sometimes see a short "sample" performance out front for FREE! You can also head over to the Dixie Stampede arena and pet the horses before shows. The new Island spot puts on an AWESOME light show in the huge fountain every 30 minutes. Be sure to visit at night and grab one of the many rocking chairs to watch.  There is also free live music both at the island and near the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery throughout the day! No matter what town you visit, the kids will LOVE it so do some searching and find fun activities that won't cost a dime.

10. PLAN YOUR OWN ACTIVITIES - Taking your family on a picnic is a great way to spend an hour and sure, you can entertain the kids for an hour or two by the waters edge but if you really want to get a few hours of fun on the cheap...plan something like a craft, photo challenge. or scavenger hunt! Giving each kids a list of 10 things to look for at the park or while picnicking- or even while riding the trolley (only $.50) per person) will stretch your "FREE" time and offer tons of laughs. Taking a new board game is a MUST for us for the hotel - just in case of a rainy evening!

I hope this list gives you some ideas of how you can stretch your vacation dollars and that you have a  fantastic time while visiting Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, or your personal favorite Destination!