My challenge was this: to figure out how to get a group of four out of town for a week, with a $500 budget for lodging. It was a tall order, even for this frugal traveler. Most choices at that price were slim, and they tended to look like they were furnished for our budget—several decades ago. But a bit of sleuthing uncovered rustic cabins in magnificent park settings and appealing homes advertised at higher rates but available to the skilled negotiator for less. There wasn’t a Sun Valley chalet or a Bora Bora bungalow in the bunch, but I did find some nice getaways for little more than the cost of a staycation.
I started by reaching out to vacation home renters across the country and got pretty much the same response everywhere: they’re flexible. One of my first calls was to Crestone Area Visitor’s Agency in Colorado, which serves a region that’s home to hot springs, Sand Dunes Monument Park, varied wildlife, ashrams and numerous spiritual retreats. “Good news is that we are able to offer a nice two bedroom home near one of our creeks,” said a helfpful man named Cal. “Normally the price is higher but we have had a downturn in tourism over the past year and the owner will honor a rate of $495 for the week.”
At homeaway.com, the largest of the vacation rental sites, there are over 176,000 vacation rental houses, condos, guesthouses, cottages, and cabins in 118 countries, including plenty within our budget (including the 1-bedroom cottage in North Truro, Cape Cod). As is typical of most vacation rental sites, this one connects you directly with the homeowners or property managers, and accommodations can be rented by the night, week or month.
I found some gems amid the offerings at vacationhomes.com’s under $500 section, which listing bargains in the U.S., Costa Rica, the Caribbean, Spain, Ecuador, Canada, Mexico, El Salvador, and Italy. Deals abound in Florida and Mexico, and a beautiful home in a new complex called Playas de las Palmas in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, including a large swimming pool and Jaccuzi is only $80/night. (If you assumed air travel was out of the question, read my article on how to get cheap fares.)
For lodging within driving distance, I spoke to Chris Fotache at nyvacationrentals.com, a web site that offers free listings to any vacation home owner in upstate New York including the Catskills, Adirondacks, Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley and many other popular destinations.
There, the under-$500 choices included a lovely 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom guesthouse in the Catskills with 110 acres of meadows and private woods that ordinarily rents for $750 per week. There was also a cabin for $400/week (left) in Walton, NY, while the innkeeper at a B&B in a historic estate on the Finger Lakes wine trail of Livingston County is also offering accommodations for a family of 4, with breakfast, for $500, well below the weekly rates quoted on the web site.
Though the site has few properties worth recommending that are listed within our budget, Fotache advised aiming higher. “Many owners are willing to come down,” he said. “Wait just a little bit. As the summer season proceeds, many owners will start to panic and offer big discounts. But don’t wait too much, or the best rentals will still be gone.”
The other option, beyond vacation homes, are cabins in picturesque settings—often with fully equipped kitchens, bathrooms and fireplaces—at very inexpensive rates. Though none would be characterized as luxurious, the incredible surroundings activities often make up for the more spartan accommodations.
Just north of the city in Westchester, there is a web of beautiful parks with a wide range of activities and accommodations. Croton Point Park offers a pool, beach, boat launching, playing fields, hiking trails, and so on. A “deluxe cabin” for four rents for $350 a week.
A little farther afield, check out the state parks of West Virginia. With its serene yet rugged beauty, Babcock State Park offers 28 cabins (left) for rent ranging from deluxe to economy. In addition to a swimming pool, paddle boating, row boating, canoeing hiking trails and horseback riding, Babcock’s fully operational Glade Creek Grist Mill provides freshly ground cornmeal and buckwheat flour. Weekly rates for a cabin for a family of 4 during the summer season are only slightly over budget, at $532.
South Dakota advertises its state parks as “the largest outdoor museums in the state.” Your family can learn about American Indian cultural history or the Lewis and Clark expedition while renting a cute camping cabin that sleeps four for $35 a night. Though each dwelling comes with heating, electricity and air conditioning, they do not have indoor bathrooms, kitchens or running water. Doesn’t sound like much of a vacation? Think how happy you’ll be to come home.