I like to share the details of how we manage to travel while living on a tight budget in trip reports like this one. Hopefully it will inspire some of you to pursue your passion, even if you think it’s financially out of reach! Our family lives on a tight budget and I love to travel, so I have to get creative with funding trips like this.
I suffer from pretty severe winter blues, so I planned this trip to the warmest and sunniest place we could easily get to the first week in March – Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I’ve never been to south Florida, and Southwest flies non-stop from Raleigh to Fort Lauderdale, so that’s why we ended up going there.
I went with my four-year-old daughter and my dad, who had been visiting us here in North Carolina. My husband stayed home to work and take care of things at home, though of course he was invited to come along (South Florida isn’t really his cup of tea, he said).
So here’s a breakdown of what we did and how much I paid. If you are new to using points and miles for free travel, you might want to check out this post on my five favorite credit cards for earning free travel!
Flights on Southwest: $22
As I mentioned, I picked Fort Lauderdale as our destination because Southwest flies there non-stop. Southwest is my favorite airline and their Chase Rapid Rewards Visa is my favorite way to fly for free. I am rich in Southwest points and I earned a Southwest Companion Pass so my daughter is flying for free with me for close to two years.
I did have to pay $22.40 total for taxes and fees for the flights, but I’m not complaining! If you want to learn more, check out my Flying For Free on Southwest FAQs post here!
Three nights at Embassy Suites Fort Lauderdale: $0
I used 150,000 Hilton Honors points for our three-night stay at the Embassy Suites Fort Lauderdale 17th Street. Originally I had us booked for five nights at 200,000 points (thanks to Hilton’s fifth-night free policy) but we had to shorten our trip due to work schedules. While I didn’t get as good of value from my points for the three-night redemption, I still think we made out like bandits since this reservation would have cost about $950 if booked with cash.
We stayed in a large 2-room suite with a separate bedroom, a necessity when traveling with a grandparent. This is an all-suite hotel, so there isn’t an additional point requirement for booking a suite. Head over to this post for a full review of the hotel!
A majority of the points I needed for the trip were earned through the Hilton Surpass American Express 100,000 point sign-up bonus. This increased sign-up bonus is available again, so now is a great time to add this card to your wallet! I earned about 20,000 more from just regular spending with the card (at 6 points per dollar they add up quickly!) and the remainder I had in my account.
We enjoyed the complimentary made-to-order hot breakfast at the Embassy Suites every morning. I think it was the best free breakfast I’ve ever had at a hotel. We filled up on breakfast and only ate a light lunch each day!
Every evening the hotel also offered a complimentary reception that includes snacks and drinks. I was expecting some cheap beer and wine, but it turns out that you could get any drink you wanted from the bar! There were also a bunch of snacks, including veggies with dip, hummus, pretzels, popcorn, etc. We snacked heavily each night then had a light dinner. All of the complimentary food at the hotel definitely cut down on our food costs!
I got a text message after our first night’s stay from someone at management to check in and see how everything was going. I said it was great except for a broken door handle that was causing lots of noise at night. I was pleasantly surprised that Kathleen in management offered me a $50 credit for the hotel’s restaurant for our inconvenience!
So we used that one night for dinner and I bought dinner at the hotel’s restaurant another night for only $16 (my daughter and I split a cheeseburger and fruit plate and it was plenty of food). Since I covered the hotel stay with points, my dad paid for our other food, except for the $10 slice of pizza I splurged on at the airport. 🙂 So in total I spent $26 on food for the entire trip.
Ground Transportation: $42
We didn’t rent a car for this trip since our hotel was about 2 miles from the airport and we were planning on staying close by. We planned to use Uber to get around, and that’s exactly what we ended up doing!
The rides were all $7-$10, even our trips to and from the airport. We didn’t spend over $100 to rent a car or the the $22 per night self-parking fee, so I think we made the right choice.
If you haven’t tried Uber yet, get your first ride free (up to $20) when you sign up through my referral link.
Our plan for this trip was the head to the beach, which is the main attraction in Fort Lauderdale. When we tried to visit the beach out first day, we were practically blown off the beach. The wind was so strong that the sand was biting my leg and my daughter was hiding behind the famous wave wall. The winds didn’t let up until the day we left. So much for our beach plans!
I had researched a few back-up things to do on Pinterest before we left, so luckily I had a plan. We ended up spending one whole morning at the excellent Museum of Discovery & Science, which was only about 5 minutes from our hotel.
We loved their interactive exhibits on coral reefs and the Everglades, and their play areas for little ones. Not sure I’d recommend the Everglades airboat simulator ride, through, since it bounced me around WAY more than I like!
We are members of our local science museum here in North Carolina and could use our membership to get free entry to the Fort Lauderdale museum! Most science centers and zoos have reciprocity with other institutions, so a membership to one can save you money when you travel. It would have cost us $45 to visit the museum otherwise.
We spent the rest of our down time at the lovely hotel pool. Luckily it was blocked from the wind and had a hot tub, so we were able to swim all we wanted. I loved that it seemed like a little oasis, even though the hotel was right in the city.
So that wraps up this trip report on our short visit to Fort Lauderdale. I spent $90 total on everything for the trip and we had a blast exploring a new place. Hopefully, this post helped you understand how we travel on a tight budget and inspired you to give it a try yourself! Any questions? Please leave a comment below!