I love summer. I love the warm weather, the thunderstorms, swimming in the pool, bonfires, picnics, and generally being outside. But most of all, I love going on vacation.
Now, you can go on vacation any time, but summer is vacation season and I look forward to traveling every year, even if it isn’t to a new place. I drive my family crazy because as soon as one vacation is over I start thinking about and planning the next — even if the only planning I’m doing is inside my head. Haha.
The bottom line is that I am a planner, and I feel that in order to have an awesome, relaxing, and fun vacation you have to be organized and plan ahead. An added bonus is that when you plan ahead, you often are able to get some great deals and save money.
I love all kinds of vacations. I love to go to big cities where you can walk around, see the sights, visit museums, and shop. As a history person, I like to go to places that have historical value too. I also have a childish love for Disney World.
But, for me, two of the best kinds of vacations are 1. going to the beach and 2. going on a cruise.
Because there’s so much information on both kinds of vacation, I’m breaking this up into 2 posts — this one about the beach and the second about cruising.
So, here’s my advice on planning and booking the best beach vacations. Hopefully, I’ll help you save a little money too.
Hitting the Beach
The beach is one of my favorite places on Earth to be. I love the sand, the ocean, the sound of the waves. There is something so relaxing about sitting in a beach chair under an umbrella, closing your eyes, and just soaking it all in.
Ohio doesn’t have a beach, unless you count the shores of Lake Erie. And, although a lot of my fellow Ohioans spend time on Lake Erie’s shore during the summer months, to me, there is nothing like the ocean. This makes the East Coast and the Atlantic Ocean the closest beach to visit.
My favorite beach to go to on the East Coast is Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Located at the southern-most part of South Carolina, Hilton Head is a boot shaped island that boasts 12 miles of clean and beautiful beaches and an overall subdued atmosphere that is the opposite of commercial and bustling beach destinations like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Other great East Coast beaches are Wilmington/Carolina Beach, North Carolina; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Outer Banks, North Carolina. There are, of course, countless more. Do a simple Google Search and discover other beaches to travel to. And, don’t forget the wonderful West Coast and Gulf Coast beaches too!
Whether you’ve been to the beach a million times or have never gone before, here are a few things to consider before you start to plan:
Some Things To Consider
- What’s your budget?
- Who are you traveling with? How many people are going to be in your party?
- When are you going to go? How many days vacation are you aiming for?
- How far do you want to travel?
- Are you going to fly or drive?
- What kind of accommodations do you want? Hotel? Condo? Rental house? On the beach? Off the beach?
- Do you want your vacation to be jam-packed with fun non-stop or do you want a primarily relaxing vacation where you make your own fun?
- Do you need a lot of attractions and shopping close to where you are vacationing?
Budget, Driving vs. Flying, and Picking a Destination
A beach vacation can often be less expensive than many other types of vacations, depending on where you travel, where you stay, and how you spend your time while on vacation. However, beach vacations can quickly become very pricey.
What’s great about the beach is that the most money you will spend is on the journey from your home to the beach, on your accommodations, and on food/drinks.
Driving is one great way to save money, especially with the price of airfare today. Now of course, this only works if you are within driving distance to the beach you want to visit. For example, from where I live it takes at least 7-8 hours to reach the Atlantic. But to get to a “good beach” I need to drive at least 10 hours. It takes 14 hours to get to Hilton Head and I’ll admit that while it is a long drive, it is worth it in the end. So, you need to determine how long you’re willing to sit in a car, and whether such a distance is worth it if you’re only heading to the beach for a couple days.
Also, remember that flying to the beach isn’t always easy. It’s a pain to take beach chairs and umbrellas on a plane. Some destinations allow you to rent them and some condos/beach houses have them available for guests. But not all do, and renting/buying them can be pricey and inconvenient.
One of the most important things to decide is which beach you’re going to go to. Consider whether you want a busier, more crowded and lively beach destination or one that is quiet and relaxed. Also think about what else there is to do at that destination. Do you want someplace with a lot of nightlife, clubs, bars, major shopping, and other attractions? Or are you okay with a place that is more low-key, essentially a beach destination located in a small town with some shopping (both major and locally-owned), restaurants, and very few other attractions.
When to Go, How Long to Stay, Hotel vs. Rental, How Many People Traveling
One great thing about a beach vacation is that in order to travel to one, you often travel south which gives you a longer traveling season. Know that beach vacations will always be the most expensive in the summer because it’s the peak beach season. This doesn’t mean you still can’t get a good deal, but it does mean that if you’re looking to travel on the cheap you should consider going to the beach shortly before or shortly after the peak beach/summer season. (Also, pay attention to the weather as those later summer months run into peak hurricane season.)
Another thing you have to decide is how long you want to stay at the beach. When going to the beach, I have almost always stayed for a full week (Saturday – Saturday). Going for 7 nights might seem like a long time to some, but it can also be great for your wallet. Most beach destinations have plenty of hotels or inns to stay in. But they can be extremely pricey at $150-$300 or more per night. Instead, consider renting a condo or (if you have a lot of people) a house at the beach. Whereas you might spend upwards of $1200 to $1500 for 5 nights in hotel (double occupancy), renting a condo for 7 nights is a great bang for your buck.
Depending on how large a condo you want, 7 nights can cost you as little as $600-$1000. When you factor in that most beach condos have multiple bedrooms, direct beach access, a kitchen, living room, and various other amenities I’m a firm believer that a condo is the way to go.
Plus, the beach is equally as fun in large groups as it is for couples and small groups. Condos and beach houses can sleep a lot of people, so one great way to defray costs on rentals is to divide the expense amongst a bunch of family or friends!
Best Way To Start (and Finish) Your Beach Rental Search
Check out Vacation Rentals By Owner to browse vacation condos and houses all over the world (and not just at the beach). I’ve had great luck in finding vacation accommodations off the VRBO website. Even if you don’t want to use the VRBO site to book your vacation rental or contact an owner, it’s still a great place to see what each destination has to offer.
My VRBO advice (and advice for any vacation rental):
1. The more photos a listing has, the better!
2. No price is set in stone. If an owner is desperate to rent, they will negotiate.
3. If the description is vague, ask for more detail. If you want to walk out the door and have your feet in the sand in less than a minute, make sure the rental is truly on the beach. Ocean Front generally means that the rental has immediate beach access. Ocean View generally means the rental is at least yards away from the beach and may not be “on the beach” at all.
4. Are there any hidden fees? Is cleaning included? What about taxes?
5. Remember that most vacation rentals do not provide the same amenities that hotels do. You may have to bring your own towels and/or sheets. You most certainly will have to bring paper towels, toilet paper, soaps, etc. Pots and pans, silver wear, dishes, etc. are almost certainly provided. Ask what is included to be safe.
6. It’s never too early to start looking at vacation rentals. The good ones always sell out fast and one rental can sell out for the entire summer long before the season begins. Often owners will run specials and/or give discounts for early bookings.
7. Look for last minute specials too, sometimes owners who have one or two weeks remaining or a cancellation will slash prices to rent the unit.
Well, I hope I’ve given you some great advice about planning your next beach vacation. Remember, planning is a great way to ensure a fun and relaxing vacation, where you can then throw the need to plan out the window and just enjoy life.