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How to Have a Not-So-Expensive (NSE) Weekend Away

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When we were paying off $51,000 in credit card debt, vacations were a big strain on our budget. We dedicated as much of our disposable income as possible to paying off our debt, not adding to it. For a while, we took no vacations at all.

It was then that we discovered “not-so-expensive” or NSE. NSE is our way to do the things we love, but focus on the things we love more. We love wine, but don’t need a $40 bottle when we’re home by ourselves on a Friday night. Our alternative is an NSE box of wine, which gives us more wine for our buck. Rather than cable TV, we use the NSE streaming alternatives.

While we love to travel, we wanted to pay off our debt even more and NSE options were a great way to do both. Two of our favorite NSE weekends away were nearby our home in Denver, close to all the Rocky Mountains have to offer. One NSE weekend was spent in Winter Park, Colorado during the summer off-season. Another was an NSE Staycation at our friend’s home in Buena Vista. Both options gave us the break we needed, but didn’t break our budget.

Here are six keys we still follow today, even now that we’re debt free. These NSE weekends away give us mini-vacations, so we can save for bigger vacations.

1. Visit Friends and Family Within Driving Distance

Gas prices are way down from their 2006 peak and a two-to-four hour drive is no longer as expensive as a plane ticket. Try not to overstay your welcome, though. House guests are like fish; they stink after three days. If you want to stay longer, consider spending a couple of nights in a hotel. You can thank your hosts with a small gift or treat them to an NSE dinner.

2. When in Rome ….

When traveling, it’s easy to get sucked into the tourist traps. Instead, plan ahead and go on the website of the town or city you’re visiting to find local events and activities. You’d be surprised how many free or cheap activities some places offer and you get to experience the unique, local flare of your host city. For example, a colleague of ours puts together an annual list of over 400 NSE activities in the Denver metro area each summer. That’s a goldmine for any family who wants to visit Denver on the cheap. What NSE activities can you find where you’re visiting?

3. Eat Like a Local

Tools like Yelp are great for seeing what restaurants are rated highly and what restaurants are highly priced. We have a more edgy trick up our sleeves: You can use a dating app that identifies locals, like Tinder or Grindr, (give full disclose to your significant other first) to ask where to get the best meals at the best prices. You’ll be surprised at how helpful and friendly locals are, and you may find a tour guide for a day or two.

4. Meals Don’t Need to Be Expensive

Weekends away often blow the dining budget. Don’t forget quick-casual restaurants and tools such as Groupon and Living Social to control dining costs. When staying at a hotel, request a room with a kitchenette to cook simple meals. With proper planning, you can bring many ingredients from home.

5. Buy Liquor at Home

If you’re like us, you imbibe more when traveling. You can buy your libations at home rather than your vacation destination where prices often include a tourist mark-up. Drink a glass of wine or two before you hit the town and you can cut your drinking bill in half.

6. Consider Alternative Accommodations

The rise of the part-time landlord has been a boom for businesses and travelers alike. Websites like AirBNB or VRBO could help your find affordable apartments, rooms, or even whole houses for rent in your travel destination. Using these seven tech savvy tips could help your score an even cheaper stay. You may want to choose a place with a kitchen so you can have breakfast in bed with your special someone. Some cleaning and other hidden fees can negate the NSE value. (If you treat these places like your home and clean before you leave, you may able to save $50 to $250 in cleaning fees. It’s also helpful to take pictures of your rented space before you leave to keep everyone on the up and up.)

Being on a budget doesn’t need to eliminate your fun. With proper planning and a little thinking outside the box, a NSE weekend may be just what you need. If you need help finding non-traditional NSE vacation destinations, we’ve compiled 6 travel tips and reasonably priced destinations for you. You’ll likely love a break in any of those six destinations and you won’t break your budget.

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