You’ve seen it alllll across my social media the last 2 years. Photos of me & Brian on the beach, with drinks in our hands without a care in the world.
A question I get is HOW?!
I’m going to tell you first..
No, Mommy & Daddy do not fund our vacations.
Yes, I still worked full time & yes it was fine with my boss that I took the time off that I did!
Brian is a medical student so his time off are his breaks from school, luckily!
Brian & I are both very hard working individuals & purposefully budget with travel in mind!
Before getting into it, I’m going to list every place we’ve gone the past two years with links to the resorts/hotels & briefly explain my review of them just in case you ever want to go in the future! This will be a lengthy blog but worth it to read I think!
Kingston Plantation Resort
This resort is definitely a place we talked about going again. There is a free breakfast buffet that is to die for. There are multiple restaurants inside the resort, restaurants near the pool, an amazing spa where we got hot stone massages, pool bars, a bar inside, a nice gym, a Starbucks.. for real I could go on! We stayed for a little over a week so pro tip: become friends with the bartenders & they’ll give you drinks for free! We ended up spending some time outside of the resort & went to a carnival, strip mall with fun dance bars & the Hard Rock Cafe! The hotel has free shuttle service to take you anywhere within a couple miles of the resort for free. There are multiple resorts on the Kingston Plantation, but we chose Embassy Suites. 90% of the vacation-ers were young friends, people on their honeymoon, elders couples etc. I personally don’t think this is a kid-friendly resort. Some other resorts had sand castle contests & activities for kiddos but this was a very chill, low key resort/hotel! The resort thought we were honeymooners (perks of being young travelers) & once we checked in they sent a bottle of wine + a fruit basket to our room for free! We actually pretended to be newlyweds the rest of the vaca & ended up getting free appetizers & free drinks at the bars lolzzz. Why not right? What’s funny is that we took this trip soon after we met & Brian didn’t freak out when I suggested pretending to be newlyweds only a couple of months after meeting! But it’s fair because I didn’t freak out when Brian booked this trip only 2 months after we met.
Turtle Bay Resort
Ever seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall or Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates? Those were filmed here! Hands down, this was my favorite vacation of all time. Not only because of the fact that were in HAWAII, but there is so much to do AT the resort for free. We ended up getting a rental car, but honestly if we could do it over again.. I would opt for taking Uber anywhere. We left the resort once to go shopping & out to eat elsewhere, but otherwise, it’s not worth spending money on a rental car. The resort actually has transportation that will pick you up & take you back to the airport! But this resort was very cheap for everything we did, ate & drank. Turtle Bay has multiple restaurants, amazing breakfasts (peep my first photo) & fancy restaurants such as Roy’s Beachhouse. Most of the fish are caught right in front of the resort, which is cool! There are multiple private beaches that surround the resort (second photo) that are within walking distance. It was nice because we could eat lunch at the pool & grab a drink (third photo) then walk to any one of the beaches! There is a coffee shop in the resort that serves amazing Kona Coffee (4th photo) & snacks like fruit, veggies, nuts, etc. There is a famous bar called Surfer that has entertainment on the weekends. Ce-Lo Green was there among some other well known artists & the line was crazy out the door + a cover to get in, but because we were guests, we got in FO FREE. Besides what I listed.. At the resort you can snorkel & use snorkels for FREE at any time, kayak where turtles live (which was my favorite thing to do), whale watch, hike (we did this as well, an old WWII shelter is actually on the property!), ride horses, take surf lessons (So worth it), go to the spa, hang out by the pool, paddle board, golf & so much more! This is definitely a perfect resort for families & couples & was as dreamy as it looks!
The Caribbean – Royal Caribbean Cruise
I’ll go into more detail of our cruise experience as one of my tips is to book a cruise since they’re so cheap! But for this vaca, we sailed out of Tampa then headed to Key West & Cozumel! Such a fun vacation, but it’s definitely something I would suggest doing with a group of people! It’s very much a “party vibe” on a cruise & as fun as it was with Brian alone, it would be even more fun with friends! I’ll also go into detail below of the hotel we stayed at before our cruise, it was amazing with a fancy courtyard, yummy restaurants & a rooftop pool + bar!
This resort was a lot of fun. It’s quite a bit smaller than Turtle Bay & intended to be a family resort. But if you’re looking to go to Maui & explore the island a ton outside of the resort, then this is definitely the resort for you! This resort has amazing deals for free meals & we even got a rental car for FREE! I’ll go into more detail of that below in my tips, But we did enjoy this resort’s breakfast & meals. They had mango & guava mimosas that were to die for AND THIS LILIKOI AND MANGO FRENCH TOAST THAT’S A SPECIALTY ON THEIR MENU. Can you tell why? I mean look at it (aka peep the photo). But since this is a family place, they had a family friendly pool & beach area, meaning no drinks were allowed outside of the pool bar (BOO) but I get it. Gotta keep it PG for the kiddos. The restaurants had amazing food for lunches & dinners (peep my lobster), but we chose to check out local places to save some money as well. We went to a coffee shop that had amazing juices, went to get açaí bowls, checked out local beaches, went shopping, checked out local bars ect! I do have to say that my number one thing is that the snorkeling at the resort is AMAZING. I swam with multiple sea turtles that were the size of me (aka 5ft long) & weird looking fish. Like they just come right up to you! it was a highlight of my life. JUST KIDDING. Scratch that. Whale watching was the lightlight of my entire life. Hands down. Nothing else will ever be cooler than seeing my favorite animal. One calf was with it’s mom & kept breeching. I cried. I know I’m dramatic but shout out to Brian for making my dreams come true. Check out Pacific Whale Foundation for tours! You’re guaranteed to see a whale during birthing season (early to late Spring).
Oahu, Hawaii (again)
Brian went to Oahu again but since I wasn’t there (s/o to work being busy) I can’t tell you much other than him & his friends got an Airbnb on the beach & ate only local so it was the cheapest vaca he’s ever been on. He tells me that he saves money when I’m not with him because I’m extra. No clue where he would get that idea.
Gull Lake, Brainerd, Minnesota
This is a place you probably see Brian & I going to every weekend! His parents have a home there but, this is such an amazing place to travel! There are lots of great resorts, restaurants & shops that we love so I’ll link my favorites below!
Grandview Lodge is a cute resort on the lake. It has amazing restaurants & a great spa I’ve gone to with Brian’s mom a couple times. You can golf, hang out by the lake, rent kayaks, rent jet skis, zip line etc. You can rent suites, condos, 8 bedroom cabins or even your own villa! They’re so so so nice & worth the price! We’ve never stayed there personally, but it’s a place I would consider staying if Brian’s family didn’t own a house in the area.
My FAV restaurants in the Brainerd area:
Bar Harbor Supper Club
They have the best sparkling rose & lobster bisque soup!
We go here most often! They also have really great lobster bisque & walleye. You can drive your boat right up here!
Jake’s Beach Grill
They have pizza rolls. Enough said.
Family owned. Homemade dough with homemade sauces! SO GOOD. They have wings, sandwiches & salads as well.
My fav shopping stores:
There is a long secluded street FULL of shops. Home stores, clothing stores, locally made food stores (my favorite locally made teas, jams and honeys are sold at Meg’s Cabin), Chocolate Ox, locally grown coffee shops, handmade jewelry stores (Brian bought his first necklace he gave me from one of these stores), Cafes, restaurants & more! A majority of our woodland theme apartment decor is actually from one of these shops! They won’t disappoint.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida then the Caribbean.. again!
We’ll be heading out on another cruise in a few months with some friends but are staying at a resort Brian found for a couple days beforehand, because why not right?
We’ll be staying at the Lago Mar Resort & Beach Club & I’ll go into detail below of how Brian found this fancy resort for cheaper!
Now, that all being said..
I’m going to spill allll the secrets on how we travel so often & stay at fancy places on a budget, so you can too! Get your pen & paper or Pinterest page open because you’re going to want to save these tips!
1.) Stop purchasing your flights directly from airline websites like Delta
Problem number 1: flights are expensive. Yeah, when you purchase from airline websites, not when you purchase from sites like Skyscanner or Brian’s favorite, an app called Hitlist. Airline websites are all about the money, they know that’s where you’re going to go to purchase flights. When using Hitlist, you can save your favorite locations & you’ll be notified when flights are available for cheap. Simple as that. You get to pick your own airline, which is a win because if you’re like me, you refuse to fly with anyone but Delta. Do it for the free plane cookies that you can’t find anywhere other than Costco. For our trip to Maui, Hawaii a few months ago, Brian was able to get our flights for only $600 roundtrip using Hitlist compared to the usual $950 per person. We’ve considered randomly going to Myrtle Beach again simply because he’ll get a notification that flights are only $120 per person for a week round trip! Def skip the airline websites.
Also pro tip: If you’re viewing plane tickets online anyway, go into “Spy Mode” on your Mac/computer. Airline websites bump up the prices if you’ve looked at the same flight more than twice!
2) Book your resorts on Hotels.com
You will find EVERYTHING significantly cheaper. Like I said above, we’re going to be in Florida & Brian found this amazing resort called Lago Mar Beach Resort & Club. It has a private beach, amazing restaurants & bars & gorgeous rooms overlooking the ocean. The room we got was originally $275 per night but thanks to Hotels.com, he got it for $195! A few months back when we went to Maui, Brian found our resort, Mana Kai for $233 a night when it’s originally $400 & we got a special deal of a rental car for FREE! Which brings me to my next tip..
3) Don’t just look for deals, call the resort/hotel for deals.
Hotels/resorts often hide their deals simply because they want to make money. Makes sense right? They’re a business, they need to make ends meet. But rather than searching for deals, call the resort/hotel & ask! I called Mana Kai about their deals & found out that if we booked within a certain time frame, they would give us a rental car for free! I eventually found it on their website.. but it was in fine print and very well hidden on a page I wouldn’t think to look at for deals.
I spoiled Brian with a Caribbean Cruise last Christmas & when I booked our hotel in Florida to stay at for a few days before (Tampa Marriot Waterside Hotel), I called & because we were going on a cruise, they gave us free transportation to our cruise port & a free breakfast for 2 at their hotel restaurant! The hotel was amazing, complete with a rooftop pool + bar. Definitely worth staying there if you’re ever going on a cruise that leaves from Tampa. This leads me to my next tip:
4.) Book a cruise
Cruises are the most underrated vacation of. All. Time. So cheap, so amazing, so much fun. You feel like royalty on those things. I first decided I wanted to go on a cruise simply because Brian had already taken me to Myrtle Beach & Hawaii & I wanted to spoil him with a vacation that wouldn’t break the budget. I decided to go with Royal Caribbean since they were the highest rated in terms of service, food, drinks & cleanliness. It definitely did not disappoint. I got our 5 day cruise from Tampa to Key West & Cozumel, all inclusive of course, for $1250 which included our excursions! Our next cruise, which is even longer & on a bigger ship.. Brian found for ONLY $825 for both of us! Because of how cheap it is, we splurged & got drink packages for buy 1, get 1 50% off. Which I’m excited for since on our last cruise, we switched off getting drinks since they were $12-$15 per drink. Now I get to have as many drinks as I please, including my fav rose, tea & almond milk lattes. Def recommend the drink package so you don’t have to worry about a thing.
Tip when booking cruises, drink packages or excursions: Wait until sales happen, which is during holidays for Royal Caribbean. They’re not going to “run out” of drink packages & most likely will still have spaces on excursions & the cruise itself!
5.) Only book during “off seasons”
When going on every one of our vacations/cruises, it’s ALWAYS been during the off season. Meaning we have traveled during the fall-spring when students are still in school. Resorts, especially in Hawaii & Florida, will skyrocket their prices simply because people plan for vacations during spring break & the summertime. Great for business, right? Definitely be smarter & book when kids are still in school. If you have kids, I understand that it’s harder to travel since they do need to be in school. But hey, leave them at home with their Godparents & TREAT YOSELF. We all work constantly & deserve a vaca that isn’t going to break the bank! I recently checked & during the summertime, Turtle Bay Resort suite prices are almost $200 MORE than what they were in the spring when Brian & I went!
6.) Book a spontaneous trip
You guys might not like this one.. Simply because people prefer not to book spontaneous vacations. BUT if you book a trip randomly within 2 months in advance, prices for flights are cheaper. Our trip to Myrtle Beach, Maui, & Brian’s trip to Oahu without me (still salty) (kidding) were not only cheap because we booked flights by following the tips listed above, but also because they were a couple months in advance. The closer you get to a certain date (like when the flight leaves), they want to fill up those seats which will help bring prices down for flights. I know with a full time job & kiddos, people may find it hard, but I recommend taking time off ahead of time (random week in April or whenever), decide where you’re going & find flights! It’s been fun to just book spontaneous trips with Brian because you don’t know where you’ll end up going but you know you’re going to have the best time! Our trip to Maui was planned less than 2 months ahead of time & turned out to be one of the best trips.
Set a budget once your flights are bought & you’ll find something in your budget, I promise!
That’s all! I hope you enjoyed reading this very lengthy blog! If you didn’t skip to the tips, I appreciate you reading the entire post 🙂
Seriously, while you have the time, make the time to travel.
We’re only the age we are right now once & I would rather spend time making memories with the one I love on the beach than 10 years from now wishing I traveled when I could!
If you follow my tips for traveling, let me know where you go!