Customizing a Vacation to Suit Your Budget

Have you ever dreamed of a vacation but didn’t think you could afford it?  Here are some tips to cut costs yet give you the best experience and value for your travel dollar.  Let’s use the islands of French Polynesia, in the South Pacific as an example of how you can adapt a dream vacation to match your travel budget.

Tip #1  Expectations:  Write a “must do” list. No vacation experience is worth giving up what you’ve always dreamed of doing.  Be it staying in an over-the-water-bungalow, seeing Mount Otemanu on Bora Bora or getting an authentic tattoo in the Marquesas.

Tip #2  Travel Dates: Travel during the “off or shoulder” season when prices are more generally lower.  Remember, North American seasons may be reversed in other parts of the world.  Avoid travelling during holiday times, and make sure you check the holidays and festivals in the destination. The tourism websites are a good place for all this information.  Crowds and prices will go up during most holidays. Instead of a 2-week vacation, think of a 7 or 10-night adventure.  

Tip #3  Location: The most well-known islands in French Polynesia are Tahiti and Bora Bora located in the Society Islands and possibly Nuku Kiva in the Marquesas – thanks to the popular TV show Survivor! There are over 120 islands and atolls (30 with tourism infrastructure) in 5 archipelagos over a 4,167 sq/km area (larger than Europe). Lesser-known islands offer good value for the money. It’s easy to do 2 or 3 islands in the same archipelago during any one vacation. 

Tip #4  Accommodation There are a wide range of accommodation options including guest houses all the way up to the most sought after over-the-water-bungalows.  Even in these coveted bungalows, where they are located on the pier also dictates the price.  The closer to the beach you are located, the less expensive the OWB and as you go further out on the pier, prices rise so that the last one, with its 180° uninterrupted views have the most privacy and the highest cost.  Remember, the fish don’t know what you paid as you look down through your glass floor window into the ocean! You can split your time, between the more affordable lush tropical garden view rooms or beachfront villas and then spend a couple nights in an over-the-water-bungalow. It’s hard to have a bad view when you’re in French Polynesia. 

Tip #5  Transportation: Flights from Los Angeles are 8 hours with varying rates. Air Tahiti, the domestic airline has discount air passes for island hopping. I’ve taken the fast ferry from Tahiti to Moorea and it was less than $15 one-way.  Up for an adventure? Cargo vessels sail throughout the archipelagos and have great rates. Try renting a bicycle, or car instead of taking taxis.  Water taxis are available to get around in Bora Bora, but beware, to go from your hotel on one of the many motus (small islands where hotels are located) to Vaitape (the main town) on Bora Bora mainland may cost you upwards of $20 per trip.     

Tip #6  Dining:  Food trucks called Roulottes open each evening in Papeete, the capital of Tahiti. Snack stands are a great gathering place with affordable local cuisine.  Most hotels and guest houses offer Half Board (breakfast and one other meal). Since all the islands in French Polynesia are an overseas collectivity of France, menus are usually written in French and priced in French Pacific Francs (XPF or CFP). Cuisine has a definite French/Tahitian flair to it. Picnics and self-catering are fun and affordable options.    

Although we used French Polynesia as an example, this same formula can be used for any destination around the world.  By following some of the above tips and strategies, you can bring a $35,000+ budget down to under $8,000 per couple.  Never let the cost stop you from a perceived luxury destination!  Ask your travel advisor to help you find the perfect vacation within your budget and enjoy your vacation without sticker shock. 

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