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Article by Guest Contributor: Henry Moore at Fit Well Traveler
Travel isn’t cheap, but it’s also one of those expenses that are worth every penny. And thankfully, even those who have no interest in international escapades can enjoy the beauty of the beach without trekking too far off the beaten path. Florida features one of the most diverse terrains in the country and is also one of the most popular tourist destinations. However, even the Panhandle has it’s “off” season and, if you’re flexible, you can save hundreds of dollars over the course of a long weekend. Here’s how:
Avoid high season. According to Frommer’s, Florida’s high season is December through April, when snowbirds flock from across the country to soak up the sun while their neighbors shovel snow. Spring break – the middle of March through the middle of April – is extra busy with spring breakers taking up every last inch of beautiful beach real estate. June through November are the least expensive months to book a hotel, condo, or beach house. Destin-area rental properties start at around $115 per night with prices that can double as the season peaks.
Book travel in advance. They say the early bird gets the worm. The old adage holds true when booking air travel, says USA Today contributor David Thyberg. Purchasing air travel tickets three to six months in advance is one of the most surefire ways to get the best bang for your buck. On the other side of the token, however, last-minute fares are often highly discounted, even by major carriers. If you don’t mind long layovers, budget airlines offer cheap tickets. These discount carriers often charge extra for in-flight services that are free through other airlines, so double check what’s included in your fare prior to takeoff.
Take advantage of coupons targeted to locals. Everyone loves a good coupon but tourist-heavy areas try to target locals, who are less likely to be drawn in by gimmicks, themed restaurants, and location-specific attractions. Call around to schools and youth-based programs in the county you plan to visit and ask if they are doing a coupon-book fundraiser.
Avoid holiday weekends. Major holidays, such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, and Labor Day weekend, are some of the best times to get together with friends and family. But they are the worst times to travel. If you want to celebrate a holiday with a few days away, consider going the weekend before or after. Not only will you avoid traffic and crowds, but you’ll pay less for pretty much everything.
Picnic on the beach. Trying different foods and dining in new locations is part of the fun of travel. When you’re on a budget, dining out each evening may not be on the menu. Instead, pack a picnic basket filled with your favorite foods and a few local flavors. AJ’s Oyster & Seafood Bar is one of the most famous establishments on the Destin Harbor and a must-try for newcomers. AJ’s offers an assortment of seafood dips that are best served cold and will make for a refreshing snack on the beach. Call ahead and order for takeout so you’re not tempted to overindulge and make your wallet weep.
Consider alternative activities. Vendors know travelers are willing to pay for experiences. Activities such as deep-sea fishing often sell out even with a price tag of $500 or more per day per person. When your pockets aren’t quite that deep, you’ll have to get creative. Consider a day trip to the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier, which is open 24/7 and will set you back less than $20 for a fishing license and rod and reel rental for the entire day.
No matter your budget or timeframe, everything is better at the beach. But if you’re looking to save money, flexibility is key. Book early and be willing to change your plans if you can find a last-minute deal. Remember, sunsets are free and Florida has some of the best and that’s a value you can’t put a price on.