There was a time when I thought a weeklong vacation to Hilton Head would be outrageously expensive — either that or I’d have to stay at a less-than-desirable hotel 15 miles from the beach to make it affordable. In my seemingly never-ending quest to find the best deal on everything, I serendipitously stumbled upon something that has changed my entire view about this. Before going into the details, I’ll just say that my family and I now vacation in Hilton Head every year for an amount less than taking shorter vacations in less exclusive areas.
When one breaks down the costs of a vacation, there are usually 4 major categories of expenses: travel, lodging, food, and entertainment/recreation. This article doesn’t really touch on the first one, except to say that Hilton Head is only a 9 hour drive from our home, which is more cost effective for a family than flying. Our “big secret” to a great Hilton Head vacation has been to rent vacation villas or homes directly from owners. Simply Google “vacation rentals by owner” and you’ll find several websites that list house, condo, and townhome rentals by owner.
There are several advantages of choosing your lodging this way. First, the cost savings over hotels and other commercially-run vacation rental sites can be substantial. For example, this past year we stayed in an extremely nice, 2 bedroom and 2 bath villa overlooking the 18th green of a beautiful golf courses. The ocean was only a short 5-minute walk or 1-minute drive away. The cost for the entire week was only $700, compared to hotel rates of nearly $1500 for the same week. We enhance those savings by vacationing 1 week prior to or after the peak season. Rates are greatly reduced, the weather is virtually the same and the roads, beaches, and restaurants are less crowded.
Renting villas instead of hotel rooms can also provide serious savings on food costs. We usually make a quick run to a local grocery store upon arrival and stock the kitchen. We only dine out at restaurants 3 or 4 times during the entire trip. We eat all breakfasts and lunches at the villa and grill steaks, chicken or fish for a few dinners. For a family of 3, we eat very well for $175-$200. When staying at hotels without kitchens, we’ve easily spent upwards of $400 because every meal had to be eaten at a restaurant.
As far as entertainment goes, Hilton Head is one place that you can enjoy yourself without spending a lot of money. Sure there is golf, tennis, ocean cruises, etc. that can be a little pricey, but a day at the beach is free. Another amenity included in our last trip was a beach-side locker stocked with chairs, umbrellas, and beach toys. There was no need to purchase or rent anything and the best part was we could just lock everything in the locker at the end of the day without lugging it all back to the villa.
Furthermore, bicycles were provided, which allowed us to enjoy several hours cruising under moss-covered oaks for free. This particular villa sat on property with a private lake and lagoon. All I had to do was take about 30 steps off the back porch and cast my rod for some pretty decent bass and crappie fishing. Finally, although this might turn a few people off, it was really cool to watch alligators sun on the banks of the lagoon.
Of course, when renting vacation rentals from owners, you should thoroughly research the particular Web site and understand what is involved. Unlike a hotel, if you show up and the lodging is less than what you expected, you simply can’t request a different room. Make sure you ask for updated photos and get a contract with terms of agreement. Many of the sites also have guest books signed by past renters who can give you a better idea of what the villa or home will be like.
While I do this at Hilton Head, it’s something that can be done anywhere. Those previously-mentioned Web sites have vacation rentals for nearly any place within the U.S. that one would want to travel. Just spend some time searching and I’m sure you’ll find a great place that offers substantial savings.
Image courtesy of Jim Frazier