Sand, Sun, and Fun: How To Plan A Caribbean Vacation On A Budget

Sand, Sun, and Fun: How To Plan A Caribbean Vacation On A Budget

Written by Bryan Daly
Fact-checked by Caitlin Wood
Last Updated January 13, 2018

Oh, Canada. Home of the maple tree, and the frozen winter wonderland. It’s no secret that getting away to enjoy the tropical sun can work miracles for your spirit. However, especially in January and February, the rates of most tropical destinations can climb to astronomical heights, depending on where you stay and how you want to live while you’re there. If you can’t stand the cold and need to get away to the Caribbean, here are a few things to consider before you pack your suitcase.

Where You’re Going, and How You’ll Get There

There are quite a few places to vacation when it comes to the Caribbean. Jamaica, Barbados, maybe the Dominican Republic? The list of islands and hotspots is nearly endless and each of them has a different cost of travel and living. However, if you’re looking to save some money, it’s good to do some research beforehand.  

Remember, depending on the travel website or agency you’re be booking through, if you’re heading to the Caribbean, you’ll be paying a lot of the expenses in American currency. With the current value of the American dollar being equal to 1.33 Canadian, figuring out a budget before you book is a smart decision. An unfortunate fact is that flying out Canada can be far more expensive than flying out of the United States. So, if the option is on the table, a cheaper way to travel is to drive down to somewhere across the border and fly out from there instead. However, maybe this isn’t an option for you. For the amount of time you’ll spend driving to the States, and money you’ll pay to store your car there, you might as well just fly out of Canada and save yourself the hassle.

Another money-saving method is choosing what day you will be flying. If you’re planning to leave on a weekend, it will be more expensive. Booking your departing and returning flights in the beginning and middle of the week is the best way to save a few bucks in this case. Once again, depending on the agency you’re booking through, you can save upwards of $30 on both your outbound and return flights. Not bad if you’re looking to pick up a few souvenirs while you’re there. And remember, the cost of airfare will fluctuate from week to week, so keeping a lookout on various travel websites and booking a last minute deal might help you out.

What to Choose, Hotel or Cruise?

Something else to consider when you’re looking into Caribbean vacations is whether you want to go with an all-inclusive hotel package or take a cruise down to your chosen destination. Just like with any vacation, both options have their advantages and disadvantages. 

Let’s say that you’re trying to save on airfare. Most all week long stays at any general all-inclusive resort will be around $1000 per person, depending on what time of year you’re going, what day you decide to fly out, and if you want to stay at a hotel that’s above 3-stars. So, in some cases, if you’re close enough to a common port like New York or Boston, taking a cruise might be a fun alternative to an all-inclusive. In this case, there will be a lot where you can park your car for the week, you’ll board the cruise ship, sail around in the south and come back a few days later. No going through security check, no waiting for delayed flights at the airport. Not to mention the cost of your checked luggage, which is an average of $50 for each flight, there and back (consider finding a carry-on sized suitcase to save on this expense).  

On the cruise, you’ll most likely have a whole slew of activities and other things to do. There are usually different entertainment options every night, like shows and movies at the in-house theatre, all included in the original price. Any good cruise will also have a couple of days reserved where they’ll dock in the Caribbean and let you go ashore for a few hours. However, your meals (at least not the basic ones like the continental breakfast) and your drinks might cost extra. They may even charge you for things like excursions on the shore if you go anywhere farther than the beach that is.

For these reasons, going with an all-inclusive might be better for you, especially if you don’t like the idea of getting sea-sick. Sure, you’ll be paying for the airfare, but with that $1000 package, everything is of course included. This means flights there and back, food, drinks, basic activities, and extras like snorkeling gear, beach towels, etc. The only other things you’ll probably be paying extra for are tours outside the resort, scuba diving adventures or anything else that’s not a cheap activity. Either way, if you just want to lounge on the beach, an all-inclusive resort can be preferable. After all, the sand and the sun will be right outside the door.         

Consider Going in the Off-Season

We know, with the winter breeze making your eyelashes stick together, it can be tempting to book your vacation for the coldest months: December, January, and February. But, if you’re going to give into temptation, you’ll be paying up for it. While it can be worth it to get away during the frosty days, be aware that this is when everyone wants to go. Resorts and airlines know this, so they’re going to shoot their prices through the roof.

So, if you’re on a tight budget, it can be beneficial to just stick it out, grit your teeth through some overtime hours, and save your extra money and vacation time for the months right before, or right after the busy season for tropical travel. Typically, if you book in October-November or March-April, you’re going to be saving yourself hundreds of dollars in airfare and resort fees.

Caution, some Caribbean destinations experience rainy periods throughout the summer and fall months (June-November). The weather varies from place to place, so this is another important thing to consider when doing your research. Statistics say that September is the worst month to go to the Caribbean, as hurricane season will be at its peak. So, at this point of the year, even though the prices will most likely be lower, avoid places like Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, or any central areas of the Caribbean.

Plan Your Budget Efficiently

Depending on your annual income, your Caribbean vacation could leave you with a whopper of a credit card bill. So, as with any other financial decision, it’s important to plan a budget, no matter how much you want to just pack up and go.

At most Caribbean resorts, you’ll need to have a surplus of American cash, mostly $1 bills, for extra activities and tipping the hotel staff. While giving away $1-2 here and there doesn’t seem like much, it can add up quickly when you consider all the different parts of the resort you might be tipping at, like the restaurants, bars, shuttle buses, and room service. On top of this, if you don’t have cash on hand, you’ll have to pay with your credit or debit card. With the current exchange rate, get ready to have to empty the deeper parts of your wallet.

However, once you’ve taken all this into consideration, you’ll probably just find yourself craving that sandy beach and margarita even more. So, it might be a good idea to speak with a travel agent and discover the cheapest Caribbean destination that’s best for you. Once this is all thought out and booked, the only other expenses you’ll need to consider will be your new bathing suit and suntan lotion.  

Trying to save money for your vacation? Check out this other article.  

Bryan is a graduate of Dawson College and Concordia University. He has been writing for Loans Canada for five years, covering all things related to personal finance, and aims to pursue the craft of professional writing for many years to come. In his spare time, he maintains a passion for editing, writing screenplays, staying fit, and traveling the world in search of the coolest sights our planet has to offer. Bryan uses the BMO Cash Back Mastercard to earn cash back on everything from boring bill payments to exciting excursions. He is also a strong saver, holding both a TFSA and an RRSP account in order to prepare for his future while taking full advantage of tax benefits.

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