This was my "bar trip." I can't afford to do anything fancy like other people do, but going somewhere local with friends (and splitting the bill) makes it much more affordable. Because I was going insane from cramming for the bar, my wonderful friends did all the planning work. They are great bargain hunters by their own right, and they did a superb job this time. All I did was to pick the choices they offered.
Lodging is probably one of the biggest expenses when it comes to travelling. There's the method of finding the cheapest possible, then there's the method of finding the best value. There was a hotel that was really cheap, but it was right by the freeway and not picturesque. Then there's someplace fancy in the heart of wine country, but offers a summer special that costs an extra $15 per person. We all agreed to take the latter, and it was undoubtedly the best choice. Take a look at the views we got when we step out onto the private patio attached to each "villa":
Those grapes were quite yummy (very sweet), even though the skins were thick and there were huge seeds inside those little grapes. The evening view was great, too.
It was such a great value because the extra money we paid wasn't much, but we got a lot in return: spacious rooms, a beautiful bathroom with jacuzzi in it, which we didn't because we used the one by the pool after we've had a nice refreshing dip in it. On top of that, each room has a free bottle of wine, and we got 4 tickets for wine tasting, which normally costs $10 each.
It really pays to go on the weekdays. I'm not sure if the winery/hotel's special deal would be valid on the weekends, but very often they are not. Another good reason to go on the weekdays is to avoid the crowds. Some of the tastings we went to were quite hectic...think of what would have happened if a larger group was around.
My friend had booked us a wine tour so that we can do all the different tastings without worrying about driving. The tour was around $80 (including tip and lunch), and we were taken to 4 different wineries. Most wine tastings cost $10-$15 each for trying 5 different wines, which meant a lot of that $80 is attributable to the transportation services. If you want to save more money, doing your own driving (when you've had a break to sober up, of course) will save you even more money. The tour guide gave us a "passport" that includes discounts for tastings and/or purchases at other wineries, which came in handy when I bought something on the morning before we headed home.
For the best value when it comes to tasting, do your homework before you get to wine country. Find out which wineries offer deals, or if your hotel gives coupons. Some wineries have 2-for-1 tastings, which are great if you're going with friends or a significant other.
Look at how much stuff we bought collectively!
The one on the wine rack is the complimentary bottle from the hotel. See that tag? If you see tags on hotel things, read them carefully! In this case it told us that it's free, but a lot of times a tag means it'll cost ya. We saw a couple of bottles of water with the $2.95 price tag. Good thing we paid attention.
Finally, going on vacation also means spending money on food. Eating out is expensive, but it most cases it can't be avoided. However, breakfast is generally easy to tackle--things like granola or protein bars don't require refrigeration. If your room has a microwave, you're in luck. You can heat up leftovers from restaurants, which will make another meal.
When I got home, I found another UPS package at my door. Good thing that wasn't stolen, either. I'll talk about the contents next time.
p.s.--thanks for a wonderful time, girls! You guys are the best.