Among frequent travelers, and especially in the travel blog community there is a weird tension about “traveler vs tourist” and it’s really funny and irritating. It’s typically approached in a condescending way and despite we not caring where we fall into the array we still make the effort to be sure to fall into “traveler”… And then we do our annual trip to Mexico using a timeshare where we stay in a luxury five star resort. But here’s why using a timeshare is smart travel.
We’ve got three different ways we choose to travel and each provides totally different experiences. We’ve found as the kids grow that they need varying trips to keep their attention and excitement. True, we could probably go to the beach for every vacation and there’d be no complaints, but also the kids wouldn’t develop diverse interests. That’s why we like to vary from our normal family travel (road trips and National Parks) to using a timeshare for a different sort of trip.
What you'll find...
Normal family travel
I think we’ve made it clear over the years that we’re big on road trips and camping. For us this is our normal family travel and it’s truly a wonderful way to explore and learn about places, communities, culture and nature. This is how so many families vacation and explore, how they travel. The reasons usually involve cost (plane tickets and hotels are expensive) and because it’s what you do in the USA (and everywhere else too).
We allot about 40% of our travel to fall into the standard family road trip style, incorporating camping and the outdoors into as much of it as possible. So, a chunk of our travel is like that, now where do the other 60% of our adventures come from?
Having a travel blog
Part of having a travel blog is getting to travel to incredible places and beautiful hotels courtesy of somebody else. We’ve been invited to many places that aren’t completely within our normal travelscope, such as National Park Lodges (we’d normally camp), or vintage hotels on the Atlantic Coast (we’d typically head to California). Also, opportunities arise that not all of us can be a part of due to our limited travel time together, but thanks to amazing family members who love to get extra time with grandkids, travels through China and the Caribbean also get to happen.
There’s a lot of work that goes along with doing these trips, but it’s well worth it to get to share such cool places with the kids and inspire other families to get out and explore new places. All of these varying opportunities add to our traveler-chops and account for another 40% of our travel time.
Note: starting a travel blog doesn’t just bring you travel opportunities overnight. It’s a lot of work and learning and finding your genuine voice… but we’re talking about why we’re still using a timeshare even though we have these amazing opportunities…
Once upon a time, more than 10 years ago, Chris and I took our second trip to Mexico and fell in love with Cabo San Lucas… within an hour of being there. The next morning we accidentally did a timeshare presentation and never looked back. And this is how we spend that last 20% of our annual travel-time budget.
Why did we start using a timeshare when we already had such great adventures? We loved the idea of locking ourselves into at least one international trip per year as well as the chance to have a genuinely relaxing vacation at least once a year. We saw and still do see the value of having a home away from home, and our timeshare in Cabo truly is that, including the staff that knows us and our kids.
Why do we consider using a timeshare valid “travel” per other people’s guidelines (like we mentioned above)? Well, continually returning to a destination allows you the chance to get to know a place deeply and to explore beyond the tourist attractions. After 10 years of returning to Cabo San Lucas, we’ve learned how to seek out the best local eats, the beaches first-time tourists don’t know about, where to find Mexican culture beyond what’s set up for cruise ship passengers…
That’s why using a timeshare is so important to us. We’ve gotten to do “slow travel” and understand a place and culture on a different level than most other travel experiences have allowed us. Using a timeshare repeatedly is the only way we could do this while still maintaining 9 to 5 jobs and having a permanent home base. But someday when the timing is right, a sabbatical and four one-way plane tickets…
We’ve heard so many people moan about their mistaken timeshare purchases or even just that they don’t ever get the chance to use their time away. Well, here are some quick tips for how to be sure that using a timeshare is a value-added experience:
Always budget your annual time off to allow for a visit to your second home
If you know you won’t be using a timeshare in a year, contact the operator to bank the time or points
If you don’t just want to lounge around the property make time to explore beyond the site
Add a few days before or after using a timeshare to experience another area in the general region
Most timeshares are condos, so to keep costs down, live like you would at home and do some of your own cooking
Spend a morning while using a timeshare to attend another presentation and get a better understanding of how to use it in the future (and you’ll get free tours or tequila or something too)
We never lose our week but we have banked it and stacked up multiple weeks in a year. We’ve also been able to bring people with us to Mexico and allow them their own space and a wonderful vacation. Other people we know have used their membership with services such as RCI to trade their week/points and go someplace new. We’ve never done that because we love returning to Cabo San Lucas every year, but someday maybe we will.
Tip: inquire with individual timeshare operators regarding weather and natural disaster plans, as that can severely impact both a visit and the overall access to a property, and you don’t want to lose your time.
We’ll just be really transparent about what it costs us to use our timeshare and maybe it’ll seem like a worthwhile venture for everybody else… or you can sit there and silently mock us. Here’s the scoop on our ownership experiences:
We attended a timeshare presentation at the Playa Grande when it was almost done being built and thought it was gorgeous. We had no clue what it would cost, so went through until they started putting numbers in front of us. It turns out that purchasing a timeshare costs SO MUCH MORE than us kids in our early 20s could afford.
After being clear that we couldn’t afford a $50k+ initial purchase, we thought it wasn’t for us and were ready to go, but then they offered us something totally different. Instead of a piece of the brand new hotel, they offered us a junior suite at their older sister property next door, the Solmar. We didn’t need anything so fancy as the new Playa Grande so purchased the vintage junior suite in the original Solmar at 1/10 the price of their initial offering.
Tip: if you’re genuinely interested in purchasing a timeshare, hold out and tell them what you want. They want the sale and 99% of the time have plenty of room to move or a variety of inventory to make it happen.
The day we bought our timeshare at the Solmar we did have to put down nearly $1000 USD. This was the taxes and closing costs (kind of like a real estate transaction). The remaining $5000 they financed for us.
Note: the “loan” rate they gave us was ridiculous and we paid off the remaining balance as quickly as we could because the cost was like a really bad credit card. Lesson learned but never regretted.
After a few years and bringing friends and family with us five times, we went ahead and purchased a second week, but this time for use every other year. Again, we went through a presentation and were asked if we wanted to spend $70k… to which we said no. We walked away with 1 bedroom master suite for another $6000 and another 32 years and this time in the Playa Grande, which is a huge, beautiful 5 star resort..
Note: we’ve since upgraded our first timeshare upon them tearing down the unit we initially purchased (no charge to us), the original Solmar hotel, and now have both of our units at the Playa Grande and love it!
Annual maintenance fees
The surprise for me with purchasing a timeshare was that there is an annual maintenance fee that must be paid prior to using a timeshare. This is a set fee that may increase gradually over the years per your purchase contract. The fee is there to ensure that every time you return the property is in immaculate shape and that you can fully relax in the best accommodations possible. In the moment you’re like “Um, that is so dumb and not why I have PURCHASED something…” but then when you pay it and realize upon check-in that you really are paying to maintain quality, it all makes sense and you see the value.
Tip: depending on your timeshare manager (the property or timeshare company), you can often set up your maintenance fees in installments. Our initial fees were $371 per year and have gone up over the last ten years, so as they increase, having the luxury of paying quarterly is nice.
The maintenance fee is the worst part of owning and using a timeshare but as long as you plan properly you can budget for it and it’s just like saving for a vacation. True, it’s tough not to feel like purchasing a timeshare and then still paying something for it each year seems like a croc, but you know, we’ve found it to be completely worth it.
TipCancun beach club day: if you’re unsure about the value of a timeshare and want to test drive it, you can buy day passes for many resorts or beach clubs and see what the value would be for you. Check out Danielle’s account of her for an idea.
So, that’s our experience with using a timeshare and where we find the value. We use it as a way to get to know a place deeply, to have a guaranteed nice, relaxing experience amidst camping in the woods, and to give us a clear path to consistent international travel. We say that one of our goals in traveling with kids is giving them a broad world view and using a timeshare to get us into another country where we can go exploring is a great way to do it!