Vacation On The Cheap? We Didn’t Know It Was Possible
Updated: May 11
Going on vacation doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg. Even if you decide to go to the beach, or a local bed and breakfast, there are ways you can save money while on vacation.
Is it really possible? Of course! Vacations tend to cost a lot of money because people tend to neglect cheap vacation ideas and budget friendly ideas. Sometimes people don't even set a budget for their vacations.
Vacations are possible without breaking the bank. We want to share with you our experience with travel and how to travel on a budget. We have made many changes to the way we travel in order to save more money so we can put it where it actually matters, whether it be towards an overall cheaper vacation or being able to do more excursions while there.
Let's dive in to see how to travel on a budget.
Setting a Budget for Travel
Setting a budget for vacation may not sound that fun. I get it. You want to be able to go on a trip and not have to worry about finances and what you can or can't afford.
After all, you're supposed to be getting away from those things right?
The thing is, when you neglect to prioritize a budget friendly vacation, your trip will be fun in the moment but will be hell when you return. It's important that you set a budget for what you're willing to spend, and what activities you plan to do. By planning this out in advance you save yourself from making sporadic decisions that could impact your finances negatively.
Figure Out How Much You Can Spend
If you know that you can afford to travel, decide how much cash you have available to spend on hotels, activities, food and anything included in your budget for traveling.
Then, divide your allotted cash into categories in this order:
Flight or gas costs (and car rental if driving)
Food and drink Costs (whether you bring your own or eat out)
Excursions or activities
Miscellaneous (unexpected expenses)
Find Cheap Vacation Ideas
Always research cheap vacation ideas first, and find the cheapest options available in those areas. Once you have a list of destinations that are within your price range, then you can move onto planning other activities within that area.
Don't be afraid to settle on a more affordable area if it's something that still offers a lot of activities.
If you can't afford that dream trip yet, don't worry! Go on a cheaper vacation now, so you can save more for a dream vacation later. If you simply just want to get away, then be willing to settle on a more affordable trip.
Book Reservations as Early as Possible
Finding vacations last minute is going to be hard on your budget. Most times a last minute booking will cost more than you had planned to spend originally. If you think of a great vacation idea, then start saving immediately and book at the earliest convenience.
Plane tickets, for example, will typically increase in price when you wait until a few months out versus booking at-least 8-9 months out or more (if possible). Sometimes you can actually find great prices by waiting till the last minute, as airlines and hotels will offer special deals to get it purchased by somebody.
If you dare to wait, which we don't recommend, then be ready for it to be sold out. Never wait till the last minute because the odds of options being available are slim, and if something is available, you may not get it for the full time you were planning on being there.
When possible, book and plane tickets or hotel rooms at the earliest convenience. You will save a lot of money by being early to the game.
It's like going to a football game without any tickets. You might find someone on the side of the road offering game tickets, but they're usually crappy seats or they jacked up the price.
Don't wait, and you will save more money than if you did wait.
Find Close to Home Destinations
Vacations don't always have to be taken in foreign countries or across the world. Those are going to be the most expensive vacation choices in most cases.
Instead, find destinations that are closer to home.
Same Country Vacations
Traveling within your own country is cheaper than traveling outside the country you live in. Look for options in cheaper states or cities that would save you money. Flights within the same country as you are many times more cheaper than those that travel outside the country.
Home State or Nearby State Vacations
Look for a vacation within your state or just outside your state. If you can drive instead of fly, you might be saving even more money.
I have taken many vacations that were right outside my own state or even within it. I can't tell you how much money we've saved when flight tickets were more expensive than driving. A great way to travel on a budget is to drive to your destinations.
Fly or Drive?
Flying isn't always the most expensive option. Flying does have a lot more variables:
Parking at the airport
Higher prices for longer flights
Driving has variables also:
Hotels (if your trip takes more than a day)
Weigh your options and compare the total costs by listing out how much a specific trip would cost based on a specific route. If flying is actually cheaper, then go with the cheapest option.
More times than not driving is more affordable if it is feasible and depending on routes you may take. A cheap vacation might be one that is closer to home.
Bring Your Own Food and Drinks
Every vacation you go on, you should always bring your own food and drinks. This saves you from going off and having to spend $4 for every water bottle or drink.
By bringing your own food and drinks, you actually will save a lot of money, believe it or not. Sure, go out to eat a few times if your budget allows for it. However, try planning which nights you want to eat out and which nights you plan to stay in your hotel or resort.
Not every time is cooking an option in your hotel or resort. If you have a room that comes with a full kitchen, you could save a lot by making your own breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you don't have a kitchen, you can still bring snack foods and water or soda.
Think about it. Bringing food and drink you already have from home doesn't cost you any extra because you have already purchased it. Depending on how many people are vacationing with you, eating out every night could cost a pretty penny.
Plan Out Your Meals
Simply planning out your meals for the week ahead will help out your finances a lot. When you plan out your meals and which days you'll be eating out, you won't be buying unwanted things at the store. You will end up saving on things that aren't necessary and you will have less items that were never needed in the first place.
Plan out your meals and take only the food you need if you decide to bring your own food on a trip. Meal planning in general can save you a lot of money.
Avoid Hotel Breakfast Food
Breakfast food you get from hotels is usually more expensive, and it doesn't taste that great. When bringing your own food, make sure to pack food for breakfast so that you don't have to eat out or eat the food offered by the hotel.
If you do pay for breakfast, find a nearby cafe or a cheaper restaurant option. This is a great way to save money while on a trip.
Eat Out The Least Amount Of Times
When you bring your own food and drinks, prioritize before you go on that trip how many days you will eat out and how many times.
Make eating out a dinner only option. Breakfast and lunch should be eating at the hotel room. If you're like me, I usually don't eat a heavy breakfast anyways. Eat snack foods until dinner, and this will allow for a fun experience without breaking the bank.
Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Look for credit cards that offer travel perks with them. Many times just using a credit card with great cash back options is good enough. But to really take advantage of travel credit cards, get a card that is specifically offered by an airline or hotel chain.
Often times by using the card regularly as a normal means of payment, you build up rewards or points that can be redeemed for free hotel stays or free airline tickets. Even if it saves you a couple hundred dollars, it's worth it!
We decided to research what the best credit cards that are available that will help you travel cheap.
The Best Credit Cards For Flying
There are plenty of credit cards offered by major airlines, but here are a few of the best that we have seen:
Discover it Miles Card - This credit card is great for travel purposes. It has no annual fees, 1.5x miles for every dollar you spend, and in your first year they will match any amount of miles you have already earned. So, if your earn 35,000 miles your first year, that becomes 70,000 miles at the end of your first year. Miles convert into dollars that you can spend on airline tickets. Find out more here!
Citi® / AAdvantage® Credit Card - This credit card is brought to you by American Airlines. This card does charge a annual fee of $99, but it is waived for your first year. If you spend $2,500 within your first 3 months of opening the card, you get a bonus 50,000 points that can be used for airline tickets.
Best Credit Card For Hotels
Hotels and resort chains also offer their own breed of credit cards that allow you to redeem points for cheaper or free hotel stays. Our favorite includes:
Hilton Honors American Express Card - This credit card offered by Hilton does not have a annual fee, offers $100 credit after your first purchase within 3 months, and you have the potential to gain 100,000 reward points on the card if you can spend $1,000 within your first 3 months. Be careful using credit cards, however. Credit cards can offer great rewards and benefits for a vacation on a budget, but you have to use them wisely. They charge interest rates just like any other credit card.
We never recommend using the card more than you can handle. Always pay off the card at the end of the month. So, only use the card up to the point of where you can still manage to pay it off without getting charged interest fees and other late fees. By using a credit card wisely throughout the year, you can build up enough points typically to make a vacation cheaper.
Research In "Incognito Mode"
Have you ever noticed that when you research a hotel or airline for free quotes, and then you come back later a few times but the price has gone up? Yeah, story of my life.
Websites where you get quotes on hotel rates and other bookings will track you for a period of time and will notice if you keep coming back to it in the future. If they notice you keep coming back to their website, they realize that you're likely to actually make a purchase there, so they will raise their prices thinking that you will still make the purchase and before they raise the prices again.
It's not that you necessarily waited too long, they just know you're very interested in booking. Sometimes it is because you waited too long to make the purchase, but more often it's them raising the price, trying to make you think that if you wait any longer you will miss out on the current price.
Research while in "incognito mode". What is that? It is a mode on your web browser where sites won't track you. Here's how you access this mode:
Safari - On a Mac desktop or laptop, open safari and click file on the top left. Select new private window.
Chrome - Click file in the top left as well and then select new incognito window. Or, click the 3 stacked dots to the right of the URL bar, and select new incognito bar.
Do your research for other web browsers, but this is something that so many people don't think about doing and can potentially save you hundreds on your vacation.
Vacation During Off Season Months
In the past, I have taken a few vacations in off season months. What do I mean by that? Have you noticed the in certain months, particularly the summer months and sometimes December, the rates to travel and stay somewhere are a lot higher?
This is because travel destinations know that certain months in the year attract more people, and they can charge higher prices due to this fact. Most people are willing to pay more just so they can vacation in a summer month. You don't have to though.
Try researching which months have the cheapest rates and travel in those months. For example, rates might be cheaper in May compared to June and July. Even June might be cheaper than July, depending on where you go.
Consider going during the winter time. These months are less traveled times and places will offer better rates to attract more people.
What if I Have Kids in School?
If the summer months are the only times you can go on a vacation, consider looking at a cheaper vacation spot and choosing the cheapest month you can afford. Even if you have to travel in a higher demand month that doesn't mean you can't save money. Look for cheaper hotels and resorts and follow the other advice that I have given.
Shorten Your Stay
Have you thought about shortening your stay by one or two days? Will it really kill you to shave off a day or two?
I had this dilemma recently. My wife and I were booking a beach vacation and we were shocked at the price of our stay. We wanted to stay for a total of 7 days. I wanted to leave on a Sunday and not return until that next Sunday. But is that really necessary?
We finally determined that if we shaved off just one day, we saved over $300 in hotel costs and fees.
Consider this. If you are taking a long trip, in order to make it more affordable, shave off 1 to 2 days in order to save more money. This will in turn save you more money because it's less times you'll be eating out, less activities on those days, less shopping. Overall, it will save you a lot of money that you could potentially use in other areas or just to simply save it.
Know When You Can't Afford A Vacation
Know when to just say no to a vacation. If going on a trip is just not feasible with your finances at the moment, do a weekend getaway and sacrifice your trip for a better one in the future.
I had to make this decision once and it really wasn't a big deal. Sure it would be nice to still travel, but keeping your finances in a healthy state is more important. Sure you could still go, but what if your car or house payment is sacrificed? This can cause lasting effects that would negatively impact your finances as a whole.
It's okay to say no every now and then, and this will still save you money and your financial well-being.
Traveling light can actually save you even more money. By taking fewer things with you in the car or by plane, you save money in different areas you probably didn't even realize.
When traveling by plane, you are usually allowed two carry ons and anything else has to be stored elsewhere. Anything more than 2 bags will be charged a fee. If you can pack all your clothes in one bag, and then other necessities in a second bag, you will save money by not getting charged bagging fees. Each person is allowed 2 carry on bags, so do your best to compact as much as possible.
If you decide to drive, obviously you can carry as much as your vehicle will hold. First off, travel light by downsizing from any truck to a smaller, but comfortable car.
Second, when you travel heavy and fill your car with more people and more bags, your car will burn up more fuel or electricity to power itself. This will cause you to have to spend more gas when you travel. If you have an electric vehicle, this could mean you have to go sit somewhere and let your car charge more times than not.
Pack light and try to go with as few people that you can in a given car.
Pro tip: If you do carpool with others in the car, share the gas expenses. This still saves you gas money as it is split between you and other friends in the car. Obviously this doesn't work if it's just you and the kids.
In conclusion, traveling on a tight budget is still possible, you just have to be willing to sacrifice certain things. Even if you can afford to spend more on a vacation, it's still wise to and smart to save money where you can. Simply following this advice will save you money, and will potentially save you hundreds of dollars when you decide to travel. If you follow these guidelines, you'll definitely have a vacation on the cheap end.
Be smart with your money and know when and how to save it. This builds better spending habits and allows further spending in different areas that are more important for travel.
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