On a tight budget, but dreaming of a summer vacation?
Well, you can have your vacation and save money too!
Vacations on a budget require planning and some upfront work, but it’s totally worth it when the savings can add up to hundreds, even thousands, of dollars!
We have utilized all of the following strategies at one time or another, often combining them for more affordable travel.
Keep in mind, hotel rates are negotiable. A lower rate quote at one hotel can give you leverage to lower rates at other hotels. Call around and ask each hotel for a lower rate, using your lowest quote as leverage. Do this a few times and you could save hundreds on hotel costs. Don’t be afraid to ask!
Save on hotels through rewards programs, such as frequent stay programs or credit card rewards.* One of our vacations this year includes five free nights at a hotel, all earned from signup bonuses on our SPG American Express card.
Private owners offer up their digs to travelers, sometimes at a lower cost than hotels. My family has rented some unique properties and we love the kitchen, multiple bedrooms/baths, less touristy feel and personal touch of this option. Check out Airbnb and VRBO to find great homes for rent.
Consider alternatives to the standard hotel – camp, rent a cabin/camping cabin, or stay with friends and relatives.
Hit the grocery store
Buy snacks and pack lunches to save a ton on food costs for travel days. At your destination, visit the local grocery store to buy additional snacks, drinks, and fixings for meals if you have kitchen facilities where you are lodging (weigh this as a factor when choosing lodging).
Ask locals for the best, most affordable dining options. They often recommend out-of-the-way restaurants with great food at a reasonable price!
Free hotel food
Stay at hotels with free breakfast and/or happy hour.
Driving is typically the most affordable option, considering current gas prices. Road trips can be a blast and allow you to see more beautiful countryside than from 30,000 feet up. As a bonus, taking your own vehicle saves on car rental fees and allows you to pack more food along.
Shop around for the best prices on airline tickets – a number of websites can help you find the best deals, such as Expedia, Travelocity, and Kayak. Prior to booking through these sites, check directly with the carrier to ensure you receive the best price.
Be flexible with your dates to score lower airfare. You may have to fly on Monday instead of Sunday, but this flexibility can save you hundreds.
Airline miles are a great way to fly on the cheap – flying can be free if you have accumulated frequent flyer miles or rewards miles through your credit card. (We earned free round trip airfare to Florida this year through Chase Sapphire.)
Ground transportation will be a necessity at your destination if you fly. Check into the availability of free shuttles and public transportation at your destination prior to making the decision to rent a car.
Use websites such as CarRentals.com, Kayak, and Autoslash to get the lowest price on car rentals. Beware of additional options car rental companies try to sell you at the counter (insurance is a big one here; check your credit cards as many offer protection when you use that card).
Set a budget
My family sets a budget for entertainment on each vacation (including dining out). As a family, we consider our activity options and prioritize what we want to spend on.
Mix it up
Use a combination of free and paid entertainment to squeeze the budget. Free/low cost entertainment can include parks, beaches, museums and activities such as hiking, biking, and swimming.
Look for coupons
Keep an eye out for local coupons at your destination. Coupon books for touristy areas can save a few bucks here and there.
Do you have a membership to a local zoo, museum or science center in your area? Memberships often include free entrance other museums and zoos across the country. Check your membership for other locations.
Ask the locals
Locals know where the best free entertainment is. On one trip, we used advice from our VRBO rental owner and found incredible, free hikes and swimming holes (minus the crowds)!
Consider a staycation
Don’t want to travel, but still need a break? Staycations can be just the ticket. Set aside a few days to enjoy the attractions close to home (be sure not to work during this time – even consider unplugging!).
With a little creativity and some upfront prep time you can create an amazing vacation that really does fit your budget!
*Use credit cards for rewards responsibly and with caution. We never spend more than we normally would just to score sign-up bonuses and we pay off our cards every month.
What tips do you use for traveling on a budget?