Vacation can be a touchy subject for budgeters. I know it is hard for us. When you are used to living in the "save first" mindset, it is easy to feel like you will never have enough extra for a big splurge. Luckily, vacationing doesn't always have to be a big splurge. Here are a few of my ideas for vacationing on the cheap, and of course, still having a blast.
The expenses of vacation can be divided into three main categories: travel, accommodations and food/entertainment. I am going to tackle each of these ideas separately and give you a few ideas on how to save in each category.
- Choose a destination you can drive to. I know this is an obvious solution, and sometimes road tripping does not seem as exciting. My whole life my family vacation was driving 11 hours to the beach in San Diego. I can't even begin to tell you how much we looked forward to that, or how many amazing memories I have from it. We are actually going with my family in just a few weeks and I think about how excited I am at least ten times a day.
- Set airfare searches and be patient. I recommend this option if you have your heart set on a destination that makes driving unpractical. My sister and her husband had always dreamed of taking a big vacation in Mexico before they had kids. Mexico has a particularly special significance to them. Kelsey set up a search for flights from SLC to Mexico City on Airfare Watchdog almost two years ago. It seemed like the same barely lowered prices (around $450.00) kept circling through. Finally about a month ago the rates dipped drastically. She bought them both round trip, nonstop tickets for $180 including all taxes and fees. Patience pays off!
- How about a staycation?? When I was pregnant with Luke we wanted to have a last little trip together, but we didn't have the money or the time off of work. Bryce surprised me with a staycation. (A vacation at home, cutting out the travel expense.) He booked a hotel (using points which i'll discuss below) and right after work on Friday we had all our bags packed. Even though the hotel was only 45 minutes from our house, in a city we were familiar with, we had a blast. Because we didn't have to pay for travel or our hotel, we splurged on everything else. We ate only at restaurants we had never been to before, we shopped, we played, it is one of my fondest memories.
- Consider a points credit card. If you read this post on credit card comparisons, you know that we use the Starwood's Card. To clarify for those of you who didn't read the post, we NEVER carry a balance on our card. We treat it just like a debit card, and only use it for the free points. For us, having a hotel points card makes it possible for us to splurge on a destination vacation because the hotels are free.
- Check deal websites like Groupon. Groupon now has a "getaways" section that will send you deals on hotels, airfare, and sometimes even packages including meals! While these aren't exactly dirt cheap, many of the deals offer great savings, so if you see one for a place that you would have gone anyway, its totally worth looking into! Many other deal websites now have travel sections as well!
- How about camping? I mentioned under travel that every year growing up my big family vacation was driving to the beach. Well guess what else, we camped there. Most people think of camping as being in the mountains/national parks etc. but for me camping is the cheapest ocean front lodging! We camped at the Carlsbad State Beach which also means that we prepared our own food which was cheap and we had free entertainment, the beach!!! If you don't own camping gear yourself, find a friend or family member who would let you borrow theirs to see if you like it before investing.
- Sign up for Groupon for the city you are visiting. If you know you are going on a vacation to Vegas in a few months, sign up now for the Groupon etc. for that city. That way, when a great deal comes up on a arcade, or a nice buffet, you can by the Groupon and save big on your trip. I don't recommend buying a Groupon for every meal and activity, because the probability is that you won't use them all which will end up wasting money. However, if you see a nice restaurant or one that you know you love pop up, why not save a bit and still get to splurge?
- Consider trying to find a place with a fridge/kitchenette. When you stay at a place that has a fridge or kitchenette you can easily make your own breakfasts (even if its just cereal or breakfast drinks) and lunches (sandwiches) for cheap. It will still feel like a fun vacation since you will get to go out to dinner most nights, but it saves you a ton. Even if your place doesn't have a fridge or kitchenette, you can usually be creative for breakfast. Bring breakfast drink packets and buy a milk at the hotels vending machine, or pack a bunch of granola or protein bars for breakfast since they won't take up much room. Every little bit counts!
- Check out what free or scenic activities your destination has to offer. No wonder the beach is my very favorite place to vacation. It's free entertainment all day long! Even if you aren't a beach person though, see whats available at your destination. Go on a hike, go to a museum, visit national monuments or parks. Do your research!
I hope these tips help make a vacation possible for some of you!
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