12 Ideas For A Budget-Friendly Vacation

As we are approaching family vacation season…..

I thought it would be a great idea to write an article about traveling on a budget. I know, I know. I’m sure you are thinking when you hear the words, “discount travel”, you think probably think it’s going to limit your fun and experiences.

I’m here to tell you it won’t.

In fact, you might find that you will enjoy the experiences more because you can still do great sight-seeing, maybe even hang out with some locals who can show you the ins and outs of their area, and overall, just have a better vacation experience.

Why Vacation On A Budget?

Some people view a vacation as an extravagant getaway where they are pampered, and every need taken cared of in advance. Others view vacation as a way to decompress from the everyday stresses of life.

Whatever reason you choose, taking a vacation can get very expensive very quickly. There is the time needed to be taken off from work, lodging, food, and other travel expenses. When it’s all finally added up, it might feel like a vacation is just not in your budget.

Many people think that thousands of dollars need to be spent to have an enjoyable vacation (I used to), but that is simply not true.

There are many ways to take a vacation on a budget, enjoy yourself just as much, and not go into debt to do it.

We all have priorities in our life and the money saved on vacation can be used for a lot of other things. 

Maybe, it allows you to take vacations more frequently. Maybe you can open that Roth IRA that you have been wanting to but just couldn’t find the funds to do it. Maybe, you can now afford a newer car to take the place of that 15-year-old clunker you’ve been driving.

Whatever the reason, vacationing on a budget can potentially enhance other aspects of your life.

Sure, you may need to rethink the way you travel, do a little more pre-planning, or play a little closer to home. However, these vacations can be just as fun, relaxing, and stress-free as those elaborate vacations you hear people take now and cry over the bill received later in the year.

By find ways to save money, it will make your vacation more enjoyable. Let’s face it, who wants to worry about money when they just want to relax and have fun?

Today, we will look at 12 ideas to vacation on a budget. Let’s get started……

12 Ways To Have A Budget-Friendly Vacation

Stay Local

Staying local can offer vacation experiences just as fun as other more expensive options. We become so focused on the duties of our daily lives that we forget that we can have a cheap vacation right from our own home!

If you’re tight on time and/or cash, there is no better way to spend some free time than to wander your own city. No matter where you live, there is always something you overlook as a local that would be seen as pretty cool through the lens of a tourist.

Want an example? Growing up, I used to live 3 miles from a petroglyph of Indian carvings that people from all over my home state come to see. To this day, I’ve never seen it but am thinking about taking my kids there to see it this summer.

Want another example? Growing up, I never realized I lived 30 minutes away from some of the best kayaking in the state that I live in!  Hell, I never even stepped foot on the beach people launch off until I was 16 years old! True story.

Staying local also does not necessarily have to be in your home city. Anything within a 3-hour drive is open game for day trips too.

Want some examples? Within 3 hours of my home city are some of the best vineyards, microbreweries, and distilleries in the Midwest. There is also great fishing, boating, tubing, swimming, and kayaking in that same zone.

Like to golf? 3 hours from my home city is some of the best golf courses in the Midwest.

Local Vacation

Like rollercoasters? I live within a 3-hour drive of Cedar Point, one of the best amusement parks in the country. Many times, I have packed the kids in the car by 7AM, arrived at the park when they open at 10, rode coasters all day, and then drove home by 9PM.

Road trips can be some of the best vacations ever!

Look For Hotel Alternatives

One of the top expenses for any travel budget is hotel. Reduce that and your vacation becomes much more affordable without giving up some of the perks and adventures of traveling.

One great way to both reduce hotel costs and make you more efficient with your money is renting a vacation home.

On the surface, vacation homes can cost more than a hotel room, but there are a ton of other perks that come with it.

First off, if you have 3 or more kids who are approaching their teenage years, staying at a vacation home could be the way to go.

Take it from me, at that age, they are going to start wanting their own space. You’ll probably end up booking a 2nd hotel room or a suite so they can sleep without literally being crammed together in a single bed. When that happens, your hotel expense just doubled.

Enter the vacation home. Most homes are usually very large (3+ bedrooms and > 1,500 square feet) and come with all the amenities a home has. Cable TV, Internet, A/C, 1 or more showers, kitchen, etc. In fact, most vacation homes in my area also are on a major lake so then you have water adventures too!

Imagine BBQing on the deck while the kids swim in the lake all day, your spouse relaxing on the couch, and no calls from work are allowed!

Some homes not only allow lake access but even allow use of lake equipment that is stored on the property. Everything from paddle boards and fishing poles to jet skis and paddle boats may come with the vacation ohme. You don’t have to bring or rent anything because it’s right there for you to use!

Some homes even supply board games for those rainy days and have lawn games you can play too!

The amount of money you save from equipment rental, extra hotel rooms, and food (since you cook while there) makes this choice a no-brainer!

Vacation In Hostels

Another great alternative to hotels is hostels. If you are not familiar with hostels, picture a dormitory-style shared hotel room with bunk beds that also has shared bathroom facilities and sometimes shared kitchen facilities.

You can usually rent a hostel for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room. Hostels are very popular in Europe.

A friend of mine backpacked Europe when she graduated from college for over a month and the way she saved on cost was by staying in hostels along her journey. If a broke college student can make it work, I’m sure you can too!

Hostels are also becoming more prevalent in the U.S. not only in rural areas but urban areas too. An example of this is when my son’s Boy Scout troop traveled to Chicago. This hostel had a nice kitchen setup, and the boys did all the cooking from the hostel. It turned out to be really economical for them.

Discount Travel

If you are a veteran, part of a business group (i.e., Chamber of Commerce), or have a AAA membership, you may be entitled to travel discounts.

Also ask about student discounts and if they charge lower fees for children under 18.

Another option that may sound weird but is totally legit is travel discounts from club stores such as Costco. Costco offer pretty good deals on vacation packages. You’d be surprised by the deals they can offer.

My Go To places for finding travel discounts are Groupon and Priceline. Whenever I’m looking for a good deal, I go to these 1st. The best vacation deals I have ever found have been from these 2 sites.

Lastly, if you trust yourself, you can’t go wrong with credit card reward points. I’ve paid for an entire vacation from hotel rewards points accumulated on my credit card. My current Go To credit card is Fidelity Visa credit card. I get 2% cashback on ALL purchases. No restrictions!

For our upcoming Disney trip, we are accumulating points on my wife’s Disney credit card. The credit card also comes with a free service where they hook you up with a personal concierge to not only offer advice but find the best deals for you during your Disney stay. More on this trip in a future article.

If you can stack a few of these together (i.e., find a Disney trip on Groupon and pay for it using Disney credit card), the savings can be HUGE!

Travel In The Offseason

If you have a flexible schedule, you can save a lot of money by traveling during the offseason. You can not only get more for your hard-earned dollar, but you can also benefit from less crowded attractions and an overall less stressful experience.

In general, some of best times to travel are early in the year and early autumn. However, this is location dependent. For example, tropical destinations are the busiest during cold weather months.

The ideal time we have found for a variety of locations is to travel between early September and mid-November. This is right when the kids go back to school and before the 1st holiday breaks are scheduled to occur. You can find some sweet deals during this time!

Travel Creatively

Want to travel abroad but cannot afford the trendy countries to visit? Think outside the box.

Don’t travel to Mexico but instead check out Belize. Your dollar goes WAY farther there. I’ve had a few friends go there not only for some great surfing and deep-sea fishing, but it’s also a great value! They live like kings for a fraction of what it would cost in other locales.

Want some other ideas? Don’t go to Brazil. Instead check out Chile and Bolivia. The flights and hotels are cheaper, meals are more inexpensive, and you can have a great time for a fraction of the cost. Also traveling to India is way more cost effective than going to Japan.

Discount Travel

Sometimes it pays to travel counter to the prevailing trend. Learn to zig when others zag.

The more contrarian you are in where and when you want to go, the better off your wallet will be. Plus, you’ll enjoy yourself more because there are less crowds. After all, who likes crowds!

Try Camping

Want to travel the country, see great sights, and explore what this country has to offer for a fraction of the cost? Try camping!

The great thing about camping is that you take your food and lodging with you. RV / campers can be relatively inexpensive depending on what you are looking for. Plus, there is gool ol’ fashioned tent camping that costs even less. My son and I do it every year.


Campgrounds are loaded with activities for the kids, and most are free or really cheap. Think activities like swimming, fishing, biking, boating, trail riding, basketball, put-put golf and so much more!

My in-laws have been campers for decades. They have been RV’ing since my wife was in grade school and rave about all the things they have done. They even belong to a camping group call Coast To Coast. The membership is expensive but pays for itself in just a few years. They have said that they NEVER could have afforded all the traveling they did without camping. Plus, they have made friends in dozens of states along the way.

How can you go wrong?

Visit Friends and Family

Some of the best vacations I ever had were staying with family and friends from out of state.

It’s not glamorous and some people might not consider it a true vacation, but I disagree.

I have traveled to some great places, seen a lot of sights, had new experiences, and get to spend time with the people you love and care about! How could it get any better?

On top of that, it’s cheap. You save on lodging since you stay at their place, you cook most of your meals. When you do eat out, you can splurge a little bit! Activities may cost a few bucks but usually my friends and relatives have ways to get discounts on that too.

The best advice I could give you is don’t be a mooch! Bring you own food with you and insist at least once to take them out for a treat. Be a good guest while in their house and treat your family and friends like they deserve to be treated. It will go a long way towards an invite back! 😊

Road Trip

Road trips can be a blast and I’ve made many memories on them. They can be fun because you can stop along the way and take it at your own pace. Go explore interesting places to eat. Travel the more scenic route and take some great pictures.

On top of that, riding in a car saves a ton of money over riding in an airplane or train. This is especially true if you also need to rent a car once you arrive at your destination. You can also save time and money on food by packing your lunch in the car with you.

 Road Trip Visit The Arches

My in-laws did this ALL the time when they traveled cross country in their RV. They would get up early while the kids were asleep, put them in their car seats and pack lunches for the day. They saved at least an hour and a ton of money since they did not have to stop to eat and could use that time for more sight-seeing.

If looking for an inexpensive adventure and wanting to make the journey part of the adventure you can’t go wrong with a good road trp. Try it out!

Travel In A Group

If some of your family members are planning trips, think about making it a joint effort. Hotels, airlines, rental cars, and attractions usually have discounts for groups upwards of 15%.

My best friend travels with his family and his siblings’ families to North Carolina every year. They rent out a big house and split the food costs. Saves them a ton of money.

Many group rates at airlines like Delta and Southwest start at 10 people. You can also score group rates at hotels by booking several rooms at once. You’ll need to call the reservation line and mention you are coming with a group in order to negotiate the group rates.

There are also travel groups you can join that do this for you. My in-laws are part of one and use it extensively for the international trips they travel on every year. Way more fun to go with friends and way cheaper too.

Lastly, there are also online travel groups you can join on Facebook. I have not yet had a chance to check this out but heard it can be inexpensive (including Flash Sales) and a lot of fun. If you have done traveling thru a Facebook or online group, I’d love the hear from you. Leave your comments here.

Book Last Minute

Want to save a ton or money on hotels and airfare? Check out last minute deals.

The reason these can be so cheap is that for hotels and airlines, if the rooms or seats aren’t occupied by that day, they lose money. The companies would rather receive some money versus no money at all.

It requires some flexibility on your part and a little effort, but the payoff can be HUGE. Try checking out a site like Priceline for last minute deals or a site dedicated to last minute deals like LastMinuteTravel to find the best deals of hotels, airfare, car rentals and much more!

When shopping for a last-minute deal remember that price wins over location. This approach works well if looking for a good deal but are not restricted by the destination. Deals can mean leaving as soon as 24 hours after booking. Hotels prefer to book a full weekend so make sure to include a Saturday / Sunday in your trip plans.

We used this strategy when we booked our honeymoon. We were pretty broke after paying for our wedding, updating the bathroom, building a finished basement, and paying for our 2nd degrees all at the same time (do NOT recommend doing this but I explain why here ).

We had a rough idea where we wanted to go but did not book anything because we could not decide on specifics and had some loose ends to finish before booking. We decided to book a bed & breakfast that day for over 50% off (Honeymoon Suite no less) and arrived 4 hours later. Then we booked a 5-star hotel in downtown Toronto for 2 days later at the last minute and saved over 60% on the hotel room.

We had a blast on our “honeymoon road trip” and would do it again in a minute. True story. 😊

Volunteer While Vacationing

Volunteering can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience. Did you know you could score an awesome vacation out of it for pennies on the dollar?

I have not personally done this but friends at work have done this for years.

If you don’t mind pitching in as part of your travel experience, a volunteer vacation can really help you afford travel to places you otherwise may not go to.

Many organizations pay for lodging, food, travel within the destination, insurance, and even some local activities. You are responsible for getting to the destination.

Many volunteer-based organizations do require a down payment, but it can be a deep discount on what casual travelers would otherwise pay out of their own pocket. Plus, you can help disadvantaged people with having basic needs met, like building a house, creating a school, provide clean drinking water, and so much more.

Here is a sample of a few organizations that you can check out if interested.

  • Habitat for Humanity offers a Mexico trip to help build structures that includes food, lodging, and other activities.
  • STA Travel is for student volunteers and offers a 15-day trip to Costa Rica where you work in a turtle conservation
  • International Volunteer HQ offers a month in Cambodia helping orphans.
  • Check out local churches in your area. A lot of them offer refugee missions to work on a variety of projects in foreign countries.

Besides saving a ton of money to travel to an exotic locale, you also can positively impact the lives of those less fortunate that you. A win-win for everybody! 😊

Focus On Activities Not Accommodations

A lot of people focus on the location and brag about how they stayed at an all-inclusive resort and were pampered or staying at a 3-diamond hotel for 10 days.

While it sounds luxurious and can make people envious of you, the flip side is the bill for that kind of trip can easily be in the 5 figures.

Being choosy about your accommodation can not only make your trip more expensive but also less fulfilling.

Most of us don’t go on a vacation to stay at an awesome hotel, we go on vacation for new experiences. If you plan to spend most of your time outside your room, keep the accommodations simple and focus on maximizing your experiences.

Opting for a hotel room with a kitchen allows you to spend more money on the experiences which is what you are there for in the 1st place. Most hotels (even “budget hotels”) offer you all the basic amenities needed to make your trip fun and enjoyable – a bed, shower, microwave, TV, refrigerator, and sometimes even laundry services.

Fancy hotel suites can be fun but not worth the price you pay and can take away from the experiences you are there for.

Final Word

There are many ways to vacation on a budget. Even if the budget is tight, using a little creativity can go a long way towards having a fun and enjoyable vacation.

As a recap, the ways to vacation on a budget include:

  • Stay Local
  • Look For Hotel Alternatives
  • Discount Travel
  • Travel In The Offseason
  • Travel Creatively
  • Try Camping
  • Visit Friends and Family
  • Road Trip
  • Travel In A Group
  • Book Last Minute
  • Volunteer While Vacationing
  • Focus On Activities Not Accommodations

I have found great success traveling on a budget using the “off the beaten path” mentality and thinking outside the box.

Travel On A Budget

If travel is something you and your family love to do but find it challenging to stay within your budget then adjust your priorities, be willing to compromise, and rethink what is your definition of travel.

Changing your mindset can go a long way towards finding the wiggle room you need in your finances to make it happen.

Travel doesn’t have to be 4-star resorts, top-notch dining, and 1st class plane tickets. For some, exploring a new area can be enough and thinking like a local can help you truly enjoy your vacation.

It’s fun to stop at restaurants and bars where the locals hang out. Hanging out with the locals enables me to think like the locals and find attractions that I would enjoy.

Is traveling a priority for you? How do you make it fit within your budget? Any great ideas you want to share? I’d love to hear from you. Leave your comments here.

Take Care!

Until next time……………

Live The Life You Love, Want, And Deserve 😊