6 Ideas To Vacation On A Budget

I don’t know about you……

But every time I log into Facebook, I see a barrage of pictures from friends traveling all over the country.

Most of them have kids either in or graduating from college and it looks like they are now living their best life. Whether they’re RV’ing across the country, going on a dream cruise to Alaska, or deep-sea fishing in Belize, they look like they are having the time of their life.

While I love my life and my family, I must admit that I have a little bit of travel envy. With a special needs son who is taking the plunge into a career he enjoys and 2 girls 10 years away from college, I’m not in a position yet to live the life they are living…….

Or am I?

If you are like me and your finances may not be able to bear the weight of an extravagant trip right now, finding ways to travel affordably becomes paramount.

Now “traveling affordably” doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice fun and enjoyment. In fact, with a little bit of careful planning, creative problem solving, and thinking outside of typical vacation options, you’ll be the one posting enviable pictures of your next vacation adventure.

Today, we review 6 ideas to start learning how to vacation on a budget.

Set A Max Spending Amount

I’ve said this time and time again, the foundation of good financial health starts with a budget. As I have said here and here,  a budget is not a limiting factor in enjoying your vacation. A budget is all about setting priorities and figuring out what really is important to you.

If you are wondering how to plan a vacation without making it lame, don’t worry! There are lots of great budget-friendly vacation spots that a family can go to and have the time of their life.

All this fun and enjoyment starts with a budget.

Booking travel without a set budget can be dangerous because it is easy to overspend without even realizing it.

By looking over your current budget and taking your current savings and expenses into account, you can find out where there is wiggle room in the budget. Once you know how much can be used to fund your vacation, then you can plan how to use it to maximize your fun.

For example, the average American family spends $1,200 on travel, but that does not mean you have to. Many travel sites (i.e. Kayak Explore,  Fare Compare, etc.) offer ways to compare and contrast costs for not only destinations but also hotel and travel methods.

You can compare the costs for flying, taking the train, or driving to New York. You can compare your overall budget needed and decide not only the most fun, but also the most economical place to travel to.

Location, lodging, and transportation are the 3 biggest expenses you will encounter. If you can minimize these expenses, you’ll be able to maximize the fun times your vacation will provide.

Want ideas where to go for a budget-friendly vacation? I talked about it here.

Set Priorities

Before you can figure out where to go and what to do, you’ll need to first define your travel priorities. If you are not willing to settle for anything other than a “1st class” vacation, you’ll probably need to save up for awhile to make that type of vacation happen.

Vacation On A Budget

On the other hand, if your main priorities are to experience new cultures, go on an adventure, or just want to relax, you can likely accomplish such goals on the cheap.

Either way you go, you need to figure out what is important to achieve on your vacation 1st and prioritize that before scheduling your vacation.

For example, let’s say you have a total vacation budget of $2,000 for the family of 4 to go on a 1-week trip somewhere. If you are looking for an outdoor adventure, there are several things to do both economically and exhilarating for that type of budget.

However, if you want to take the family on an Alaskan Cruise to see the Northern Lights, well you don’t have a shot in hell on that type of budget!….. just saying 😊

Once it is decided on what you want out of your travels, you can then focus on how to achieve it within the budget that was set.

Defining what you want out of the vacation experience and setting priorities will align expectations, maximize your experiences, and provide the most value.

Use Every Reward Possible

To maximize the use of your budget, look for deals, discounts, and use every reward you can find to your advantage.

For starters, if you have a travel rewards credit card, check to see if you can cash in on some of those rewards for a free flight, free hotel, or free rental car.  If you have a cashback credit card, look to see if you can cash out some of those rewards to fund your vacation.

For example, I use the Fidelity Visa credit card. I receive 2% cashback on ALL purchases. No restrictions. I use this card for all my large purchases where I know I can pay it off the next month. I checked how much money I have accumulated so far this year. It was enough for me to purchase a couple of free nights at the hotel of my choosing! Nice! 😊

If looking for a good deal, look for last minute deals. You can shop Booking.com or Groupon for last minute deals. On my road trip honeymoon, I booked the hotels at the last minute. It was a premier hotel and purchased the rooms at over 60% off. True story! 😊

Lastly, if looking for discounts and are a veteran, member of local chamber of commerce, a student, or over the age of 50 there are a few places to check out.

Check out AAA, USAA, and AARP for travel discounts. Members receive discounts for everything from hotel, airfare, and car rentals.

AAA and USAA also offer discounts at national parks and amusement parks.

Are you a student? Make sure to bring that student ID card with you on vacation. A lot of places offer student discounts including hotels, restaurants, movie theatres, and much more!

Just ask. You’d be surprised what you can get a discount for.

Be Flexible

Want to live like you have champagne taste but can only afford a beer budget? The key to living the high life is to be flexible.

Vacation On A Budget

If you have a flexible travel schedule, you can save a ton of money by traveling during the offseason. Plus, those great travel destinations will have less crowded attractions and will be a less stressful experience.

Want more out of your cultural experiences while not worrying if you have a chocolate on your pillow, try staying at a hostel!

For example, if looking for an amazing cultural experience, staying in hostels and shopping at local markets may not only be cheaper but also a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture.

Want to travel to exotic places and don’t care where you go? Try off the beaten path destinations near some of the more popular destinations,

For example, skip travel to Brazil and Argentina go to a place like Belize where your money stretches WAY farther than it does in other countries. You can live like a king for a fraction of the cost.

The key to finding a great vacation is to keep an open mind and be flexible about where you travel to.

Think Outside The Box

Sometimes the best vacations are the ones that don’t appear to be one and involves some outside the box thinking.

For example, instead of picking an expensive resort, try a road trip. Road trips are fun because you can stop along the way and go at your own pace. You can choose what spots to check out not some travel coordinator doing it for you. You can stop to take great pictures and explore great “hole in the wall” restaurants you might not otherwise go to.

Vacation On A Budget

The key to a great road trip is not to indulge in the destination but to enjoy the journey. In other words, make the journey part of the vacation! 😊

Another outside the box thinking is to avoid traditional vacation spots and explore places off the beaten path. When I traveled for work in Arizona, we didn’t stop at Sedona like some other tourists. Instead, we explored quirky areas outside of the Sedona area. It’s how we discovered this little mom n pop restaurant that had some of THE best tacos you’ve ever had!

Another example is a great family vacation spot that my best friend goes to annually is the Jersey Shore. It’s located about halfway between New York and Philadelphia. He loves going there because the prices are reasonable, the beaches are fabulous, he can see his cousins, and both major cities are 90 minutes away.

Nearly every state has 1 or 2 fun and interesting destinations that are outside of the traditional tourist areas. In Michigan, the Traverse City and Mackinac Island areas are well known tourist destinations in the summer. However, a great out of the way spot about 90 minutes south is Muskegon. The beaches are just as nice, less crowded, and there are a ton of things to do and see. Michigan Adventure Park, tubing, paddle boarding, boating, canoeing, fishing, etc. You name it they have it and at half the price.

Good vacations do not need to take a lot of money. Being choosy can make the trip more expensive unnecessarily. Use a little outside the box thinking to make the most of your adventure.

Enjoy The Journey

My son told me recently that the best part of a vacation we had when he was a kid was the train ride. He didn’t remember that we stayed at a fancy hotel or ate at an expensive steak house. The highlight of the trip for him was riding the train.

So often we focus on the destination as the crème de la crème of the vacation when a lot of time how we traveled there was probably even more important. A lot of times, the journey is way more exciting than the destination.

We tend to jam pack our schedules with a flurry of activities and travel plans. We spend a fortune taking toddlers to Disneyworld when they can barely remember the trip.

Instead, enjoy the trip and give your yourself permission to have some downtime. Pick some highlights, get some rest, and enjoy the journey.

Final Word

If traveling is something you love to do and find it challenging when your budget pushes back, you’re not alone. Been there and done that. By setting a budget amount, prioritizing what is really important to you, being flexible, and thinking outside the box, you can not only find a little wiggle room in your finances, but also enjoy the overall experience a whole lot more.

Regardless of what your friends post on Facebook, travel does not always have to be 5-star hotels and exquisite dining spots. For some, the journey is enough.

So, what do you think? How do you make traveling fit within your budget? I’d love to hear from you here.

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Until next time…..

Live The Life You Love, Want, And Deserve!