Vacations… they’re supposed to be relaxing and full of bliss. But for most of us, they’re synonymous with stress, debt, and a never-ending line of dollar signs.
Whether you’re traveling to a nearby city or flying halfway around the world, it shouldn’t leave you with a pile of debt. (And dare I say… it doesn’t even have to be expensive.)
With a little bit of strategic planning, you can finally take that vacation you’ve been dreaming about—without breaking the bank.
Many people book a trip first, then struggle to figure out how they’ll pay for it. But if you set aside money in a dedicated vacation fund every month, you’ll always have cash on hand for your next adventure.
The easiest way to save is to open a high-yield savings account specifically for vacations. You could do this at your current bank, but you’ll be less likely to spend the money if you open it at a separate bank.
Once you’ve got your vacation savings account ready to go, set up automatic deposits. If you typically spend $1,800 on vacations a year, have $150 transferred into your savings account every month. By setting it on autopilot, your vacation fund will grow without you ever having to lift a finger. Your vacation fund will help keep you on a budget.
And if you want to take it a step further, use extra money—like a third paycheck, bonus, or birthday money—to bulk up your vacation fund. (I also recommend doing this when you’re saving for a debt-free Christmas.)
You won’t know exactly how much money you need for your trip until you do some research. You don’t have to plan out every single detail, but you should have a general idea of how much transportation, food, lodging, and activities will cost.
So, once you’ve pinpointed your next getaway, hop on your laptop, create a snazzy spreadsheet (or grab a notepad if spreadsheets aren’t your thing) and start researching all the places you want to go.
What popular tourist destinations are must-sees? What off-the-beaten paths do the locals love? What restaurants are you dying to eat at?
Jot down the price of each activity, along with anything special you want to remember.
Here’s a breakdown of what we spent for a weekend anniversary trip to Florida:
|Trip to Florida!
|Price per person
|We paid for my flight with cash and used points for my husband’s flight.
|90-minute Axe-throwing session for two
|Clearwater Beaches top the lists every year.
|Four-hour kayak rental for two
|Lucky Lobster (Dunedin)
|$20 to $30
|Online reviews rave about the lobster rolls.
|We used credit card points for two hotel nights.
Do your research ahead of time, and you’ll know exactly how much you need to save before you leave—and you’ll avoid the slippery slope of overspending once you arrive. For more travel ideas and a budget breakdown, check out this post.
Let me tell you… traveling during the offseason is a dream. Flights and lodging are less expensive. You get discounts on activities. And, if that wasn’t already good enough, you beat the crowds. Dreamy, right? This is a great way to stick to your vacation budget.
Plus, you could save even more if you’re flexible with your travel days. Flying on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday is almost always cheaper than any other day. So, you could double up on savings if you booked your trip for a Tuesday through Saturday and visited during the offseason.
The beautiful thing about this tip is that you don’t skimp on your experience. You can still stay at the same place, eat the same food, and do the same activities—but at a fraction of the cost.
Hotels can quickly become one of your biggest expenses when traveling. Fees sneak in, minibar charges rack up, and before you know it you’ve spent way more than intended. You can avoid these high costs by thinking beyond traditional hotels.
Airbnbs, for example, provide more square footage for the price and often come with a kitchenette. How much money could you save if you used this extra space to your advantage? You could stock up on groceries, eat breakfast at home, and pack a few snacks to munch on while you’re sightseeing.
If you’re not looking to break away from a traditional hotel, look for one with free breakfast. Even a hotel mini-fridge is great for storing yogurt, milk, cold-cuts, and other snacks.
Another great way to trim down on costs is to look for discounts on everything from airfare to entertainment. I’ve rounded up my top five money-saving sites below. Discount sites are a great way to stick to your vacation budget.
Did you know you could search for flight deals straight from Google? It’s true. Here are three reasons why we love it:
Groupon is a great way to find discounts on activities. Simply pull up the website, plug in your destination, and start exploring. You can search for deals-of-the-day, all-inclusive travel packages, local restaurants, top attractions, and more. It doesn’t get any easier than that.
If you’re looking for another site like Groupon, check out LivingSocial.
We’ve all used Kayak at some point, but have you tried out its explore tool? You plug in your budget and how far you’re willing to travel, and it works it’s magic. Within seconds it pulls up an interactive map highlighting all the top places you could go given those parameters.
Believe it or not, you can treat yourself to a dream vacation without emptying your wallet or racking up credit card debt. It’s possible to vacation on a budget. It just takes a little bit of pre-planning on your part. Follow the money-saving tips above, and you’ll be on your way to backpacking across Europe, taking the family to Disneyland, hiking the Colorado mountains (or anything else you want to do) in no time.
How do you fit travel into your budget? Do you use any money-saving tips not mentioned in this article? Let’s discuss in the comments below.