How to Vacation on a Budget

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

Love to travel? In search of a special place to make lasting memories? Or just need a break from the daily 9-5 grind? You may be thinking it is time for a vacation. The information below will help you to plan a vacation without blowing your budget.

Speaking of a budget, you need one when planning a vacation. I recommend saving money ahead of time and stashing it in a savings account to pay off costs as you are booking, such as your hotel and airline fees. Create a list of expenditures to eliminate most surprises, and have money set aside to pay off any credit card debt as soon as you return (or from your hotel room!).

Planning Your Trip

Finding a destination will depend on your tastes, style, and preferences. Some destinations are outrageously more expensive than others. It is important to do research on cities you would like to visit and look at hotel and airline costs before making a decision. Keep a list of several places to compare and decide which fits your budget best. Be honest with what you can afford, and put those out-of-budget trip ideas on Pinterest or on a bucket list for when you have more cash. If you have your heart set on visiting, say, Costa Rica, but it isn’t going to quite fit your budget, start looking for ways to cut costs. Many destinations have a shoulder and low season. It may  be in your best interest to visit right before the high season, before the big crowds and expensive prices. You may want to plan a year ahead, and focus on bringing in additional income from a second job to pay for your vacation. The sacrifice and hard work will be worth it!

Purchasing tickets ahead of time is a wise move when planning a vacation. Transportation costs will most likely be paid online ahead of time, including train, bus, and plane tickets. Other tickets can often be purchased online before you leave as well. These tickets may be for excursions, tours, or events. You may be able to find discounted rates for visiting on certain days of the week that are less busy. I have found this to be true when visiting Europe and buying ahead of time can sometimes help you skip long lines (bonus!).

Accommodation choices vary widely from camping in a state or national park to sleeping seaside in an ocean cabana. I will say that cleanliness and safety are top priority here. Check sites for reviews and photos of what to expect. Score extra points for finding accommodations that provide free breakfast, as eating out can break the bank. As someone who thought paying for all-inclusive was wasting money, my opinion shifted after staying all-inclusive with a picky and sometimes fussy toddler who needed to keep a consistent schedule. It’s worth looking into if you have a large family or young children, but only consider it if you can make it work with your budget.

While You Are There

Excursions can add up quickly, and it is important to have downtime to relax (or nap!). Focus on what is included in the excursions, and check for discounts when booking.

Food costs are huge when on a vacation. Eating out three meals a day, plus snacks and alcohol, can take up a large chunk of your budget if you let it. See if you can find accommodations that provide a kitchen to cook some of your own meals, and a grocery store nearby. Even a microwave and a refrigerator are extremely helpful for keeping leftovers and heating up oatmeal in the mornings. I have even packed easy to eat foods in my suitcase (even canned goods) so I can cut food costs. It helps, as sticker shock for a bottle of water in some places can be stressful. Research restaurants ahead of time and check menus and prices (especially to compare lunch and dinner prices) before you go on vacation, and take a printout or a list with you in case you do not have internet connection when you arrive.

Costs You May Not Have Considered

Parking fees can be shocking. For example, in San Francisco, a parking garage can charge over $65 per day. For a week’s vacation, that will be over $450 in parking fees! If driving, find out where to park and the fees associated with it. Even if you are not driving at all, transportation to and from your hotel, tours, and excursions normally require tips to be given to the drivers. My husband and I always forget about the driver’s tip from the airport parking lot to the terminal. Budget for this, and keep singles on you for forgotten or unexpected small expenses. You can redeposit what you didn’t use when you get home.

Speaking of unexpected and small expenses, don’t forget about tips for concierge, housekeeping, and waiters/waitresses. If you are in a destination that requires currency conversions, allow for this in your budget. I also recommend setting aside several hundred dollars for medical expenses. I never did this when it was just my husband and myself, but now that we have a child, we learned our lesson. It never fails that he gets sick or hurt when we travel. We have needed to visit urgent care centers, buy medications, and even see an on site doctor during a vacation. Getting sick or hurt is a real bummer on vacation. What’s worse? Being sick AND having to put expenses on a credit card because you didn’t think anything bad would happen. Having those expenses saved for means you don’t have additional worries when your little ones get sick.

Vacations should be relaxing, not stressful. If you do not budget for your trip, you run the risk of overspending and coming home to more bills and higher stress. These tips hopefully provided insight in to planning a budget-friendly vacation. Bon Voyage!

*Article written by Coin Counselor personnel Trista Oldenburg*

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