Author: Kassandra Oglesbee
There are two types of people in the world: the first goes on vacation and is there to spend money. They want souvenirs for mom, dad, grandma Patty, and Aunt Joyce, a couple of t-shirts, a shot glass from every store in the area with various decals, and basically anything else they can get their hands on. They dine out at all the local hot spots, ball out on a luxury hotel room, upgrade on their car rental, and all of this is okay because it’s ~vacation~. And that is totally okay, and a very valid choice. The other person takes a much more conservative approach. Some might call it penny-pinching, or being cheap, but they choose to try to spend as little money as possible.
Now, first of all, let me say this: cheap is not a dirty word. In fact, I am very cheap. I am that person who plans things out ahead of time, reads yelp reviews, has my meal planned at every restaurant based on a variety of factors (including price), and tries to make everything smooth sailing. I may not be spontaneous necessarily, or go with the flow, but you know what? I can very confidently say that I don’t leave vacation feeling like I’ve spent too much money, or stressed because I went a little too crazy, and frankly, why do I need a t-shirt when I have the memories to look back on?
Regardless, there are so many ways to have fun on vacation, and on a budget. Spending the most money doesn’t necessarily mean you had the most fun. Without further ado, here are my best tips to have your best vacation on a budget!
- Plan ahead
I love a schedule. I thrive with a list. My best advice is to get your old pen and paper and really figure out what you want to do and when you want to do it. This also counts for food and packing – look into the restaurants you want to eat at and bring other food for meals outside of that so there isn’t a need for extra spending. Bring clothes for all kinds of weather so that even if there’s a freak snow storm, or you decide to hit the pool, you’re covered and don’t need to make a trip to the store. Spontaneity is a beautiful thing, but if you’re looking to budget wisely, not so much.
There’s no reason to do everything all at once. I encourage you to look through attractions and the cool stuff to do in your vacation spot and pick out a few things that are the most important things you want to do. If you do EVERYTHING, you’ll quickly run out of money. Remember to investigate – for example, if your activity is something you’ll want to purchase a picture from or has a shop you’ll want a souvenir from, factor that in. Prioritize your make-it-or-break-its. I would pick out one or two things you can do as backup, just in case, but try to stick to the plan. You’ll have a great time, and it’ll give you some options to do on your next vacation.
- Set a budget (and stick to it)
The most boring tip, I know. But y’all, a budget is pretty instrumental for vacationing on a budget. Go through your finances and really think about how much you’re willing to spend. You’ll want to think ahead to the rest of the year and if your budget is going to make it really hard to do life (pay your bills, feed your dog, ya know, those pesky important things), maybe you need to lower your budget. Yes, vacation is fun, and one could argue a good vacation is important for mental health, but so is having enough money to house yourself, so be honest with yourself about how much you can afford.
- Do a staycation
Yes, for a lot of people, “staycation” means don’t leave your house, and most people would argue they don’t need any more of that in 2020. In fact, most people are pretty tired of home. HOWEVER, you can still make home vacation. Watch a lot of vacation movies. Put on your bathing suit and get in the tub. Lay around in your robe and act like you’re at the spa. Or go exploring around your town. Hit the touristy spots, or just places you’ve never taken the time to explore. You’ll save money, and maybe even find a new favorite place.
Another option is to stay at a hotel or other rental facility in your area. You’ll still get that feeling of sleeping in a bed that isn’t yours, but you’ll save a lot of travel costs.
- Take advantage of your friends
Now, I would never advocate taking advantage of your friends….except in this case. Do you have friends that live near a cool place? Why not see if they’ll let you stay with them? Even if they don’t live in a cool place, it would still be a good change of scenery. You don’t have to be a free loader – maybe offer to pay for dinner for the group, or bring your own groceries. It’ll still end up being WAY cheaper than a hotel.
Another idea is to get a small group together for your travel! You’ll be able to split accommodations and gas money among you, so you’ll still save money that way too!
- Bring your own meals
I get it. Food is like the whole reason I do anything. And yes, sometimes local cuisine is truly important and something you want to experience. However, let’s be real – usually, the food is pretty much the same no matter where you go, at least if you’re traveling within the country and you’re in a tourist spot. You don’t need to go to Texas Roadhouse just because you’re in a different state. It’ll taste the same. I promise. If you have to eat out, plan ahead for those meals, or maybe pick one place that’s super important to you, so that you can get the best of both worlds. And then bring your normal meals you can cook anywhere.
- Do your research
Yelp it up, my friend. Your goal is here is budget without losing quality. Sure, it could be $200 less, but if it’s got bed bugs, you’re not really saving anything, including your tears because you’ll never stop feeling like there are bugs on you after that. This also means looking into what’s close. If you’re driving way out of the way for the nearest grocery store or restaurant, you aren’t saving money OR time. Gas mileage adds up, my friend.
- Check for discounts
It never hurts to ask. Almost all of the time, companies have some kind of promotion going on, or a discount that is available. Are you a new customer? A returning guest? Military? Could it be summer savings time? ASK! If they say no, at least you tried, right?
- Avoid peak season
It’s always wise to know when peak season is in your preferred vacation destination and plan around it. Cabins, hotels, and other rental properties operate on supply and demand. The more people are wanting to book, the higher the price. If fall is peak season for your preferred spot (like here in the Red River Gorge), try to book when that is winding down, like after Halloween and the leaves aren’t as pretty. If you’re headed to a beach-y area, those perfect weather days, however, desirable, might not be your least expensive bet. Sure, prime season is appealing – there is a reason people want to vacation during those times, after all. However, vacation will still be fun no matter when you go because it’s always going to be a break from your day-to-day, and you’ll save money by booking outside of that. Another added perk: less crowds!
- Have fun
The most important part of any vacation, budget or not.
I’m not saying lavish vacations are bad. They can be really fun, and if you have the means, they can be totally worth it. However, I feel like if you click on an article about vacationing on a budget, you’re probably looking to do exactly that. So you should probably do that.
Have a great vacation!