Cheap Vacation Ideas: 14 Tips To Save Money

I absolutely love to travel and see new things. A lot of people think that going to awesome places is expensive, but it’s not. In fact, there are many places to vacation for cheap. If you’re interested, keep reading for my best tips and cheap vacation ideas!

Map and overlaid text: Vacationing on a budget

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How To Plan A Vacation

Planning a vacation on a budget doesn’t have to break the bank. Whether you go on an international vacation or not, it’s still possible to do it cheaply and have a great time.

First of all, I could have only afforded to do this by following the simple budget that I first created. Over the years of budgeting, I saved enough money to start taking vacations. My priority was to create an emergency fund first so that my family could be financially secure with a safety net.

Travel on a budget image

Once you’re ready to get out there, here are the steps to take:

  1. Start by looking at your budget. How much can you afford to spend? How long can you take off work? Leave some room for unexpected expenses, then start planning!
  2. Do a lot of research. Decide where you’d like to go and when, how much it costs to get there, and the price of accommodations.
  3. Find activities that you would like to do. I prefer to plan a couple of things every day, and then use the rest of the day spontaneously exploring.
  4. Book accommodations. Once I decide on what I’d like to do, I look for inexpensive places to stay nearby.
  5. Begin packing and start the countdown! Be sure to take the weather and terrain into consideration!

The Cheapest Destinations To Fly To

When I pick somewhere to go on vacation, it’s usually kind of random. If you have read my article on “Finding Cheaper Flights” you’ll know that one of my favorite tools is Google flights. There is a feature in it that allows you to pick flexible dates, put in your city of origin, and see the cheapest flights going to different places for the next 6 months.

This is how I decided to go to Paris, I saw a round-trip ticket for $300; I could not pass that up! And if there’s a specific place you want to go, you can still use this feature to see which months would be more affordable to go. 

Of course, the cheapest times to travel are usually during the colder months. The tickets I see at a good price are usually around September to March.
(Be sure to check for travel advisories and visa requirements.)

Pro Tip: Before you scratch a place off your options due to the flight cost, don’t forget to check out the total cost to vacation there!

I once traveled to Vietnam and the cost of the flight was expensive. However, the cost of my hotel was so cheap, it balanced the whole budget for my vacation. The 5-star hotel I stayed at only cost about $70 a night! Of course, I could have found a cheaper hotel, but when else would I be able to easily afford such luxury? The hostels with 4+ star reviews were also under $10 a night.

Where To Stay

Another thing to think about is the cost of a hotel or other accommodations. They can easily add a lot on to your vacation.

  1. Search everywhere: Like always, I utilize every single search engine for the cheapest options. Ex. Expedia, Orbitz, Google, etc.
  2. Rent someone’s home: Another option instead of a hotel is to use sites like Airbnb and Homeaway to rent a room or someone’s home. (Please be safe and take precautions. Look at the reviews to make sure you’re getting a good place.)
  3. Stay at a hostel: If you don’t mind sharing a room with strangers, hostels are also a cheap option. If you’re friendly, you can make amazing friends and connections from all across the world. Consider how much time you will actually be in your room. If you’re like me, you prefer to be out and about all day. 

For my military family, please take advantage of the services provided to you! You can get 7 night stays for $350 (that’s $50/night!) at the Armed Forces Vacation Club at various locations all over the world. Be sure to read the fine print for if there are additional fees (I usually see this with all-inclusive hotels). They have good deals but always look elsewhere to see if you can save even more! Sometimes the cost is more than booking other places.

Eating On Vacation

Depending on where you go, the cost of meals can be very expensive or very cheap. In Vietnam, I could get a meal at a nice restaurant including drinks for less than $10. That’s not always the case though and things can add up very fast. Here are a few pointers on eating while traveling:

  1. Skip the extra cost for a hotel that includes breakfast. The price may be worth it, but sometimes it is an unnecessary expense. You can search online for the menu of nearby cafes to compare.
  2. Go to a local grocery store or farmers market. If your room has a fridge, you can buy cold sandwiches or salads to eat for lunch. Stock up on water to carry around. You can also save a lot if you cook your own meals. 
  3. Eat the street food! Some of the best food I’ve had came from inexpensive “hole in the wall” restaurants. 
  4. Avoid restaurants nearby touristy areas. They’re usually overpriced. In Paris, my husband and I went to a restaurant near the Notre-Dame Cathedral. He ordered steak and fries for almost $20, but what he got was a burger patty and fries.

Activities On Vacation

If you’re like me, you love to have a good time without spending money. And there are plenty of free activities you can do if you research the place you’re going a bit.

  1. Go exploring or take a walking tour.
  2. Find free attractions or museums.
  3. Explore stores and farmer’s markets.
  4. Visit a local park.
  5. Sit down with a treat and people watch.

Pro Tip: If you are going to a popular attraction, try arriving early when it opens. This helps you avoid the need to buy “skip the line” tickets.

When I went to Italy, I paid very little for activities and saved for the ones I really wanted, like the bus tour of Rome. I was also fully prepared to pay about $14 to enter the Colosseum, but found out we were there on a free entry day! That is something I’ll be sure to look up in the future for anywhere else I plan to visit.

Low-Budget Vacation Ideas Nearby

If you’re trying to vacation on a tight budget, you may not be able to afford a flight plus every other expense. It also easier to take a short vacation within the United States, rather than lose time spent flying.

1. Go Camping

Camping is a great way to take a budget family vacation that’s also fun. I have a lot of great memories growing up and doing this. We did fun activities like fishing, swimming, going on a boat, and more. Of course, the best experience when camping, even as a child, is telling stories around the campfire while roasting marshmallows.

2. Explore Your “Backyard”

How much do you know about the place where you live? When you are from a place, you get into a routine of going to your “regular” spots. Exploring your city with new eyes as a tourist will give you a new appreciation for it.

Get out there and be adventurous!

3. Plan A Stay-cation

To be honest, vacations are fun and exciting, but they’re not always relaxing. One of the best vacations my husband and I took was in our home. We had no flights to rush for, no plans to stress over, absolutely nothing to worry about. It was great to take off work and do absolutely nothing but enjoy our time together at home.

4. Go On A Road-trip

Instead of flying somewhere, you can take an affordable road-trip for a vacation. It’s also cheaper for a large family when you don’t have to buy multiple airline tickets!

Road trips are great because the journey is also a part of the fun! I love to map out cool spots to make a pit stop along the way!

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