Vacationing on a Budget

I LOVE to travel. Going somewhere new, whether it’s with friends, family, or even by myself (I backpacked alone through Europe for six weeks when I was 20) is one of my absolute favorite things.

I also like to do so inexpensively (shocking, right?).

I’ve written two posts before about some great, cheap trips to Canada, and now here’s a roundup of a bunch of my favorite ways to save money while traveling.

Vacation within driving distance. 
Plane tickets are almost always the most expensive part of any vacation, so if you can go somewhere within driving distance, you’re already a winner. Especially if you can split gas with one or more other people.

No matter where you live, there are almost certainly cool spots within a six-hour drive.Find a cute small town, or a big city, or go camping, or hit the lake – just getting a few hours away from home can make a world of difference.

Also, when driving, I highly recommend skipping the fast food meals and instead stopping at some random roadside restaurant in a small town just off the highway. The people are always friendly, the food is usually quite cheap, and it adds a little extra fun to your trip.

Skip the hotel.
Of course the cheapest option is if you can stay with someone you know (shoutout to the vast majority of my vacations), but if that’s not an option, you should still skip the hotel. If you’re traveling alone, the best option is usually hostels (they’re getting slightly more popular in America, so you might be able to find one or two at your destination).since they’re about $25/night and usually put on activities so you can get to know the town and your fellow travelers.

If you’re traveling in a group, renting an AirBnB or VRBO is usually a cheaper option, and so much more comfortable than a hotel! Some of my friends swear by Couchsurfing, although I haven’t tried it yet.

Try local public transit.
If you are flying, check out the local public transit options instead of renting a car or taking cabs/Uber rides. Google Maps has made it easy to figure out transit directions wherever you’re going, and they’re always much cheaper. I met my family in San Antonio a few years ago, and by checking out Google Maps I was able to take a $1 bus to within two blocks of our hotel, instead of a $40 cab. It was so easy that the rest of the family made the same choice when it was time to leave.

Grocery stores!
Just like you wouldn’t (or, you better not) eat out for every meal at home, you shouldn’t do it on vacation. Not only is it crazy expensive, I also end up feeling kind of sick if I eat out that much.

If you’ve rented a house or are staying in a hostel, you probably have access to a kitchen. Hit up the local grocery store and make breakfast and one other meal at home. Buy some snacks to take to the beach. Cutting your meals out down to one instead of three will make a huge difference to your vacation costs.

You can even do this if you’re staying in a hotel. My mother is the queen of packing a cooler and easy meals like sandwiches or microwave oatmeal for the family to eat. It’s totally doable!

Consider a slower pace.
Spending more time in fewer places obviously saves transportation costs, but so does just giving yourself relaxation time. Some of my best vacation memories are lying on the grass at a park in Prague reading a book, or playing board games with my friends on the balcony of our rented apartment. Remember: your trip isn’t about checking things off a list.

Do your research.
This not only makes vacations cheaper, it usually makes them better. I always check Groupon for a given city before I go on vacation. I also always find the city’s website, local newspaper, or other calendar full of local events – that’s how you find out about fun things like a food truck festival or a storytelling event or free live music or a book reading, or a million other things you might enjoy.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t see the Eiffel Tower if you’re in Paris, but a little research can go a long way. When I was in Paris, some reading taught me that going up the Eiffel Tower wasn’t worth it – that instead I should go to the top of the Tour Montparnasse, because then I’d actually be able to see the Eiffel Tower instead of standing on top of it. The fact that it was a couple bucks cheaper didn’t hurt either.

I also really enjoy finding ways to participate in my hobbies while I’m on vacation. I’m a swing dancer, so I try to dance whenever I go somewhere – it’s an easy way to meet locals and do something I enjoy. Maybe you’re a runner and can run in a local 5k, or you’re a musician and could participate in an open mic night.

Those two Canada trips I linked to above each cost me around $200. Travel doesn’t have to be expensive – and cheap doesn’t have to be boring!

What are your favorite frugal vacation tips?


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