Let’s be honest, Americans are not very good at taking vacations. According to an online survey conducted by GfK from January 26 to February 20, 2017, the average number of vacation days used in 2016 by the average American worker was only 16.8 days. Vacations are also generally expensive. According to Credit Donkey, the average week-long trip costs about $1,145 per person. For the average American living on a budget, this may not seem very feasible. Fortunately, though, there are many variables, such as how we travel or where stay, that factor into this cost that we can control. Just because you’re living on a budget doesn’t mean a vacation isn’t possible. Let’s take a look at how to vacation on a budget.
Picking a Destination
When choosing a budget-friendly destination, there are four main considerations:
- Is the destination off the beaten path? Major tourist destinations tend to be much more expensive than the local, more authentic locations. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid the major destinations. Rather, you could look for a nearby town or suburb that isn’t quite as popular but offers lower prices as a result.
- Are you planning to travel in the offseason? If you’re gunning for a place like Europe, you could plan your trip for the winter. This could mean cold temperatures and even snow, but it also means fewer tourists, cheaper flights, and cheaper accommodations.
- Have you looked into packaged deals? Bundling your daily expenses can streamline your planning process and make your budget much easier to calculate. Companies like Expedia and Orbitz are great places to start.
- Finally, you should consider destinations that are close by. If you can easily drive to your destination, that can save you a lot of money in airfare. Sometimes you can even avoid the expense of a hotel as well by going camping or just taking a day trip instead.
Purchasing Your Airfare
If you’re planning to fly somewhere, there’s only so much control you have over airfare so it can be tricky finding the lowest-cost option. Bundling your airfare with your hotel and a rental car is likely the cheapest option. However, if you can’t bundle for whatever reason, start price shopping early and in as many places as possible. As a general rule of thumb, the worst time to buy tickets is within two weeks of your departure date and the best time is around 3.5 months before.
Another tactic is using connecting flights. While connecting flights can take considerably longer to get you to your desired destination, they can cut the price of the ticket down quite a bit. Since most airlines charge the same price for a one-hour layover as a two-day layover, you may have the opportunity to turn any layovers into a trip of their own. Also, plane tickets vary drastically from one day to the next. This means that finding the best deal requires a degree of flexibility when scheduling your trip.
Finding A Place to Stay
A vacation doesn’t mean you have to stay in a hotel. Hotels are often the most expensive option. Rather, see what alternatives are available. Can you stay with friends or family? Are there any hostels near? Can you rent a house?
Hostels are rarely luxurious, but they can cost as little as $10-$15 per night and are a great way to meet other young people or socialize with others travelers.
Home rental services like Airbnb, on the other hand, can help get you off the beaten path while still providing comfortable accommodations at an affordable price.
Lastly, if none of the above options fit your budget, you could try Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing.com is a free service that will connect you with strangers willing to offer up their couch or a spare bedroom to you for free. If you are traveling abroad and want the most authentic experience, this is a great way to do so. With the vast amount of resources for housing, a simple Google search will more than suffice.
Keeping Daily Expenses Low
Once you’ve locked down a destination, airfare, and housing, you need to determine how you’ll cover your daily expenses such as meals, entertainment, and transportation. With food, stay away from touristy restaurants and hotel breakfasts. Instead, try asking the locals for the cheap, but tasty eats around town. If you have a kitchen where you’re staying, try some light shopping at the local grocery store and prepare some simple meals at home. If you do eat out, stick to doing so only for breakfast or lunch as these menus tend to be cheaper than at a sit-down dinner restaurant.
For entertainment, look for places nearby that are free or very low-cost. If you’re near the beach, rent a boogie board in town, or take a soccer ball and frisbee and make an entire day out of it. In addition, you could rent a bicycle and cruise the local shops or museums nearby. Trip Advisor is a great place to start researching travel activities and Groupon can help you find similar activities but at a steeply-discounted price. Don’t be shy to get creative with it.
With transportation costs, try to avoid renting a car. If required for your trip, try to bundle it with your airfare and housing accommodations and avoid renting from an airport due to higher daily rates, fees, and taxes. If staying in a major city, try walking or taking public transportation. Even an occasional Uber or taxi can still be cheaper than renting a car. Research the different options and compare their average daily costs to help you decide.
Once you’ve worked through all the details above, you should have a good idea whether or not that aligns with your current budget. To plan for this, you’ll need a positive cash flow along with an understanding that you’ll adhere to that daily budget. After that, you simply automate the savings process and make it happen! Now you knonw how to vacation on a budget!
If you need help saving for your next vacation, schedule a free consultation with us today. Happy travels!
Chad Rixse grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, but has lived in the Seattle area since 2007. He majored in Spanish at the University of Washington where he honed his fluency in the language and discovered his passion for travel and connecting with other cultures. He’s a self-professed golf addict who can never seem to get his fill despite still struggling to break 100.