You need a vacation. (Badly!) But you’re on a tight budget.
Even if you’re low on funds, you, too, can take a great vacation packed with fun activities, comfy lodging and delicious meals.
We’ve rounded up our savviest travel tips, tricks and hacks to help you live your best vacation life, regardless of your budget.
Start by deciding where you’ll go and how you’ll get there
Maybe you’ve always wanted to go to the Grand Canyon. Or Europe. Or maybe you’d just like to spend a week at the beach. The secret to your ideal, budget-friendly vacation destination is planning ahead.
Once you decide where you’re going, you’ll need to figure out how you’ll get there. If your destination is reachable by car, you may be planning to drive. But sometimes, surprisingly, it’s actually cheaper to fly. BeFrugal.com offers a "fly or drive" calculator to help you figure out if you should hit the road or take off into the blue. Travelmath’s travel cost calculator is another handy resource.
If you’re flying, do your research, then act fast
Scoring cheap airfare takes strategy and patience. As travel experts such as Nomadic Matt will tell you, much of it comes down to flexibility — from where you’re going (consider less-popular destinations) and when you leave (off-season is best) to what airline you’re willing to fly (don’t overlook budget airlines).
It also takes a lot of research. So don’t procrastinate. The earlier you start, the better.
Discount sites, such as Expedia and Kayak, are popular, but be sure to check out airline websites, too, as not all third-party sites include every airline. (Some airlines, like Southwest, don’t participate in them at all.)
While visiting airline sites, sign up for alerts. Remember that once a sale hits, it’s important to act fast since cheap flights go fast!
It’s also a good idea to explore lesser-known discount flight websites and apps, including Scott’s Cheap Flights, Hopper and Hipmunk. And, if you can take a train or bus to your destination, sites like Kiwi offer discounted alternatives to air travel.
Pack light — and strategically!
Airline baggage fees can really add up, especially for families. If you’re taking a flight, a straightforward way to save money is to pack light, tight and very strategically.
The goal is to fit everything into your carry-on so you don’t have to check a bag. While it can seem...challenging, it’s possible. Even for a week-long trip. These packing tips, as well as this tutorial video, will help keep your hard-earned money instead of handing it over to airlines. (These military packing tips are excellent, too. You’ll never look at a suitcase the same way again.)
Another plus of packing light? You’ll save precious time, bypassing crowded baggage claims and heading right out of the airport to start your vacation. Booyah!
Consider car rental alternatives
Once you arrive, you’ll likely need transportation to get around. Instead of renting a car, which can get pricey and bog you down with expensive parking fees, try ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft, which, according to this experiment, will save you money and time.
If you’re visiting a major city, research public transit options. You may be able to purchase discounted fare cards in advance. At the very least, you’ll know what to expect — both cost and routes — before you arrive.
Look beyond hotels
Lodging can often be the most expensive part of your trip. Luckily, thanks to technology, expensive hotels aren’t the only option anymore.
Renting an apartment (or just a room), condo, even a house, can save you a lot of money. Not only is it typically much, much cheaper than hotels, you’ll be able to cook your own food and do your own laundry, which will save you even more. Sites like Airbnb, Vrbo and HomeAway are great for this, and offer endless options, from basic to luxurious.
If you’re looking for a bit more adventure — as well as built-in socialization — hostels can be a great option, especially overseas. (And, thanks to an explosion of millenial interest, there are plenty of options around the world.) You can even rent dorm rooms when colleges and universities aren’t in session, which can save you loads of cash abroad (since it’s not widely available in the U.S. just yet).
Be restaurant savvy
As a general rule of thumb, lunch is always cheaper than dinner. So splurge with a big midday meal, then opt for a light dinner. We also suggest following the “five-block rule” by avoiding restaurants within five blocks of a touristy area, since they tend to hike up prices to take advantage of travelers.
Yelp and Google Maps are fantastic options to locate nearby restaurants and popular favorites at each. Photos, ratings, reviews and pricing info make it easy to decide where to eat without any surprises.
Get creative with activities
From amusement parks and outdoor adventures to spas and restaurants, discounts can be pretty fabulous, and you and your travel companion(s) will get to experience new things in a new place.
If free is more your scene, many American and European cities offer free walking tours that will get you out and about and meeting new people. If you’ll be visiting these top American destinations, there’s plenty of free activities to enjoy in each one of them.
Finally, don’t forget about the humble “staycation”
Leaving town is great, but staying home can be pretty great, too. (A quick weekend trip can be a terrific, low-cost option as well.)
If you don’t have the funds to travel, why not clear your schedule, plan some day trips and hit up some local deals? Take hikes, go to the movies, experience a local tourist attraction you’ve always wanted to visit.
You’ll save money, relax and not have a pile of laundry to do when it’s over. Even better? You won’t have a post-vacation hangover when you get back to work on Monday. No amount of money can save you from that.