Every season has its share of money temptations, but summer just might be the worst. The kids are out of school, the beach is calling your name, and every free hour seems like a good opportunity to drop everything and go on vacation. Blame it on the sun!
But how can you go on a fun trip when you’re on a budget?
15 Cheap Vacation Ideas
Here are 15 cheap vacation ideas that will let you get away without breaking the bank! So, put on The Beach Boys, bust out the shades, and start making your vacation list now.
1. Tour your own city
And this doesn’t mean you “tour” your house projects and work on your yard. We’re talking about getting out there and being a tourist in your own town.
Explore local art galleries, historical sites, that new restaurant you’ve been meaning to check out, or even half-price museum days. You can truly be as thrifty as you want with this one.
2. Go camping
Okay, so you can go the traditional “let’s sleep outside” route, or you can rent a cabin. Get out there and enjoy the great outdoors!
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If you want the whole RV/camper experience but don’t actually want to drive the thing, Airbnb has you covered for as little as $39 a night.1 Their hosts offer decked-out campers that stay put while you’re cozy and indoors. The youths call this “glamping”—you know, experiencing the great outdoors without dealing with that whole outdoors part.
3. Go to the less popular beach
Certain beaches are going to be more popular and pricier than others (looking at you, Key West and Laguna Beach). But if you know where to look, you can save a pretty penny and still watch the tide roll in.
Coastline beaches are going to be more expensive than beaches along the Gulf. Sure, the water might look a little different, but when you’re coming from a landlocked area, a beach is a beach. Staying in a two-bedroom beach condo in Miami could cost you upwards of $100 more per night in comparison to the same type of lodging in Galveston, Texas. Plus, the Gulf beaches will have less expensive hotels, food and activities too.
4. Book travel packages using warehouse stores
We promise this isn’t as weird as it sounds. Club stores, like Costco, actually offer pretty good deals on vacation packages. If you’re planning a more elaborate vacation, you might want to consider what they have to offer.
For example, one Costco deal we found includes five days of accommodations for two adults at the Sheraton Vistana Resort Villas, Walt Disney World tickets, and car rental for about $1,900.2 But if you paid for your hotel stay, Disney passes, and car rental separately, it would set you back about $2,200. That’s a savings of over $300 just by being smart about who you book with.
We know travel packages like this change pretty quickly, so you might not find this exact deal. The point is: If you’re on the lookout for a bargain, you should be able to find one if you know where to look!
5. Stay with friends or family
It’s not glamorous—and some people might not even consider it a true vacation—but staying with friends or family is an easy cheap vacation idea. Plus, you’ll get to spend time with the people you love!
More than likely, you won’t have to pay for lodging or some meals. That means you’ll only have to foot the bill to get to your destination. This should drastically cut back on your travel costs.
But make sure you’re a great guest while you’re staying there. Don’t be a mooch! Pay for groceries or cook some meals to show your gratitude. Maybe even treat your loved ones to dinner or dessert while you’re in town! You want to score an invite back, don’t you?
6. Travel during the off-season
Everyone loves taking a vacation in the summer, but pushing it out just a few more months could save you a bundle. Traveling during fall break (or any time after Labor Day weekend) can be a great cheap vacation idea.
Remember, though: Peak-season and off-season will change depending on where you’re planning to go. A good rule of thumb is to avoid traveling during the summer months, winter break, and holidays. Do your research before you book!
7. Go away on a weekend trip
If you need to get away, leaving town for the weekend can be just what the doctor ordered. Is it as restful as a 10-day trip? Well, no. But it’s not nearly as expensive. Budget for a quick weekend getaway, and you might be pleasantly surprised at how affordable it can be.
8. Take a vacation on a weekday
All right, this is the exact opposite of the last idea, but hear us out. Most of the time, booking a hotel or Airbnb for the weekend is pricier than staying there during the week. So, if you can afford to use some vacation time at work, try booking a quick, midweek vacation.
9. Visit a national park
The greatest thing about nature is that it’s usually pretty much free to enjoy. Oh, and it’s beautiful—added bonus! Don’t sweat it if you don’t live anywhere near Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. Did you know there are actually 61 national parks across the United States? Find one near you and go explore! Just know the parks might have a small entrance fee to pay per vehicle or person.
10. Stay at a bed-and-breakfast nearby
Sure, some B&Bs are known for being over the top and out of a budgeter’s price range. But many bed-and-breakfasts can actually be budget friendly if they roll meals and activities into the price of a nightly stay.
A bed-and-breakfast in Nashville generally runs around $100 to $250 per night.3 But considering you’ll get homemade breakfast at the very least (hence the name) and other meals throughout your stay, it’s really not a bad deal.
A lot of B&Bs even throw in extras, like coffee and cookies or wine and cheese, in the lobby area. Depending on your location, some bed-and-breakfasts offer kayaks, bikes or canoes for you to take for a spin for free.
11. Get insider tips
Okay, let’s say you already know you’re going to go big and plan a vacation to Disney World, but you still want to be smart and do Disney on a budget. You need to make collecting all the insider tips your part-time job. Scour the internet, ask friends and family, and do your research across the board to learn all the things you need to know before booking the trip.
Just because it’s “the most magical place on Earth” doesn’t mean you can’t do it on the cheap!
12. Explore your own region
On the flip side, taking a vacation doesn’t mean you have to go to Disneyland . . . or Paris . . . or take a Caribbean cruise. If you want cheap vacation ideas, look no further than your own region.
Decide to go somewhere that’s maybe just one or two hours away from home. You’ll be out of town while (hopefully) avoiding the sticker shock of busy vacation areas. And you’ll save money by not dealing with flights or long drives!
13. Book in advance
One of the best cheap vacation ideas is booking your trip far in advance. We’re not saying you have to plan it years out, but your chances of getting good prices are a lot higher when you don’t wait until the month before you want to go.
Online travel hubs, like Groupon and Expedia, pride themselves in offering great, last-minute vacation deals. And if you’re just trying to find a last-minute hotel in a pinch, look into Hotel Tonight.
14. Book a rental car with your debit card
Trying to book a rental car with your debit card used to be a huge pain. Sure, some places would let you do it, but they basically wanted you to submit to a background check, leave your first-born child as collateral, and pat your head while rubbing your belly. In other words, there were a lot of hoops to jump through.
Now, Dollar Car Rental makes renting a car with a debit card super easy. No hoops, no making you feel like a second-class citizen—just pick up your car and hit the road. And how does it save you money? Simple. It’s not being charged to a credit card and collecting interest months after your vacation ended—that’s how.
15. Take a staycation
Take those vacation days and get ready to stay at home! There are plenty of ways to be creative (and thrifty) without losing the fun factor. Plan out which nights of the week you want to take your family out to eat or explore downtown. And don’t forget to meal plan for the nights you’ll eat at home too. Try sprucing up your backyard and tossing some burgers on the grill!
How to Save for Your Cheap Vacation
We hate to break it to you, but the money for your cheap vacation isn’t just going to magically appear in your bank account. This is why having a budget is such a big deal!
Once you figure out when you want to go on vacation, budget out what looks like a reasonable amount of money to save for your family. The amount you’re able to put aside will impact where you go and how long you can stay. You may need to sell things and make temporary lifestyle sacrifices. But don’t worry! There are plenty of ways you can save up cash quickly.
We’re all for you having a dream vacation, but don’t go into debt for it! When you save up, pay in cash, and try these tips, you’ll be able to enjoy your vacation without having to worry about bills following you home.
So, don’t go on a vacation without a budget—you’ll feel the burn long after summer ends if you do. Instead, create your budget with our free budgeting app, EveryDollar! Then, get out there and enjoy your paid for vacation!