Change Your Vacation Style to Save Money

by Guest Contributor · 7 comments

Vacations provide an escape from reality. They give us the opportunity to step outside our daily routine and relax in a new environment. One week a year we book the fanciest hotel, go to the big name restaurants, and splurge on the ultimate activities. Then, in 2009, came the staycation. With everyone watching their budgets, these luxury vacations fell by the wayside. Holidays were spent in the back yard or at the neighborhood pool. No more cruises, no more resorts.

Most people think of vacations as “all or nothing”, but there is a middle ground. A vacation does not have to be expensive. Like many other things in life, a vacation can be done on a budget, and the experience can be more valuable because of it. Though this strategy involves changing the way you think about travel, reconsidering your vacation options can open doors to new places, new adventures, and reduce your budget too. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

Improve Your Travel Habits

Reconsider Your Destination

The first step in changing your travel style is reevaluating your destinations. Mediterranean cruises, all inclusive resorts, and Disney World vacations are wonderful experiences, but often they consume an entire year’s travel budget in one or two weeks.

If you are staying in the United States, consider a national park. A year-long annual national park pass is good for the entire family in all parks in the country and costs the same as an adult one day ticket to Disney World. If you’re not the outdoor type, consider a vacation to a city known for it’s free entertainment. Washington D.C. is filled with free museums and cultural activities the whole family will enjoy.

Thinking internationally? Research your options. Money will go significantly farther in less expensive countries. If you are looking for the beach, consider a nearby international destination. Belize or Costa Rica can offer surprisingly affordable tropical experiences. If you have more time, consider a country like India, where you can travel for $30 a day. Research countries you may have otherwise overlooked and step outside your comfort zone. Syria was recently removed from the State Department’s warning list and the Syrian people are regarded as some of the friendliest you’ll meet. Travel costs are dramatically cheaper than nearby Turkey or Israel.

Plan Ahead

Like most other activities, planning your budget ahead of time will help you stay motivated to save. Consider how much you have to spend, breakdown your costs, and then monitor your expenses as you go. Websites like Budget Your Trip provide easy to use tools to estimate, plan, and track your travel costs. Stay focused as you travel and you’ll understand where your money goes.

Go Independent

Independent travel is almost always the cheapest way to go. Resources are available for independent travel at any budget. Websites like Lonely Planet cater to the backpacker crowd, while TripAdvisor provides reviews and advice for independent travelers with a higher budget. With the growing number of online resources, coordinating and planning your own trip is easy and provides the most flexibility, adventure, and cost savings.

Be Flexible

Booking in advance may be the best option in Europe or the United States, but when you travel to non-western countries you can almost always get the best deal after arrival. Bartering is still a strong component of many cultures. Once you’ve made a reservation you’re locked into your rate and there is no room for negotiation. Always consider the country and the culture you’re traveling in. In many places your room will cost a fraction of the price on arrival than it does on websites or brochures. You will also have a chance to check out the room and confirm the quality. While reservations may give you piece of mind ahead of time, flexibility will give you the best quality for the lowest price.

Reevaluate Your Hotel Choices

Ignore expensive chains and consider more independent options that will give you more bang for your buck. A five star hotel isn’t necessary when you spend your days out seeing the town. Super 8 and Motel 6 are surprisingly clean and comfortable, and they now provide wireless internet. Consider your destination and look into all of your options.

If you’re traveling internationally, independently owned hotels are often far cheaper than their American chain counterparts. Okay, so you may be too old for a backpacker’s hostel, but this doesn’t mean that all budget accommodation is off limits. In many parts of the world budget hotels can cost as little as $10 a day. In Vietnam, a mid range locally owned hotel can cost $15 to $20 a night. Pocket the cash you would have spent on a luxury hotel and put it toward entertainment, or better yet, extend your trip. You’ll appreciate your time more than you would have appreciated the 500 thread count sheets.

Change Your Mode of Transportation

The need to fly is unavoidable for many trips. Unfortunately it’s also expensive. Consider limiting your flights by taking overland transportation. If you’re traveling outside the United States, public transportation is often readily available and a cheaper alternative to flights. Check out seat61 for a thorough description of overland travel in regions all over the globe. Buses and trains often provide the best opportunities to interact with locals. They can be an adventure and an opportunity to enhance your travel and cultural experience.

Eat at Local Restaurants

Eat where the locals eat. It doesn’t matter if you’re dining in San Francisco or Beijing, the locals know where to get cheap, good food. Skip the restaurants with the fancy brochures or the large signs in English. When you walk in, glance around you and find an entree that looks interesting. If the waiter does not speak English, simply point to the dish and he’ll understand. By trusting the locals you will have the most authentic meal for the best price. You can be assured, the locals aren’t paying the tourist markup and neither will you.

Find Free Entertainment

If you’re in a large city, you’re likely to find plenty of free activities. Museums, outdoor concerts, and festivals fill many weekends in most cities during the spring and summer. Talk to locals in the area to see what they do for fun. Check out websites like Yelp to know what’s happening when you’re in town. Consider skipping the dinner cruise on the bay for a stroll through a city neighborhood and meal at a local eatery. Skip the amusement park and instead pack a picnic and head to the park. If you travel like a local you’ll experience a whole new side to a city and you’ll save cash in the process.

What You’ll Gain

Traveling on a budget doesn’t have to lower your experience. Think outside the box and you’ll transform your vacation into a true experience. In many cases, the benefits are more than simply saving a few dollars.

Interact with the Locals

If you change the focus of your trip you will open your eyes to new experiences. Traveling like a local gives you the opportunity to interact with the locals. You’ll gain first hand experience and insight into the culture around you. More often than not residents will jump at the opportunity to help you with directions or information. Many cultures are eager to show off their country and you will learn more than a tour guide could ever teach you.

Longer Trips

Prioritizing and cutting costs means that ultimately you can travel longer. Whether it’s lengthening your trip or planning a second, your dollars will buy you more if you monitor your costs and consider watch what you’re spending.

Contribute to the Local Economy

By avoiding high end chain hotels and restaurants, your experience will not only be cheaper and more authentic, it will also put more money into the local economy. Ethical tourism does not have to be your highest priority, but it’s good to know you’re giving back to the country in some way. A $5 meal at a family owned restaurant gives more than just memories; it reinvests into the community and provides local jobs for the residents. By staying at locally owned facilities you truly are becoming part of the community.

Experience Diverse Cultures

Opening your mind to destinations you may not have previously considered will allow you to experience a diversity of cultures. Changing your mindset will do more than save you money, it will allow you to step outside of your comfort zone and immerse yourself in a culture that you previously considered foreign. The experiences you gain from travel can be far more valuable than the cost or the savings.

Staycation is a good way to save money, but traveling somewhere is still, most likely, more fun. If you can keep it to a budget, why not?

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  • Lyza says:

    These are great suggestions. Italy and Paris have been on my travel wish list for a decade and I still haven’t traveled over seas yet. I am going to “reconsider my destination” like you suggest and look into smaller towns near the bigger cities of Paris and Venice to see if that reduces my vacation budget enough to be able to take the trip finally.
    On my trips in the US I have stayed at 1 star motels and 4 star chains. A happy medium is bidding on my rooms with priceline or using hotwire. We just came back from a trip to Chicago and I got my room in downtown for $69 a night at the Embassy Suites. We could have stayed by the airport for $46 a night but when you add in roundtrip train fare downtown daily for all of us, it evened out. Add into that also the fact that we got a free made to order breakfast each morning and managers reception each evening with free drinks and snacks, we came out on top 🙂 I used hotwire and traveled via amtrack to have a great city vacation on a low budget.
    But when we visit Florida, we usually stay at an independent mom and pop style motel, there are hundreds to chose from. And then we have so much extra $ for the fun stuff.

  • James says:

    Vacation is about the location but also the people you are with. weather with your family or friends a road trip can be a blast. pack a cooler full of food and drinks and hit the highway.

    how many times do you start driving and before you know it you are laughing and something totally silly.

    these are the memories that last a lifetime

  • Peggy says:

    Great tips here. I give another vote for Yelp, as it truly offers us an inside look at some great places to go to without actually knowing anything about the area.

  • Cd Phi says:

    Budgeting for vacation is very important-especially for families. I’ve read online that there are many home exchange programs that you can do where you switch houses with someone in another place (possibly internationally or even nationally). They live in your home while you live in theirs. It’s a win-win situation. That’s pretty cool because that’ll save you loads of money on room and board. The only downside to that however is that for very touristy areas, you might not be living in the middle, central to every attraction. You may be living in the suburbs and possibly have to travel towards your destination. Otherwise, I really wouldn’t mind trying that exchange program out.

  • Betsy says:

    We’ve started going to motels on our trips too. After the initial mental change, we found that it’s really the same thing. We then used the extra money we saved, which averages to about $100 USD a day, to do other activities and it was so much more fun. All of a sudden, we found that we had so much more money in our budget and our vacations got better. I definitely recommend at least trying it.

  • Budget Gal Angie says:

    These are all great tips. It’s a shame that some people give up going on vacation because they think the only way to have fun is to splurge. These tips are proof that you can have a great time on a budget.

  • kt says:

    belize?? i saw a documentary once about that place having like one of the highest crime rates in the world….and turquoise beaches. i think i will pass and go to mexico or south africa 🙂

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