How to Travel on a Budget

Ever get a case of wanderlust? Not sure what that is? Well, its essentially a strong impulse or longing to travel.  For most of us living life on a budget, paying off debt, or living paycheck to paycheck; a vacation is usually the last thing on our minds. Traveling is expensive, right? Or is it? It certainly can be. It's no secret my family loves Disney vacations, but they're extremely pricey. Even though we scrimp and save, make sacrifices, and use lots of tricks, it is still a lot of money, but that doesn't mean every trip we take costs as much as a Disney one.

So, if you're looking for a break, a place to make some memories, or cure your wanderlust, here are my top tips and tricks to traveling on a budget!

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1. Choose Somewhere Close
Flying anywhere on an airplane is going to be pricey. Even if you get a good deal, you will still have to pay airport parking fees, possible baggage fees, for your seat, etc. Try to find somewhere within a half day to days drive.

Our cut off is about 10 hours, but less than 6 hours is ideal. Anything over 4 hours, we choose to rent a car. Our cars are older and paid off, so we don't want to put the wear and tear on them. For about $150, we rent a car for the week and drive to our location. Using AAA Fuel Cost Calculator, we estimate the cost of gas. For our family of 4 to fly most places is about $800. For about $250, we can drive to many locations, including beaches, national parks, and other fun destinations. The closer you are, the cheaper your travel expenses will be.

2. Pick Somewhere Inexpensive
Make a list of a few places you'd like to visit. For us, we have an ongoing list and we like to try to check off one a year, if our budget allows. For instance, we have three beaches on our list. Virginia Beach seems to always be more expensive than Myrtle Beach. However, Virginia Beach has a lot of street shows and activities for free. Most of the things we'd like to do on the East Coast cost much more than a destination in the midwest. Obviously Disney is going to cost three times more than going to a local amusement park.

3. Go During the Week and Doing Fewer Days
When you look up the cost of a hotel stay, you put in your dates and see the cost per night. Did you know, that is the average per night? Staying Sunday-Thursday is generally going to be cheaper than a Friday or Saturday stay. If you have the vacation time, consider going Monday-Friday. Drive there Monday, check in around 4 pm. Have your fun days Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Check out and drive home Friday. It will be much cheaper than staying during the weekend or even a long weekend stay. For most budget friendly travel destinations, 3 days in the area will be more than enough. Especially if you're traveling with young kids!

4. Consider Where You're Staying
We are now in a time where there are so many affordable options for places to stay! If a hotel is where you prefer, be sure to shop around. I always hop on a site like Priceline, but I always check the actual hotel website. In my experience, the hotel usually has some sort of deal that is better than what these discount websites are hosting. Be sure to enable your Rakuten account too for extra savings!

If you're wanting a whole house, consider AirBnB or VRBO. I know several people who have had great success with both! They got a whole house for the price they'd spend on a small hotel room. Having a whole house, brings me to my next point. 

5. Save Money on Food
Food is usually a huge expense, especially while traveling! It's also usually the easiest way to save. Whether you're driving or flying, bringing your own food can save big bucks and is generally going to be much healthier than what you'd find on the road or at an airport. If you're driving, fill up a cooler with sandwiches, fruit, veggies, snacks, and drinks. 

If you have a whole kitchen on your trip, that will make eating in much easier. You can get groceries locally or bring some with you. I know, cooking isn't everyone's forte on vacation, but consider at least one meal a day in. We usually always opt for two meals in and one out. We usually do a big breakfast, a packed lunch, and a dinner out.

Staying in a hotel? That can be done too! Make sure you have a coffee maker and mini fridge! We do oatmeal, yogurt, fruit, and granola bars for breakfast. We have tons of snacks. We have sandwiches, crackers, and veggies for lunch. Super easy!

A meal out for our family, is easily $40 with tip. We can spend $40 checking out a nice, local, fun place we'd like to try and maybe $10 with stuff we prepared at our accommodations. OR spend $120 a day eating out for convenience.  You choose! All that extra money can go towards entertainment or another fun trip.

6. Go as a Group
We have done this in the past. I love spending time with family and friends, but honestly, I get stressed out on trips with people. If you don't or this is something you'd like to try, going with friends or another family can cut costs significantly! You can share a ride together, split a house or cabin, and cook a meal for everyone. Most places also give group discounts of 15 people or more, so if you get a few families together, you can save even more and make tons of memories together!

7. Stay Somewhere "Inclusive"
When I hear inclusive, I usually think of an elegant hotel in Mexico, but that's not exactly what I'm referring to here. It can be as simple as finding a place with free breakfast and free parking. In 2017, we went to the Wisconsin Dells. The hotel we picked included water park tickets, free wrist bands to an indoor amusement park, and discounts to several experiences and restaurants. Try to stay somewhere that offers discounts to things to do in the area. It makes a huge difference!

8. Go During "Off-Season"
Try to go off-season, if you can. I know most people have kids in school, but if you have young kids or homeschool, like us, going in the off-season can save big bucks and have smaller crowds. We love going in May before school lets out or in August, right after everyone goes back to school. If you're going somewhere warm all year round, January and February can be good times to go. You can usually snag an off season discount, not just for your stay, but for your rental car and entertainment as well!

9. Find Free or Discount Entertainment
Free entertainment is certainly going to make a huge difference! We love going hiking, so we enjoy going to National Parks when we can. It's free and usually entertaining enough to spend all day, or at least half day. State parks are a great choice as well, though not free. 

If your hotel doesn't offer discounts, try to find a discount booklet at a rest stop near by. You can usually save a ton of money at certain restaurants and entertainment locations. 

Check Groupon as well! Pretty much everything we do in Pigeon Forge comes from groupon or the discount booklets!

10. Book Far In Advance or Last Minute
The largest discounts for hotels and rental cars will generally be far in advance or right before. So, if you can save up and be flexible, booking last minute could be a great choice. We choose to book super far in advance, get something with  no pre pay or free cancellations, and if we snag a better deal, cancel the early booking and book with the better deal. This saved us over $100 on our last rental car doing it that way. 

11. Use "Free" Money to Travel
This is something we've started doing recently, since we are a single income family now. You could totally set aside money every month from your monthly budget to save up for your trip! However, we prefer to use "free" money to pay for our travels!

My husband does Doordash once a week for a few hours and easily makes between $50-75 a night. We also use apps like iBotta, fetch rewards, and swagbucks. I do Rev from time to time. My husband gets gift cards through tracking his steps. Since I am on his insurance, I get some as well. We make about $200 every three months, just by tracking and doing daily health checklists. 

The majority of these things take an extra minute or two out of our day, but certainly add up over time. We were able to get $1000 in "free" money for our last vacation! For our smaller trips, $1000 is usually our entire budget, so you can see how easy it would be to travel for "free". 

Well, there you have it! All my tips and tricks to traveling on a budget! Which of these have you used? Got any other tips or tricks? Leave me a comment and let me know!