Taking time off is essential for your mental and physical health, happiness, and productivity. Getting away from the daily grind and seeing new things can lift your spirits and renew your mind in a major way. But it can often feel like a vacation is a luxury you can’t afford. In reality, vacationing is not just for those with money to spare. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get away for a while. Early preparation, budgeting, and timing can all make for a less costly trip. Let’s look at the best ways to vacation on a budget.

Start Planning Early

The earlier you start planning your vacation, the more time you have to save money. Traveling costs fluctuate with demand, and the cycle rises and falls as your travel dates get closer. Beginning your planning early lets you find reduced rates on lodging, flights, etc. In addition, watching prices ahead of time allows you to snag deals when the prices are low. We will go deeper into this in the section on timing. Planning ahead will also give you time to create a budget and make wise choices.

Create a Budget

Creating a vacation budget is vital to vacationing stress-free without financial consequences. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here is the easiest way to create your vacation budget:

  • Your first step is determining the highest amount you can spend from start to finish. Look at your standard monthly budget and see where you can cut costs. For example, take your entertainment allotment and put that money away for your vacation fund. If you have any extra savings, you could also use a portion of that. 
  • Once you know how much you can spend, you can decide where to go. Transportation and lodging are the main factors here. Do you have enough to pay for flight tickets and a hotel? Or is driving to the nearest state park for a few nights of camping more suited to your budget? If you choose to fly, remember to factor in transportation to and from the airport and while you are at your destination.
  • The third step is to determine the amount of time you want to vacation. How much time you can afford to take off work is a major determinant. The other is lodging costs. Even if you choose to camp for your vacation, most places charge a fee.
  • After you know how much you can spend, where you are going, and how long you will be there, you can budget for food, souvenirs, and entertainment. *extra tip: Google Trips gives you “on a budget” lists of nearby food and attractions. 
  • Lastly, set up a separate savings account for your vacation fund. This can be as simple as opening a free savings account and transferring funds from your checking account into it each month.

Set Limits

Once you know what your vacation budget is, you can set limits. Setting a daily limit is an excellent way to vacation on a budget. Taking your overall vacation budget and breaking it down per day is less overwhelming and will help you stay within your means. 

One method is to make a series of envelopes with each day of your vacation written on them. Use just the cash inside the envelope for that day, and if you have any of it left, put it in the envelope for the following day. If cash isn’t your style, you can use prepaid debit cards. Then, write the vacation day on them with a marker. 

Remember that unforeseen things can easily come up when you are away from home. So do bring your credit card or checking account debit card, but only use it for emergencies.


When you choose to travel can make a big difference in cost. This relates to flights, hotels, car rentals, and even tours. For example, according to Expedia, the best day of the week to book flights is Sunday.

Taking your vacation during the offseason is another excellent way to do it on a budget. Each location has a peak season when tourism is high, making prices for everything higher. For example, Colorado’s Rocky Mountains are more expensive to visit in the winter, while winter trips to Utah’s Zion National Park are cheaper. Off-season vacationing can save money on flights, lodging, tours, attractions, and even dining.

If you are flying to your vacation destination, Google has some excellent apps to help you know the best travel times. One of these is Google Flights. It features a cost tracker alert system that will email you when fares drop. In addition, Google Flights will show you how the pricing has changed over the last several months and inform you when the price will rise shortly or will not fall anymore.

Stay Close To Home

Mileage and time off are considerable factors in how much a vacation can cost. Choosing a destination close to home can save you a lot of money. 

Flight tickets alone can be the most expensive part of a trip. If you stay within driving distance, you can cut out the cost of flights and have your vehicle for transportation once there. Even if you do choose to fly, the further away you go, the more it will cost. 

Vacationing close to home also means you can take less time off. It’s much easier to get back before the weekend is over if you don’t have a full day or two of travel time ahead of you.


If you choose to stay closer to home, consider camping. Camping is cheap and one of the most cost-effective ways to vacation. If you love the outdoors and are headed somewhere warm, this can be as relaxing and refreshing as staying at a hotel. From national and state parks to private campgrounds, there are beautiful places to set up your tent. Many of them include amenities like electricity, showers, and pools. And if you want to save a buck and have no problem roughing it, some states like Utah have BLM land where you can camp primitively for free. Of course, make sure you do your research first, so you don’t end up pitching your tent somewhere illegally.

Camping not only saves on lodging costs but food and transportation too. It’s no secret that making your own meals is much cheaper than eating out. While it takes more time and preparation, you started planning early for a good reason. Transportation is also more affordable when camping because you already have your car.

Skip The Tours

There’s nothing like getting out and about in a brand-new city. But how much of that checking out can you do by yourself? Sight-seeing tours are expensive, and with the information readily available online now, it’s easy to conduct your excursion absolutely free instead of paying for a guided tour. In addition, apps like TripAdvisor and Spotted by Locals can help you see the best of your vacation spots for free. 

Closing Thoughts

Vacations don’t need to be pricey. Whether you’re a getaway veteran or a traveling rookie, it’s easy to save money on trips by planning early and keeping an eye on costs. In addition, tips like vacationing during the offseason and skipping the tours can cut expenses, enabling you to vacation on a budget.