If you’re like many people, you may enjoy all the beautiful travel photos, but increasingly feel a touch of vacation envy. Maybe you know you need a getaway but don’t think you can afford one. If you and your family are ready to take a break from it all and have fun making memories, then a little creativity and some clever budgeting might just help you achieve the vacation or weekend getaway your family craves.
The goal of this Money Chat is to provide specific tips and ideas for budgeting and planning to help you and your family have what is likely a well-deserved and much-needed break without going into extra debt.
Find Low-Cost Destinations & Activities
When choosing your destination on a budget, try starting by thinking about how you can maximize your fun with free or inexpensive sights and attractions within a short to moderate drive, train ride, or bus ride.
Nearby State and National Parks
If the goal of your trip is to unwind and de-stress, it’s hard to beat the great outdoors. Experts agree that a connection to nature is essential for human health and wellness. Sometimes it’s surprising what hidden gems are nearby. Most if not all states have online guides to their state parks or you can browse AmericasStateParks.org. Check the US National Parks Travel Guide as well. The National Park Service even offers several Free Entrance Days per year. If you decide to reserve a campsite, keep in mind the cost of camping gear if you don’t already have a tent. Search “frugal camping” to find several websites providing helpful hacks and useful tips, and shop used and consigned gear through sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace or local consignment shops. Some parks also offer cabin or yurt reservations.
Local County and City Parks
If you have children and are looking for more action, look up the county and city parks nearby/ en route to your destination. You might want to plan a playground pit stop or two to help your little ones unleash their energy while creating lifelong memories sharing an adventure! Some park systems even have free splash pads and/or low-cost water parks open to the public during the warm seasons.
Free and Low-Cost Museums
If you’d like to include an educational component during your getaway, check online ahead of time for free and low-cost museums. This can also be a great backup plan in case of a rainy day during your getaway. A general search for “free museums near ___” might turn up interesting results for the area you plan to visit. Museums for All is a nonprofit program that provides free or reduced admission to participating museums for EBT cardholders/SNAP recipients. There are also sometimes local free or reduced admission incentives that can be found by searching online. Lastly, September 18, 2021, is Smithsonian magazine’s annual Museum Day, when participating museums nationwide provide free entry.
City-Hosted Music and Art Shows
Many cities host free weekly events during the warmer months to help promote community engagement and patronage to local businesses and restaurants. Popular platforms such as Facebook Events and Google Events have made this information quick and easy to locate. You can also try searching the web for a city calendar specific to your destination area and find out what events you can catch while you’re in town. This can be a great way to enjoy some music and art while staying outside, enjoying good weather and saving money!
Save on Lodging
If camping or “glamping” is not on the list of good options for you or your family, consider these ideas:
- Check Extended Stay hotels and motels for lower rates.
- Use vacation rental sites like Airbnb, VRBO, and other similar platforms (just be sure to read the reviews and plan for safety). You can often more easily cook and “eat-in” at these types of accommodations, saving money on food.
- Save on more traditional hotels by using travel sites, credit card points, or staying during non-peak travel times (e.g. mid-week, when public school is in session, etc.).
- Book your stay a few miles further away from in-demand locales for lower rates on any type of rental.
- Leverage homes of trusted friends or family by house swapping. If you live near the mountains, for instance, and they live near the beach, perhaps you could swap homes for a few days without having to spend money on lodging for your getaway.
- Take advantage of the “Staycation.” Sometimes staying home and being a tourist in your city or taking a day trip can be the break you need without the stress of packing and paying for lodging. The savings can translate to more cash available for things like tickets, outings, parking, restaurants, etc.
Pack for Creative, Simple Meals
Planning meals and packing food can save bundles of money. Consider before you make your reservation whether your lodging will have a refrigerator/mini-fridge, microwave, or any other kitchen/kitchenette utilities. From there, you can plan to bring food and food prep gear for some of your meals, even if you splurge on a few special meals out. Here are some ideas for meal prep away from home:
- Bring an instant pot or air fryer to make room meals.
- Pack canned foods and microwaveable meals like ramen noodles if there is a microwave.
- Bring a mini kettle or use the coffee machine to heat water for dry foods like oatmeal.
- Pack dry/non-refrigerated snacks like trail mix.
- Carry packs with water bottles for all family members to reduce the need for buying highly-priced drinks.
- Purchase snacks in bulk ahead of time and pack with your water bottle to reduce expensive, urgent hunger purchases when out.
- Refrigerate leftovers from meals out to reheat for a second meal.
Review the Budget
Sometimes cutting or reducing spending in one area can reveal additional available income you may be able to save for a vacation. If it’s been a while since you scrutinized where your money is going, look for the “low-hanging fruit.” Here are some ideas:
- Car insurance: Try shopping around for a better rate and negotiating with your insurance company or changing insurance providers altogether. If your car is paid off, consider reducing your coverage to the legal state minimum coverage to save hundreds of dollars annually.
- Home and auto loans: If your APR on a home or auto loan is high but you’ve improved your credit with consistent, timely payments, it might be a good time to look into refinancing options. This may save hundreds to thousands of dollars annually.
- Clothing, toys, and household items: Shop consigned and gently used items when possible.
- Memberships and subscriptions: Cancel or condense memberships and subscriptions such as cable and streaming services. In addition to books, you can often use your public library for items like audiobooks, magazines, movies/shows, and music.
- Phone: Shop around for better rates on your cell phone plan.
Involving the whole family in a specific savings goal can help everyone savor the trip once it happens, teach important life lessons, and maintain unity in staying frugal. For saving as a family toward your vacation goal, check out some of these resources for tips, tools, and ideas:
It has been a challenging year, and breaks are crucial for mental health. Whether you take a few long weekends, sprinkle a few days off throughout the year, or spend a full week or more, thinking outside the box and shifting perspectives can help any family find a way to squeeze in a vacation or mini-vacation. Happy and safe travels!
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The information contained in this article is meant to serve as general guidance for consumers and not meant to serve as comprehensive financial advice. For questions about your individual circumstance, finances, or accounts, please contact your creditor(s) and/or financial advisor directly.
Thank you to our Sponsor
This article was sponsored by Frontline Asset Strategies. Founded in 2008, Frontline Asset Strategies is a nationally licensed and bonded full-service collection agency specializing in accounts receivables management solutions that assist clients with maximizing the recovery of delinquent and nonperforming accounts. They are a Certified Receivables Business by the Receivables Management Association International and their team works with integrity and transparency to deliver positive consumer interactions that exceed expectations. Frontline has offices located in Roseville, MN and Jacksonville, FL.