How to Travel on a Budget
My daughter is in college, so for the past couple of years I’ve struggled to pull together the funds for a vacation. This year is even more of a struggle because I had to pay for some significant repairs to my home and my car. I know I’m not the only one in this situation, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned how to travel on a budget while still having a fantastic vacation.
Create a budget for your trip
I hate to state the obvious, but if you’re going to travel on a budget, you should have a budget. This small step can save you hundreds of dollars while still allowing you to do and buy the things that are most important to you. I usually like to start by listing necessities and then the things I want to do and buy. Once I’ve got my wish list in place, I can start plugging in estimated costs for each. This may be difficult in some cases. For example, if you want to buy your nephew a touristy gift but don’t know what it will be, you can’t possibly know what it will cost. However, you can estimate about how much you’d like to spend on him, so you can use that number instead. Here is what your list might look like (if you’re single):
- Room (Air BnB) $945
- Travel (Gas) $150
- Groceries $150
- Two dinners out $125
- One breakfast at La Fontina’s $40
- Amusement park $450
- Theater admission $75
- T-shirt for daughter $30
- Gift for James $30
- Miscellaneous $200
- TOTAL $2,195
Get a room with a kitchen
Food can be one of the most expensive elements of a vacation. Eating out for three meals a day can cost over $100 per person. It can cost much more than that if you enjoy a glass of wine or other alcohol with your meal(s). One thing I’ve learned to do over the years is to make sure I get a room with a kitchen or kitchenette. That way, I can buy groceries when I get there, and I always have access to food. I can still go out to eat, of course, but only when I want to.
Even though this may seem like more work than you want to do on vacation, the good news is that you probably won’t have to clean up after yourself. Most places offer cleaning services to take care of the dishes for you while you’re out adventuring the next day.
Choose your expenditures carefully
Now that you’ve got your budget, you’ve got a base number for each line item. You know that you’ll run over budget on some items, so try to run under budget on as many as you can. This can be a fun challenge and one that leads to some surprising finds in Vacationland.
When you’re looking for restaurants for your “dinner(s) out,” seek out the very best quality offered at the lowest price. Menus are often displayed on the restaurant’s front window. If not, you can probably find them online. Keep looking until you find a restaurant that has the food you’re craving (so you don’t feel like you’re compromising) at a price you can handle. If you’re in a very touristy place, you may want to look for places located off the main drag, which could involve driving. It will be worth it and you may find a real gem that you can tell your friends about!
When it comes to buying gift items, don’t buy the first thing that you find (unless it’s exactly what you were looking for at a great price). Keep a mental list of affordable things you might like to buy and don’t put down the cash until you’re certain you’ve found the perfect item within your budget.
Turn spending money into a game, where winning means finding the best possible experience or thing at the lowest possible cost. I have never been a bargain shopper, but I love this game because it forces me to think outside the box (which I think is a valuable skill in and of itself) and always results in me saving money.
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Go somewhere inexpensive
I would have loved to have gone to South America a few years ago but couldn’t afford it and didn’t have passports for me or my daughter. I decided that instead of stressing myself out spending more than I could afford, I’d try to meet as many of my wishes with a destination that was less expensive and less complicated. I wanted to go somewhere very warm (it was winter), somewhere I had never been before, and somewhere where there was a lot of sand. I chose Florida and it turned out to be much more affordable, exotic (enough), quite warm, and certainly covered with sand. We both had a blast and didn’t have to worry about customs.
As noted in my first paragraph this has been a tough budget year, with home and auto costs that blew my vacation out of the water. I’m not worried about it though because I’ve planned an amazing vacation for myself, which will get me out to several spots I’ve been dying to visit but have never taken the time to get to. As a bonus, I’ll be able to incorporate my (now very busy college-age) daughter, friends, and family into my plans. During this vacation, I’ll hit the Maine beaches, go on a short cruise, take a hike up a couple new hills, thrift shop, and enjoy other random adventures I’ve had on my wish list for a while.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that abundance is a state of mind. When you view your vacation as a gift and appreciate the time you have, you feel more relaxed, enjoy a greater feeling of expansiveness, and find yourself smiling.
About Heidi White
Heidi White is the content and communications specialist at VSECU. She is responsible for communicating information and ideas through the written word for the credit union’s internal and external audiences. Her passion is helping people live more joyful lives through timely, useful, and compelling content. Heidi lives in Barre, Vermont.