We’ve all been in this situation: desperately needing a vacation but the bank account doesn’t agree. It seems like there’s always something that crops up that eats into the vacation budget like the water heater that unexpectedly quits or when the dog eats a sock and comes home with a huge vet bill. Whatever the reason, we totally understand when the budget for travel doesn’t feel like it’s gonna work out. However, we’re here to offer some advice on how to travel on a budget. Perhaps the bank account won’t allow for the lavish accommodations, exquisite meals, and private sunset cruise, but there’s tons of exploring to be done while keeping the budget to a minimum.

Here are 8 tips on how to still take that vacation but keep it on a budget. 

1. Consider a mini-vacation

We typically get stuck in the idea that a vacation has to be a grandiose occasion with a week off of work minimum and a 5+ hour flight. But some of the best vacations we’ve ever taken have been in our home state that we drove to! A vacation can constitute any number of days and be as close to or as far away from home as you’d like.

jeep road trip

Oftentimes the flight to a faraway vacation destination can take a significant bite into the budget, but perhaps a flight to an idyllic spot a few states away is cheaper. Or even cheaper if you can load up the car with your family or some friends and share the cost of gas.

A mini-vacation is often the exact refresher you need to take a huge deep breath in and realize that life is actually pretty great.

*check out our guide on how to take the perfect mini vacation*

2. Go where the cheap flights take you

Like we’ve already mentioned, sometimes your ticket on the aluminum bus in the sky feels like you worked an entire month to afford. Flights can add up quickly, especially with checking luggage or selecting a seat in advance.

But if you have some flexibility in your travel wishes, let the cheap flights lead to the perfect vacation destination. Shop the current sales on flights and book a vacation accordingly! A tropical vacation in Mexico could very well be just as fantastic as Hawaii, but one flight could be significantly cheaper than the other. The other destination can be bookmarked for a future vacation.

Maldives honeymoon

Additionally, check into airports nearby your desired destination. If you’re hoping for a European escape in Vienna, it might be a heck of a lot cheaper to fly into Prague or Budapest and make your way to Vienna by train.

*check out the Awaken Travels guide to booking cheap flights*

3. Splurge on one thing

Taking a vacation on a budget doesn’t have to mean sleeping in a bunk bed or not enjoying any great meals or excursions. It simply means that not everything will be lavish. Pick one item/experience/thing to splurge on and call it your special treat. This could mean you’ll stay at the hotel of your dreams that comes with a balcony where you can enjoy breakfasts and happy hours from your room, saving a bit on the dining budget.

hotel balcony

Or this could look like staying in a smaller, basic room without an ocean view, but eating a great lunch on the beach to experience that beach life. With a bit of adjustment, a budget vacation can still include some splurge items – just not all items.

4. Take advantage of the free spots

With a bit of research, a budget vacation could consist of only free experiences once you’ve landed in your destination. Most cities offer excellent museums, parks and displays that are free of charge. Taking a self-guided walking tour is always free, as is hanging out on the beach. Maybe your hotel is also home to an art gallery so lovely that you don’t feel like you need to pay to explore any museums.

With a bit of planning and local expertise (we can help with this) your vacation budget may only need to include transportation, accommodation, and food. Leave the rest up to the excellent free local spots.

5. Live like a local

Have you ever noticed how you don’t often see a lot of locals when you are hitting the sights while traveling? Even in the restaurants. The locals must eat out too right? Of course they do. Whether it is food, items, experiences, even grocery stores, the real deals are always a bit out of the way.

Bangkok floating market

Ask a local or at your hotel where the locals shop and eat. People everywhere love to help people out, you just have to ask. Often vacation destinations include local areas that are just as cool to wander around, but with less tourists, more locals, and local prices. These places are often up and coming, so they can change all the time. This week’s hip local spot tends to become tomorrow’s tourist destination. 

If you want to save some serious money while still sampling the local offerings, hit the grocery stores as if you live there. If you have a kitchen in your lodgings, grab some stuff that looks unique to try out. Glance in others baskets and see what others are purchasing. You may get some great new ideas. If you don’t happen to have access to a kitchen, have no fear. This is what the picnic was invented for! Grab some prepared food, fresh fruit, a baguette, perhaps even a bottle of wine and hit the park. Find a nice quiet spot with a view and that special someone and make your own best meal of the trip.

6. Go all-inclusive for no surprises

Pretty much the only way to know how much your vacation will cost down to the dime is to take an all-inclusive trip. There’s something amazingly freeing knowing that you can do virtually anything you want on your trip, and you don’t have to ask for the bill when you’re checking out. No pricing things out, no skipping trying something new because you don’t want to waste your money. Want to take that surf lesson? Try your first yoga session? Do it. Want to hit the buffet until the sun goes down? See you there! Want to lay by the pool with a bottomless mai tai and see just how deep your tan can get? 

All-inclusives let you have that piece of mind from the beginning. You’ve already paid. All that’s left is to show up and see where the trip takes you.

hotel pool with drinks

7. Get a credit or debit card with no foreign transaction fees

This is one of those little tricks to make the most of the money you have. Foreign transaction fees and ATM fees can really add up. It always seems the ATMs anywhere near the best tourist attractions tend to have huge fees to use. You could always save a bit by taking out more money each time and carrying it on you, but that isn’t the best idea. Sign up for a card that reimburses you for all those steep fees like Charles Schwab, a secret weapon of many frequent travelers.

8. Set a daily budget

Sure, budgets aren’t fun for anybody, but it’s part of any budget travel plan. We aren’t advocating skipping two meals a day or walking ten miles to avoid paying for a subway ticket. (Unless you want to. You do you!) But keeping a budget can help you decide whether you really want that dessert with your lunch, or if you would prefer to save that money for a drink at the opera house. Budgets don’t have to be about denying yourself a fun vacation. They just help keep an eye on the pennies that seem to fall through the cracks when we’re out having fun.

Amalfi coast

The budget can be flexible too. Maybe one day you have coffee at the hotel instead of in a cafe, which leads to a bigger budget for lunch or dinner that day. The budget can be fluid, but it’s worth keeping tabs on.

Ready to plan a budget vacation?

Not all vacations have to be a huge budget suck. It’s totally possible to take the trip of a lifetime that doesn’t cost a fortune, and we’d love to help you make this happen! Get in touch with us, let’s talk all about budget, and get you on the perfect vacation that will leave you feeling like you got a great deal and still have some funds left when you get home. The world awaits!


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