Planning a vacation should be fun and exciting! The problem is your finances may get in the way of really going where you want to go.
The good news is you still can have a great time on vacation even if you don’t have the money.
Here is how to plan a vacation on a budget
You probably have at least one dream destination that calls to you.
Whether it’s a tropical island with pink sand beaches, a cultural mecca in Europe or a bustling metropolis full of adventure, most of us have a fantasy vacation that’s waiting to be realized.
Unfortunately, sometimes our imagination is greater than our bank account.
Depending on what phase of life you’re in—just out of college and paying off student loans, working your way up the corporate ladder towards a senior salary, buying a house or starting a family—most of us don’t have an extra $2,000-$5,000 to spend on a trip.
It can be challenging to stick to your budget instead of charging an expensive plane ticket to your emergency credit card in an impulsive moment of weakness.
Does this mean you will never get to travel anywhere exotic? Don’t despair—there are plenty of ways you can motivate yourself to manifest your dream vacation if you’re broke and filled with wanderlust.
START A DEDICATED VACATION FUND
The first step is to start putting aside money in a designated savings account that’s separate from your regular day-to-day checking account.
Even $25 a week will add up to over $1,000 in a year. It’s true that this amount won’t get you much further than a plane ticket and a couple of nights in an Airbnb or hotel room.
But if you add additional money above $100/month to your vacation savings—including birthday money gifts and a portion of your end-of-year bonuses— you’ll be able to save enough to go somewhere amazing.
Another way to save is by signing up with ACORNS, a savings-driven app which provides innovative ways to micro-invest in a series of simple ways.
They use “Round-Ups” to invest your spare change from everyday purchases on your debit card, rounding up to the nearest dollar, then taking the change and investing it into a portfolio of low-cost exchange-traded funds (ETFs) which can be set up as a daily, weekly or monthly automatic investment.
CREATE A DREAM BOARD AND VACATION PLAYLIST
What better way to visualize your vacation into reality than researching images on Instagram and Pinterest? Inspiring pictures of clear, turquoise water, stunning architecture, and local culture can be easily curated on your own Pinterest board.
If you prefer, you can cut out photos from travel magazines and DIY a dream board to hang in your room or office space to help motivate you to keep saving.
Browse through hotels you’d like to stay in, places where you’d love to have brunch or dinner, rooftop bars with a killer view, and the activities you’d indulge in during your travel adventure.
Follow hotels, restaurants, and destination-specific accounts on Instagram to fill your feed with constant reminders of what you are saving for.
Looking into what a destination has to offer will help you accurately visualize what your dream vacation will look like and ensure that you don’t miss any important attractions by being overwhelmed by the indecisiveness that comes from being unprepared in a foreign place.
Another way to keep your vacation goals top of mind is to create a music playlist on Spotify.
Whether you’re dreaming of Hawaii or have your sights set on Japan, curating a mix of relevant songs will help bring your travel visualizations to life.
If you need new music ideas, you can listen to a pre-made destination playlist to help you build your getaway soundtrack.
It’s also fun to contribute to the audiophile community by sharing your playlists with friends or other travelers.
Related: How to Make an Extra $500 a Month
KEEP TRACK OF FLIGHT SALES AND HOTEL DISCOUNTS
Watching the prices of flights and hotels rise and fall on aggregated sites such as Priceline or TripAdvisor will enlighten you on travel trends that you were not necessarily aware of.
It’s possible that your destination’s peak vacation times are not when you initially thought you wanted to go.
Let’s face it, the last thing you want is to be caught in Bermuda during a hurricane or trapped in New York during a vicious snowstorm.
Many airlines have discounted fares throughout the year, so sign up for travel alerts.
Often, a layover in a different city will drop the price significantly but beware of anything longer than a few hours.
Trying to nap at the airport is awful (plus it makes you susceptible to pickpockets) and spending the night in an overpriced airport hotel because you have a 12-hour layover won’t do your budget any favors.
A popular alternative to staying in a hotel is Airbnb. Before booking, research the neighborhood to make sure it’s in a safe part of town, and be sure to communicate with the host so that you get an accurate sense of what you’ll be walking into in terms of amenities.
Is there a 24-hour convenience store nearby? Does the building have an elevator or rooftop access?
Also pay attention to reviews from previous guests who will warn others if the cleanliness levels were not up to par, or if they had a bad experience with disruptive neighbors or issues such as the heat and hot water not working.
5 WAYS TO TRAVEL FOR UNDER $300
Just because you’re saving money with the longer-term goal of a dream vacation doesn’t mean you have to forfeit travel adventure when you need a break. Here are some budget-friendly getaway ideas.
1. DAY TRIP
They say you never appreciate your hometown until you leave.
The same goes for neighboring towns. Instead of taking these familiar places for granted, why not research undiscovered finds such as heritage museums, antique shops, or historical buildings you’ve driven by a thousand times without giving them a second glance?
If you’re craving nature, there may be countless lakes, rivers, and gorgeous beaches that are less than an hour’s drive away depending on where you live.
If you live in a rural area, try planning a day trip to the city where you can explore the shops and take a sightseeing tour for a fresh perspective, then dine in the latest trendy restaurant.
After a full day of escaping your usual routine, you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something monumental.
2. TAKE A STAY-CATION
Chances are, the term “stay-cation” conjures up images of setting up a tent in your backyard and pretending you are somewhere else (and if you happen to have kids, this can be fun for them).
Let’s face it—the tolerance threshold of the great outdoors is lower when the comforts of home are right in front of you, such as electrical outlets when your electronic devices need charging.
Inevitably, you will get bored and go inside to watch TV on the big screen, abandoning the adventure in favor of a good night’s sleep in your own bed.
Instead, why not make plans that require actually leaving your property?
You could find a local hotel with a gorgeous pool with a minimal fee to use for the day, or search for relaxing, spa packages on reputable discount sites such as Groupon.
If you live near the beach, pack a nice picnic, some sunscreen, and a set of portable Bluetooth speakers.
Take a break from your phone and spend the afternoon listening to music while reading a book, writing in your journal, or visiting with friends who also happen to have the day off.
3. CAMPING OR “GLAMPING”
Some people love the ruggedness of getting back to nature and sleeping under the stars.
For the rest of us, there are fully-furnished Motorhomes and RV’s which are readily available to rent if you’re craving a road trip.
RV travel and “glamping” is definitely having a moment, which is evident from all the pictures on Instagram of mini-trailer set-ups parked in popular desert locations such as Joshua Tree.
Redbook magazine’s editor-in-chief, Meredith Rollins, recently took her family camping in Death Valley and Zion National Parks in a 31-foot Winnebago.
“I have a very outdoorsy husband and two sons who love to go camping—which, to be honest, I totally avoid. So getting an RV felt like the perfect compromise: indoor plumbing and the chance to really experience some national parks,” says the New York City-based editor.
Rollins believes that the popularity of RV’ing is because checks so many boxes.
“There’s an element of unplugging,” she says. “Reconnecting as a family—or as a couple, or with friends—in a beautiful natural setting has particular resonance right now.
People are craving that kind of low-fi, old-school experience. ”
According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, RV ownership has reached record levels.
More than 9 million households now own an RV—the highest level in history.
What’s interesting is that millennials are driving this trend—but instead of motorhomes, they’re buying trailers, accounting for 87% of the units sold.
The drawback is that the day rate to rent an RV can be just as expensive as paying for a hotel room, so the ideal thing would be to find out if any relatives or someone in your circle of friends has a Motorhome, Travel Trailer, or Camper Van that you could borrow or rent at a discounted rate.
You may also be able to pool your financial resources with trustworthy people interested in collectively purchasing a shared recreational vehicle that you could take turns using.
4. VISITING FARAWAY FRIENDS
Did your best friend move to London or Paris? Lucky you, because now you have an excuse to visit!
Although an overseas flight will surely be more expensive than $300, maybe you could stretch your budget to $600 and save accommodation costs by staying with friends or family.
If you have friends or family somewhere closer—like California, Seattle, Aspen, or New York—then you can probably get a surprisingly low rate on flights, or even take a train if it’s not too far away.
With a free place to stay, you’ll just need spending money.
Often, this ends up being a similar dollar amount as what you’d spend on day-to-day living at home, plus the occasional taxi here and there.
5. FIND A WAY TO MAKE IT A WORK TRIP
The rise of digital jobs has caused an increase in “location-independent” workers who don’t have to go into the office Monday to Friday.
Consequently, more and more people are traveling with a laptop and working beside the beach or pool.
If you do work for a company with a set office location, you can still find ways to travel for work.
Does your company ever send you to industry conferences? If it’s a place you would like to explore, then why not change the return date on your flight and stay in a boutique hotel or an Airbnb for an extra night or two and make a quick vacation out of it?
Alternatively, if there are any workshops, industry seminars, or conferences in major cities that would add value to your company if you were in attendance, you can always pitch the idea to your boss.
If you happen to have a passion for travel writing, you could consider taking steps to become an actual travel writer who freelances for magazines.
Yes, you will have to spend countless hours honing your craft and building a portfolio that showcases your writing style as well as your photographic talents before a hotel will even consider giving you a free night’s stay in exchange for a write-up.
But for someone who genuinely has a talent for a travel writer who is willing to gradually build a solid reputation within the industry, there is potential for a satisfying career.
It’s true that traveling can be expensive, but there are lots of incredible ways to see the world on a budget. You just have to be creative, constantly replenishing your vacation fund while keeping the long-game in mind.
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