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It’s been such a long winter. The weather has been terrible, and I have been longing to travel to some place warmer. The problem is that I am really working towards becoming debt free. Should I take a vacation while paying off debt?
The answer is absolutely yes!
It is important to take a break from “normal” life, and have balance, even while paying off debt.
The argument from many financial gurus is that no extra money should be spent while paying off debt. I disagree because taking a vacation can help you rejuvenate and become more focused.
As long as you vacation within your means, you can have a great vacation on almost any budget.
Vacation Rules of Thumb
If you are going to take a vacation you need to fit it within your budget. Please make sure you absolutely do not
- Take out more debt to go on vacation. It is not worth it.
- Don’t stop paying your debt as scheduled. You need to continue working towards financial freedom. Once you achieve financial freedom you will have the ability to take more luxurious vacations any time.
Now that we have established these vacation “rules of thumb” here are some tips to have a great vacation on almost any budget.
Budget for a Vacation Ahead of Time
It is very important to have the extra money to take a vacation. If you are throwing all your extra cash towards debt, it may be difficult to save up for a vacation. You still can creatively come up with ideas to put some extra cash towards a vacation budget.
Here is a list of ways to save up for a vacation:
- Sell extra items locally on Facebook or Craigslist. I wrote an article how to easily sell your stuff locally on Facebook here.
- Make an extra $50 to $75 a month earning cash back from credit cards. I wrote an extensive article about it here. Please only do this if you are responsible with using credit cards!
- Have a yard sale or garage sale. I always have really successful ones. Read tips about how to have successful garage sales here.
- Use some of your tax refund money. Although ideally you don’t get a ton of money back every year, whatever you get back put towards debt or a vacation fund.
- Make vacation fund category in the budget. You can create any categories you want in your budget. If you are able to keep up with all other expenses and want to budget specifically for vacations, go for it.
- Cut back on other spending categories to save for vacation. If you really want to take a vacation you may need to sacrifice something else. Instead of paying for Netflix, or going to restaurants, put that money towards a vacation fund.
- Ask for vacation money for birthdays and holidays. If your family gives gifts to you for holidays and birthdays, ask for cash instead of gifts. Explain to them that you really want to take a vacation, but need to save for it. Often times most family members are happy to write a check, instead of having to find you the perfect gift.
There are many creative ways to budget and save for a vacation. I know it takes time, but you will be happy you saved and prepared for it.
Take a Vacation You Can Afford
There are so many places I want to go. I would love to go to Hawaii, Bali, Puerto Rico, Thailand, Australia, and the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, my priority is to pay off debt. I am so sick of spending so much money every month in interest, I want to break away from the bondage of debt.
Since I love traveling, and think it is important I am still going to take vacations. I am just not going to be able to take the extravagant vacations as I would like. Luckily, there are still many fun ways to take vacations without spending so much money.
There are so many great places to see in your area. When my husband and I were in college we really wanted to go on spring break, but couldn’t afford much. We found a casino about 3 hours away that had an indoor waterpark. Since it was in the middle of nowhere, and was “off season” we were able to get a very nice suite for really cheap! We had a fun, relaxing trip and was able to travel within our budget.
The truth is, you probably haven’t seen everything your region has to offer. If you are on a tight budget, take the opportunity to explore locally.
When we moved to Boise, ID from MN we drove through the great state of North Dakota. We wanted to do something fun and quirky so we decided to drive through the “Enchanted Highway”. It was about 30 miles out of our way, but it was fun to see random statues in the middle of nowhere.
The most awesome thing about traveling, is the weird things you see along the way. One of my favorite books “Weird U.S” has many quirky things you can see in almost every state. Check out the website here.
My husband and I usually take vacations in the Spring and Fall. We discovered that if we avoid vacationing during the holidays, and Summer we can often save money. Hotel prices are cheaper, and many resorts offer “off-season” rates. This way we can take nicer vacations for a more cost effective price. Since chances are most of your co-workers will vacation during prime vacation times, you also may be more likely to get the time off you need!
Avoid Tourist Traps
I know Disney World seems amazing, but places that attract a ton of people are expensive. Not only is it expensive to travel there, but the food and souvenirs can quickly drain your wallet. Travel to great destinations that aren’t so expensive.
Here are some ideas:
- State and National Parks. These places are often beautiful and can offer a great variety of activities. I recommend you don’t stay in the nearest city to the park. By staying 30 or 40 minutes away from a busy park, you can save money.
- Large cities near you. Chances are you live within an eight hour drive to a fairly large city. There are usually a ton of things to do and see. Many cities have great museums and food places. If you stay a few miles on the outskirts of a large city, hotel prices are usually cheaper. Many cities also often have free or discounted museum days during the week. Take advantage of these if you can.
- Casinos can be fun, even if you don’t gamble (you really shouldn’t if you are trying to pay off debt). You can get cheap rooms, especially by signing up for their rewards programs ahead of time. You can also get better rates during “off-season” dates. Many casino hotels are really nice and offer a variety of activities and entertainment for a low cost.
- Ski resorts, are still open in the summer. Many ski resorts offer a variety of fun activities all year round. Since summer is not prime season for ski resorts, staying at a ski lodge can be much cheaper. Since many ski resorts are located in the mountains, it can be a beautiful, budget friendly vacation.
- Stay in a neighboring town for a night. Even if you have very little money, getting one night away in a decent place can be refreshing.
- Day trips can be just what you need. Find a destination close by, and spend the day. Try new food, take a hike, or window shop.
Tailor your vacation to your interests and budget. You can still have an awesome time without spending a ton of money. Think creatively and do research. Chances are there are some amazing things near you that you have never heard of!
Plan and Prepare Your Transportation
One way to save money while on vacation is to plan and prepare. I am not the best planner in the world, but I love planning for vacation. If you have a plan, and pay for a majority of the vacation in advance, your vacation has a greater chance of going smoothly.
Planning for Road Trips
I have heard so many horror stories of people’s road trips gone terrible (not ending up chained to a table bad, but encountering a ton of problems with their vehicle). Many of these problems could have been avoided if these people simply would have been prepared.
Here are some money saving tips and tricks that will help you better be prepared for a road trip:
- Map out your trip in advance.
- Complete a tuneup of your vehicle.
- Make sure all of the fluids in your vehicle are topped off.
- Bring extra fluids with you.
- Make sure you have extra jugs of water, in case your car overheats.
- Bring tools with you so if there is a small problem you can fix it.
- Make sure you have your vehicle’s manual with you.
- Make sure all of your tires are filled with air, including the spare tire.
- Bring extra blankets and pillows in case you get stranded.
- Keep a cooler of bottled water, and other drinks.
- Have snacks and other food on hand.
- Bring with several forms of payments (cash, debit cards, credit cards etc.) in case you go somewhere that doesn’t accept certain payments.
- Have cash, but only keep a small amount with you (under $200), that way if it gets lost or stolen it won’t have a huge impact on your vacation.
- Bring a small bottle of laundry detergent so you you can do your laundry at laundry mats instead of the cost of doing laundry at hotels.
- Make sure you have several chargers for your phone, including a car charger.
- I always download music (from Amazon Prime), and Podcasts (from podcast addict) to my phone for trips. That way we can listen to something that we want to listen to. Especially in places that don’t have very good cell or radio signal, and only play stations like NPR or Folk music! It doesn’t cost me any extra for this content, and can be fun to listen to.
- Have an atlas or map on hand just in case GPS stops working or you have technical difficulties.
- Be flexible! Sometimes things do not go the way you want them to, especially on road trips. Create alternative plan in case something happens.
- Bring games or activities to do with you. This way you can have a night of fun even if you get stuck in the middle of nowhere!
- Have fun, take time to talk and enjoy time with your company. You can really get to know someone, and have meaningful conversations that you won’t ever forget!
Planning for Trips on a Plane
Flying is much different than driving. If you decide to fly, make sure you save money on other aspects of your trip to make your vacation more budget friendly.
Here are some ways to be better prepared for a flight:
- Carry with a few forms of ID’s. You need ID’s to fly, even if you have a ticket. If you lose one it may be difficult to get on the plane, or back from your trip. Put one in a safe place, but make sure all ID’s are with you at all times
- Wear slip on shoes. You are going to have to take them off, make it easy on yourself and everyone else!
- Bring with an empty water bottle. Once you get through the gate, you can fill it up. This will stop you from paying ridiculous prices for water in the airport.
- Bring with snacks. You can bring snack food with you through security. I brought two oranges last time I flew. It will stop you from spending too much money in the airport!
- Charge your devices ahead of time, so you don’t have to worry about your battery dying in the plane.
- Amazon Prime and Netflix allow you to now download shows and movies to your devices at no extra charge. Download a few movies or shows you want to see so you can watch them on the plane.
- Bring headphones. Many planes also have the option to watch free movies, but you need headphones. They will gladly sell some to you, but it’s not worth the cost.
- Pack less luggage. Ideally you would be able to fit everything into a carry on. Don’t worry about soaps and shampoos if you are staying in a hotel, they offer them. Be minimalistic about what you travel with.
- If your flight is full, and you are not in a hurry, take the delayed flight option. Often airlines book their flights too full (hoping someone won’t show up), sometimes this backfires on them. If they are desperate they will offer awesome perks if you take a later flight. Consider it if you can!
- To get good flight deals it is usually better to book in advance. When planning your trip have several dates in mind, and try different days and times to get the best price! For instance if you leave on a Tuesday, you may get a better deal than leaving on a Saturday.
- Avoid high demand dates to book your flight, especially around the holidays. The higher the demand, the higher the price of the flight.
- Avoid carrying too much cash when flying. There are too many people that target stressed out travelers. Have several forms of payment options just in case.
- Always watch your bags, and keep all of your personal information close to you at all times.
I love flying, but it is not always cost effective. If you do decide to fly, make sure that you are getting good deals on flights and stay safe!
Other Ways to Travel
There are other options when it comes to travel such as taking a train or the bus. Sometimes you can get great deals on bus and train tickets. The problem is, that travel is not as flexible as driving, and can take a long time. Figure out your budget and what you want when deciding your method of traveling.
If you decide to travel to a large city, consider using public transportation. It can be intimidating, but is usually easy to use. You can usually purchase day or week passes at grocery stores or drug stores. Do this instead of buying one way tickets. If you use public transportation you can go anywhere in the city and don’t have to deal with traffic (if you take subways, or trains), and don’t have to pay for parking!
Find a Place to Stay on a Budget
Lodging is probably one of the most expensive parts of a vacation. I personally prefer, and budget to stay in hotels, but there are many options.
Here are some ideas to help you save money on lodging while on vacation:
Alternative Lodging Ideas:
- You can rent a room, or a house, usually for a reasonable rate on Airbnb.
- If you want to exchange homes with someone check out this home exchange website. I have never used it, but people seem to really love it.
- Consider camping, or camping cabins. I have stayed in KOA camping cabins and loved it!
- Camping within state and national parks are usually affordable. During summer months campsites fill up quickly so book ahead of time!
- There are some free camping spots within state and national forests. These aren’t always the most accommodating, but it is a possibility.
- You can rent college dorm rooms in the summer for fairly cheap! I found a step by step guide on how to rent a college dorm here.
- You can also rent rooms in monasteries, even in the United States! The rooms are usually cheap, and many offer home cooked meals. I found an article about the top 30 monasteries in America to visit!
- On the West coast especially renting yurts is really popular and affordable. A Yurt is sort of like a permanent tent, and have become popular to rent because they are cost effective. Here is Wikipedia’s description of a Yurt.
- Consider borrowing or renting a camper. Make sure it is cost effective, since you will also need to rent the camping spot.
Save Money on Hotels
- My favorite site to find hotels is Hotwire.com! The reason why I love this site, is because I pick the amenities I want, and the general location of the hotel. Hotwire then finds a hotel, and offers a great price since I don’t know the exact hotel I am getting until after I pay. I have always had good luck and have gotten great deals.
- You can also use websites like Kayak or Trivago to compare hotel prices.
- Consider casino hotels, even if you don’t gamble. Many have great rates, with great amenities.
- Sign up for loyalty programs, you can often get discounts and earn points.
- If you are a part of a membership such as AAA, AARP, Sam’s Club, or Costco you may get discounts at specific hotels. There may also be discounts for military families, or senior citizens. Check into it.
- Call the hotel you want directly to see if they have any special rates.
- Check online for coupon codes. I use retailmenot.com and have gotten great deals.
- Check your destination area and make sure there aren’t any major festivals or events happening in the area. This can increase hotel rates and availability.
- Stay in hotels during the week, or in the “off-season”. Prices are usually cheaper.
- Stay in hotels a little further away from a main tourist attraction, or downtown in a major city. These hotels are usually cheaper. The short drive is worth the decreased cost.
Cruises and Resorts
Cruises and all inclusive resorts can be great because everything is included. You usually pay one price, and food, entertainment, and sometimes even drinks are included! If you decide to go to a resort, or take a cruise, remember to budget extra money for tips. Often times the resort or cruise will require you to tip a certain amount.
Here are some tips to help you save money on cruises and resorts:
- Book off season, depending on the region. Do research, figure out where you want to cruise or relax at the resort, and when the most popular season is. Avoid the most popular season if you want to get a deal!
- Book shorter cruises. Shorter cruises are generally cheaper.
- Book early. If you book significantly in advance you can usually get a good deal.
- Book last minute. This is risky, but if the ship is not full, they may offer a great deal to fill the ship, or the resort.
- Book during a financial crises. If people believe the economy is headed downhill they will not book cruise ships, or stay at resorts. As long as you have your finances under control, you most likely will be fine. This is how my husband and I took an amazing European cruise for almost nothing!
- Consider taking a cruise during hurricane season. Or stay in a resort where hurricanes are common. It can be a risk, but prices are usually cheaper.
- Consider repositioning cruises. Repositioning cruises (especially trans-atlantic cruises) are usually cheaper than round trip cruises. Just remember you will have to buy a one way ticket to the starting place of the cruise.
- Create DIY excursions. You mostly likely will know where the ship ports ahead of time. Do research and find transportation and activities yourself. It will save you money!
- Purchase upgrades (if you want them) in advance. Once you get on the ship, these upgrades will cost much more.
- Avoid shopping on the ship. I understand it is “duty free”, but the prices are still marked up tremendously.
- Eat at the restaurants and places included in your ticket price. Avoid the specialty shops and restaurants that charge.
- Avoid room service. Most cruises have food available for a majority of the day and night. You don’t need to pay the extra tip/cost.
- Consider packaged or bundled deals. You can sometimes get the whole bundle, plus upgrades for cheaper.
- Consider a travel agent. Sometimes they really know the best deals, and can offer great upgrades.
- Research, research, research. Understand the resort you want to stay at. Make sure you will like the cruise you are going on. Read reviews, and make sure the resort or cruise matches your personality and vacation needs!
Wherever you choose to stay, please take safety precautions. Make sure you secure your belongings, and stay safe. If you decide to stay with a stranger, take all precautions necessary. Make sure you feel safe, if at any point you feel uncomfortable, leave. It is important you enjoy your vacation, and remain safe and happy!
Vacation Food on a Budget
One of my favorite things about taking a vacation, is getting to try different food! The problem is, it can be expensive to eat 3 meals a day at restaurants. Some people insist on just going to grocery stores during vacation, but I like going to new restaurants.
Here are some ideas to help you save money on food, while still enjoying the food culture of your vacation destination.
- Find hotels that offer a hot breakfast. This will cut down food costs a little.
- Keep snacks on you at all times. You are less likely to eat out as much if you have snacks.
- Plan where you are going to eat in advance. Pick a few places you would like to try. There are many food shows that feature great restaurants in each city and region. One of my favorite websites to find where these restaurants are is TVfoodmaps.com!
- Eat a late lunch. Sometimes if you eat a large meal around 3pm you can still get lunch prices, and you can just have snacks later on in the evening.
- Avoid convenience food. This can be difficult, but if you buy snack and convenience foods at grocery stores in advance you won’t have to pay the markup at gas stations.
- Get a hotel or room that has a fridge and microwave. That way you can make small meals such as sandwiches in your hotel or room. Plus you can save leftovers and reheat them for a meal the next day.
- Bring with some utensils and dishes, that way you are prepared to eat in your room.
- If you need to purchase utensils or dishes buy them at thrift stores or dollar stores while traveling.
- Bring with freezer meals. If you are on a roadtrip consider making a few freezer meals in advance. Keep them on ice in a cooler, and bring with a crockpot. Let it cook in your hotel room, and when you get back from activities you have a nice meal. Please make sure you put it on a counter where it isn’t a fire hazard.
- If you stay in a city, consider using Groupon or Living Social to get deals on restaurants!
- Check out local papers for deals or coupons on restaurants
- Consider eating street food, or food trucks. This can be a great way to experience the culture of the place you are visiting, without costing a ton.
- Local farmer’s markets are also a great way to experience the city, and the great food the city has to offer!
- Eat before you go to a theme park, zoo, or other activities that serve food. They often mark up their prices drastically!
Vacation Souvenirs on a Budget
Remembering your vacation is important. While it can be tempting to buy that little keychain at the tourist attraction you loved, there are better, more cost effective ways to remember your vacation.
Here are some ideas for getting souvenirs when you are on a budget:
- Take a lot of photos, make them into a photobook later.
- I collect postcards, and will get a few everywhere I go. You could just as easily make your own postcards using simple free tools like Canva.com
- Avoid buying souvenirs at tourist spots, buy them somewhere else. Usually the whole city near that particular tourist destination will have similar souvenirs for less!
- Check out drug stores. Popular drug stores usually sell postcards, t-shirts, and other souvenirs for less.
- Buy something meaningful. Don’t waste your money and gimmicky items you won’t ever use. For instance if you are in the southwest which is popular for turquoise, you find a local shop that sells beautiful necklaces. Consider purchasing a necklace that you will wear and is meaningful, instead of a tacky key chain that gets lost in a week.
- Check out dollar stores. One time I bought some cool souvenirs for my family, and they were things I found at the dollar store.
- Check out Thrift stores. Sometimes you can get really nice used items, for cheap. Look for coffee mugs, t-shirts, books, and other items. Thrift stores often have souvenirs that are specific to the area they are in.
- Check out local art fairs, flea markets, stores, and farmer’s markets. Sometimes you can find uniquely crafted items at these places for a reasonable price.
- Look Online. So let’s be real here. Most of the souvenirs you purchase, were made overseas. You can have the exact same items like t-shirts and coffee mugs sent to your home at a fraction of the cost. I support local economy, but have ordered t-shirts online, that remind me of my vacation.
- Collect “found” souvenirs. There is this cute commercial of this guy that picks up a rock for his daughter when he is traveling. Every state he travels to he finds a rock and writes the name of the place on the rock. I think this is a really cute idea, and could be a great souvenir. Just don’t break any rules obtaining “found” items!
Have a Great Experience While on Vacation
Since you are taking time and money out to have a vacation, make sure you make the best of it. It is important that you feel you get what you need from your vacation. I believe that vacations are important to take even when you are on a budget, because they help you become revitalized, and focused.
Here are some tips to help you have an enjoyable vacation while on a budget:
- If you travel to a large city, consider using public transportation. You often can buy a week pass in grocery or drug stores for cheaper than paying the fare every trip. It is easier and you don’t have to worry about parking downtown!
- Before you choose a hotel, an activity or a restaurant research it on places like Trip Advisor, or Yelp. That way you can get a general idea about the place before you go there. Plus there are some places that aren’t worth your time or money. Please take all reviews into consideration because some people just like to complain about everything.
- Ask friends or family about certain destinations. Chances are you have many people on social media that you could ask about where to travel. This will help you gain inside information about where to go.
- Figure out what is important for your vacation. Do you crave adventure? Do you want to relax? Take some time to figure out what you need from a vacation, and focus on those aspects.
- Plan for the unplannable. When I go on vacation, I find things that I didn’t know about. Don’t schedule every second of your vacation, leave some time to be spontaneous.
- Relax. Even if you crave adventure, plan at least one day to relax. It is important you are well rested.
- Make the most of your trip, even if it is not what you planned. Have a positive attitude, and find fun things to do, even if you become stuck in the middle of nowhere.
Work Towards Your Dream Vacation
Even if you cannot afford your dream vacation now, you still need a break from the daily grind. Take time to reflect on your life, and what you want. If it is your dream to become debt free so that you can take fancy vacations start setting goals. Check out this article I wrote about creating and achieving financial goals this year!
The great thing is, even if you can’t afford your dream vacation right now, you can still have an awesome budget friendly vacation!
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