How to Budget Your Way to Your Dream Vacation

Kauai, Hawaii view
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How to Plan a Budget Vacation

One of the most common questions I am asked is, ‘how do you get to travel so much?’ Most acquaintances see my life as a mystery – an unemployed, early twenties kid, with stellar photos from around the world. How do I do it? Little do they know, I’m just a travel budget wiz.

Many people think it’s a trust fund (I wish) or my boyfriend is loaded (I wish this too) but in reality, I just know how to plan a baller trip with little cash.

Follow along for my favorite money saving tips and tricks for budget travel and be on your way to your next favorite vacation!

Maui, Hawaii
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Make it a Road Trip

If you haven’t noticed yet, I LOVE road trips. They may seem scary, boring, and intimidating at first – and at points along the route – but they are a HUGE money saver option.

Just for reference, just on my week long trip to the Smokies, we spent less on dining out, drinking, and gift buying, combined, than we would’ve spent just on two roundtrip flights and a rental car. That’s a lot of extra cash to have for drinking and adventures!

Road tripping is a great travel budget move, and it has many great benefits that include: no car rental anxiety, finding the best roadside attractions, no TSA guidelines, killer road trip jams, and – hopefully this is a plus – spending extra time with the people you love.

The United States and most of Europe is extremely navigable by car, making this a super accessible option. If your trips are a bit longer or you just don’t like being at the wheel, try finding a train route to save some extra cash without paying airline pricing.

Before you leave on your next road trip, be sure to check out my Road Trip Essentials, so you know exactly what to bring and how to prepare!

Road trip in my Subaru through the budget travel Smoky Mountains vacation
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Pack Your Own Food

You may read this and think, ‘part of the fun of traveling is the foodie experiences!’ And yes, I agree, I’m a total foodie. If I hear about a place with great buffalo cauliflower bites then you will definitely find me there at some point during my trip.

It’s great to enjoy the local fare but remember, you don’t need to eat out for every single meal, every single day.

Pack some easy food to make – my go to is a loaf of bread and some peanut butter – in your lodging accommodations or go on a shopping trip to the local supermarket when you arrive. It may seem like a nuisance but it is an easy money saving trick that your wallet – and stomach – will thank you for.

Pro tip: bring a cooler to pack picnics throughout your trip.

Research Local Restaurants

As I said, you’re on vacation, you still deserve a foodie experience! The best way to ensure you find the best quality meals and to not be shocked when you see the $100 a plate tab, is to research and plan where you’ll be dining.

I try to stick to a one-paid-meal-a-day plan, and plan my meals in correlation with my excursions. This way I know I’m fueled for the day or have a hot meal to look forward to once I’m done adventuring.

Look up local guides, search Instagram, or just Google food in the area you’ll be staying in, and look at some menus and locations to find the perfect restaurants for your trips.

This is also super useful for people on lifestyle diets like keto and vegan, and you may even find an app that shows you all of your best options in each city.

Pro tip: Have a ‘I got drunk and need a midnight snack’ fund.

Get Outdoors

Finding excursions to do while on vacation that are both fun and inexpensive can seem impossible, but trust me, it’s not.

The best way to find inexpensive or even free excursions is to head to the great outdoors! Hiking, nature walks, taking in the views, swimming, it’s all free, plus you get a lifetime of memories to save!

Many people think the great outdoors is just for the hardcore hiker, but depending on where you are and what you want to do, the outdoors can be anything you want them to be.

You can set up a beachy dinner for you and your family, you can hike up a mountain, you can paddle board on a river, or you can take out the bikes and create your own tour for you and your friends. The possibilities are endless!

Disclaimer: some hikes and water explorations may have an entry fee, but go without a guide and it will definitely help you hit your travel budget goals.

Biking in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida
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Research Research Research

I love winging it, it’s kinda my MO, but I cannot stress enough how important your research is to your travel budget.

Not only what you’re researching but how you’re researching. Always, and I mean, ALWAYS, use an incognito window on Google. Airlines and travel booking websites are notorious for raising prices for something that has been repeatedly viewed, they know they sold you, now they want to see how much they can sell that event for.

Pro tip: While looking for flights, booking the earlier the better. But you can also find “deals” about 76 days before a domestic (US) flight and 200 days before an international (Non US) flight. Read more here to find the very best prices.

Look for Deals

After you’ve done your research, found where you want to go, and possibly what you want to do, shop around for the deals, they’re way easier to find than most believe.

The easiest and best way to find multiple deals in one city is visit that cities tourism or ‘visit’ website. Most municipalities have their own tourism bureau and website, or they are part of a larger network of tourism sites, for instance: I live in St. Petersburg which is part of the City of St. Petersburg, inside of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, within Visit Tampa Bay, which is in Visit Florida, and then we’re all within Visit USA. Crazy, I know!

Obviously Visit USA won’t have any St. Petersburg specific deals, so ideally you want to find the site that focuses solely on your destination, then spread out from there. Check their website and check their social media for deals within their city.

While on the prowl for deals, also follow any and all businesses, on social, that you would like to visit on your trip, you never know when they’re going to drop a stellar deal for just one day! Even luxury spas are in reach when you follow them and enter giveaways.

Shell Key Island, Florida
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More to Explore

There are so many ways to travel on a budget, so don’t let money get in the way of exploring this planet and all it has to offer.

Go out, explore, meet people, and have fun.

If you’re looking to travel solo, be sure to check out my solo travel do’s and don’t’s!

Need some budget road trip inspiration? Check out my Small City Road Trip, where we hit 10 cities and 2 families all in 12 days.

Follow along on social for more photos and tips!

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