It’s a horrible realization.
You look back on your entire 2016, scouring the days and weeks gone by, trying to remember something…
Did I take a vacation last year?
Surely you did, right? Except, all you can remember is that one short weekend at the beach. You know, the one that was pretty much over as soon as you got there.
So you realize you went a whole year without a true vacation to relax, recharge, and come charging back at the world with replenished vigor. You resolve to not let that happen again. You’re exhausted just thinking about it.
Or maybe you did take a vacation and you recognize how vital that was for your year. Either way, you need to get away—desperately.
There’s a problem, though: you’re not exactly rolling in the dough. Road trips and vacations are reserved for the adults who actually have money, right?
Not at all. With a little creativity and humility, you can plan a legitimate vacation that may be the best part of your year.
Here are seven ideas for how to make vacation work on a budget.
1) Travel in Packs
Let’s assume you want to take a trip apart from family, a trip with a significant other or a good friend. It seems like a great opportunity for one-on-one time, and in many ways it would be, but there’s this amazing little economic reality that the cool kids are picking up on these days. You may not have heard:
When you have more people splitting the cost of something, that cost goes down.
I know. Revolutionary, right?
This doesn’t mean you have reach out to 15 fringe acquaintances who would immediately double the awkwardness level of the trip. However, a good six, seven, or eight close friends can drive down the cost of gas, food, and lodging considerably.
You’ll have more people to share your memories with, too.
2) Use Public Transportation
If you’re visiting urban areas, it’s usually far cheaper to use public transportation than to drive a car around. If you’re visiting Boston, for example, you can pay $21.25 for a week’s worth of unlimited travel on the subways, buses, ferries, and more.
As far as how to get to these places, you can of course drive and split gas (see #1) or fly, but you could also take a bus route if you’re patient enough. For example, though it will take three days to arrive, you can take a bus right now from Orlando, FL to Seattle, WA for as low as $129 on Trailways.com. And that’s round-trip.
Obviously, if you stop at places in the middle, that will up the cost, but it’s still not terrible. The point is, you do have transportation options outside of driving yourself or flying.
3) Lean on Family and Friends
Remember how I mentioned the word “humility” earlier? This is where it comes in.
If you have family, close friends, or even family friends who own a cabin, condo, or vacation home somewhere, now might be the time to see if they’d be willing to let you stay there. You’ll definitely want to approach the owners with a lot of gratitude, as well as honesty about your need to keep a tight budget at the moment. You don’t want to tell a sob story, but in general family and friends are likely to want to help you out, as long as the location is available and you lay out a plan for keeping it clean and intact.
Depending on the relationship, you might be able to stay there for free, but even if you pay for it, people who know you are obviously more likely to extend a discount than hotel managers or random strangers on Airbnb.
4) Keep Your Trip Heavy on Scenery and Activity
Entertainment costs add up very quickly on vacation, so it’s a good idea to plan to do as many interesting free things as you can.
If the surrounding scenery is gorgeous, why not hike, swim, or walk through it? You’ll take in breathtaking sights, have time and space to have interesting discussions with the other people on the trip, and best of all, you won’t pay anything for it.
5) Buy groceries
One of the most tempting things to do on road trips is to eat everywhere, every day. Who doesn’t want to try out dozens of awesome local food spots? I mean, isn’t that a huge part of experiencing the culture?
Remember the bigger picture here, though. Remind yourself that it’s the break (and the experiences) that matter most. The reality is, you can only afford so much.
Choose one or two “must-try” places to eat out, and let those be the culinary cultural delights of your trip. For the rest of the meals, make a grocery trip as soon as you arrive, just as you would at home, then eat primarily from your home base. Sandwiches and water aren’t sexy, but do give you all the fuel you need to stay alive and experience really cool things.
You might even go crazy and buy yourself a few cans of soda or something. Don’t overdo it, though…
6) Buy Bulk Sightseeing Passes
As mentioned on the popular blog NomadicMatt.com, you can buy bulk passes for both national parks and city tourism.
The national parks pass is an annual pass that gives you access to all 59 national parks for $80, the value of which you’ll eclipse if you visit about five parks. This isn’t super cheap, but it’s definitely worth it for longer road trips or for people who plan on traveling to a handful of parts of the U.S. this year.
The other things to look into are city tourism cards, which often allow you access to lots of a city’s main attractions for one cheap price. You can find a lot of them here, but it’s probably best to visit a city’s information center to find out if they have even cheaper options.
7) Rough It
If you don’t have any great lodging options, you could always camp out every night. Some campsites charge nothing, but typically you’re going to pay somewhere between $5-10. Which isn’t free, of course, but is insanely discounted compared to hotels and other similar options.
The problem is, yeah, you have to know what you’re doing. And you have to be OK with the outdoors. Please don’t rough it if you hate the outdoors.
Low income, bad cash flow, and crippling debt can seem to hover you, telling you you’ll have to work harder and harder to get to a place of financial freedom. But the reality is, if you work and work to achieve that freedom without any sort of emotional break, you’ll eventually collapse.
Thankfully, there are options for taking an enjoyable vacation on a strict budget. You have to be smart, creative, and not-too-greedy, but you can absolutely make it happen.
And trust me: you should.
By Ryan Drawdy
Jan 30, 2017
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