On a tight budget? Save on your next vacation with these money-saving tips



On a tight budget, but dreaming of a summer vacation?

Well, you can have your vacation and save money too!

Vacations on a budget require planning and some upfront work, but it’s totally worth it when the savings can add up to hundreds, even thousands, of dollars!

We have utilized all of the following strategies at one time or another, often combining them for more affordable travel.



Keep in mind, hotel rates are negotiable. A lower rate quote at one hotel can give you leverage to lower rates at other hotels. Call around and ask each hotel for a lower rate, using your lowest quote as leverage. Do this a few times and you could save hundreds on hotel costs. Don’t be afraid to ask!

Save on hotels through rewards programs, such as frequent stay programs or credit card rewards.* One of our vacations this year includes five free nights at a hotel, all earned from signup bonuses on our SPG American Express card.

Vacation rentals

Private owners offer up their digs to travelers, sometimes at a lower cost than hotels. My family has rented some unique properties and we love the kitchen, multiple bedrooms/baths, less touristy feel and personal touch of this option. Check out Airbnb and VRBO to find great homes for rent.

Alternative lodging

Consider alternatives to the standard hotel – camp, rent a cabin/camping cabin, or stay with friends and relatives.


Hit the grocery store

Buy snacks and pack lunches to save a ton on food costs for travel days. At your destination, visit the local grocery store to buy additional snacks, drinks, and fixings for meals if you have kitchen facilities where you are lodging (weigh this as a factor when choosing lodging).

Local Restaurants

Ask locals for the best, most affordable dining options. They often recommend out-of-the-way restaurants with great food at a reasonable price!

Free hotel food

Stay at hotels with free breakfast and/or happy hour.



Driving is typically the most affordable option, considering current gas prices. Road trips can be a blast and allow you to see more beautiful countryside than from 30,000 feet up. As a bonus, taking your own vehicle saves on car rental fees and allows you to pack more food along.


Shop around for the best prices on airline tickets – a number of websites can  help you find the best deals, such as Expedia, Travelocity, and Kayak. Prior to booking through these sites, check directly with the carrier to ensure you receive the best price.

Be flexible with your dates to score lower airfare. You may have to fly on Monday instead of Sunday, but this flexibility can save you hundreds.

Airline miles are a great way to fly on the cheap –  flying can be free if you have accumulated frequent flyer miles or rewards miles through your credit card. (We earned free round trip airfare to Florida this year through Chase Sapphire.)

Car Rental

Ground transportation will be a necessity at your destination if you fly. Check into the availability of free shuttles and public transportation at your destination prior to making the decision to rent a car.

Use websites such as CarRentals.com, Kayak, and Autoslash to get the lowest price on car rentals. Beware of additional options car rental companies try to sell you at the counter (insurance is a big one here; check your credit cards as many offer protection when you use that card).


Set a budget

My family sets a budget for entertainment on each vacation (including dining out). As a family, we consider our activity options and prioritize what we want to spend on.

Mix it up

Use a combination of free and paid entertainment to squeeze the budget. Free/low cost entertainment can include parks, beaches, museums and activities such as hiking, biking, and swimming.

Look for coupons

Keep an eye out for local coupons at your destination. Coupon books for touristy areas can save a few bucks here and there.


Do you have a membership to a local zoo, museum or science center in your area? Memberships often include free entrance other museums and zoos across the country. Check your membership for other locations.

Ask the locals

Locals know where the best free entertainment is. On one trip, we used advice from our VRBO rental owner and found incredible, free hikes and swimming holes (minus the crowds)!

Consider a staycation

Don’t want to travel, but still need a break? Staycations can be just the ticket. Set aside a few days to enjoy the attractions close to home (be sure not to work during this time – even consider unplugging!).

With a little creativity and some upfront prep time you can create an amazing vacation that really does fit your budget!

*Use credit cards for rewards responsibly and with caution. We never spend more than we normally would just to score sign-up bonuses and we pay off our cards every month.

What tips do you use for traveling on a budget?

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10 thoughts on “On a tight budget? Save on your next vacation with these money-saving tips

  1. Hitting up the grocery store and having a place with a kitchen can be a big saver, especially if traveling with kids! Thanks for the tips.

    1. Agreed – when you have the whole crew along, cooking is the cheapest way to feed everyone!

  2. These are great tips Amanda, especially when travelling with kids! In the past, we have had many summer family camping trips which are inexpensive and make great memories. I also can’t remember the last time we paid for a hotel due to our Marriott Rewards credit card which we use for everything and racks up a ton of points.

    Opting for driving is also not only cheaper than flying, but I think, creates great family memories of the “epic road trip.” It’s also amazing how many places are within driving distance of most major cities. I’m outside of Philadelphia and within a few days drive there are more places to visit than we could ever get to.

    1. Thanks, Jon! Camping is one of our favorite ways to travel, though I know it’s not for everyone. I am going to check into the Marriott rewards (we’ve been using the Starwood card and staying in Sheratons free, but always good to look at other options).

      I’m with you on the road trips a they are usually cheaper and the kids get to see more of the country that way too.

  3. These are all great reminders that fun vacations don’t have to be costly. One thing my family does to save on food is to complete mystery shops while we travel. Another thing that might be worth looking into is seeing your your local library has museum or state park passes to check out.

    1. Great suggestions, Jax! I would never have thought of the mystery shopping. Checking the library for passes is a great idea.

  4. Absolutely! Holidays don’t have to cost the earth – we always find free activities when we’re away whether its a park, a museum or an art gallery. I’m really interested in staying at an AirBnB next time and buying our own food to see how it compares numbers-wise.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Jenna! I really do think the Airbnb options can save money if you don’t mind preparing your own food on vacation. Plus they are always unique!

  5. I always try to find hotels with free breakfasts. Even a muffin or two can be great. It’s one less meal you have to buy. But I also try to find places with fridges so we can keep food in the room. If you can find a grocery store, you can bring back some cold cuts, cheese and rolls for quick sandwiches!

    At the very least I bring some mini muffins and pretzels for my husband to keep him from wanting to buy snacks in between meals. Or if we’re too tired to go back out.

    Also important to bring food on the road trip to cut down on fast food meals. We can just switch drivers and he can snack to his heart’s content. Or til the snacks run out. Either way.

    1. Yes, Abigail, a fridge in the hotel room can definitely help to save on food. Great point!

      Having snacks and water bottles on hand for snacks in between meals can save pricey stops at gas stations too. We like to drink coffee on long road trips, but sometimes we take along chocolate covered coffee beans instead to save $$ on coffee. Not the healthiest but, in moderation, it does the trick!

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