How to plan the perfect vacations on a tight budget

Vacations are great, right? Getting away from your daily routine and doing something fun makes you feel refreshed and recharged, and the memories of your trip are sure to stay with you for years to come. But if it’s hard to find the time and money to plan a vacation, you might start thinking they aren’t worth the effort anymore. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth!

1. Use your miles/points

If you have points or miles from any credit card that you’re not using, it could be advantageous to use them for travel. Many credit card companies have special partnerships with airlines and hotels, which can help get you extra perks when redeeming your points.

Search for a card that has partners in countries and cities that interest you, so that when your next trip rolls around, your miles will go farther. For example, United Airlines frequently offers increased rewards when you fly with their partner hotel chains: Hilton, IHG Rewards Club, Marriott Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest.

2. Stay in youth hostels

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Youth hostel

As a budget traveler, you may feel apprehensive about sharing dorms with strangers. However, it’s actually one of the best ways to save money—and not just because rooms are typically less than $25. You can meet others traveling and forming friendships is an excellent way to stay safe while abroad.

Also, in my experience, I’ve found that hostels typically have more facilities than hotels; for example, you can find free computers (with Internet) as well as WiFi throughout most hostels. If you’re looking to travel on a shoestring, it’s worth taking advantage of these amenities.

And don’t forget: Hostels also offer kitchen facilities and even laundry service! This makes staying at a hostel an affordable option, especially if you’re hoping to save money by cooking your own meals or doing your own laundry. Just be sure to take precautions when storing valuables (i.e., leave them at home).

3. Look up nearby tourist attractions

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Sydney Opera House 

A vacation is only as good as where you spend it. To determine where you’d like to visit, use an online search engine and type in fun things to do in [your city]. Alternatively, pick up a local magazine (in your destination city) and flip through its pages.

Make note of all of your potential options before deciding which will work best for you. Once you’ve decided, write down directions to get there from your hotel or hostel. You don’t want to waste time wandering aimlessly around town!  If you aren’t sure about what to do when you arrive, check out travel blogs that cover your destination.

The more research you put into planning ahead of time, the more money you can save while still having a great trip. After all, no one wants to pay tourist prices for meals and attractions if they can help it. Also, make sure to pack activities into your days so that you don’t feel bored during downtime; a small deck of cards or a book are both easy ways to fill those extra hours between meals. If possible, try arranging something with locals—perhaps they could take you out fishing or give recommendations on how best to experience their city.

4. Explore your city

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Hong Kong City

You don’t have to travel far or spend much money on an enjoyable and relaxing vacation. Staycation, anyone? It’s actually more popular than you might think: according to a 2015 survey by American Express Travel, 40% of respondents were planning local vacations.

 So use some of your hard-earned vacation days (or stay home from work) and explore what makes your city great. What do locals love most about their hometown? What are its hidden gems? What are its best restaurants, bars, and museums—and why should you visit them during your time off?

The possibilities are endless. Even if you live in a small town, there’s probably something interesting within driving distance. And if not, there’s always good old Netflix! If you decide to go somewhere farther away, make sure you factor transportation costs into your overall trip budget.

Are there ways to get around without spending lots of cash on airfare and hotels? For example, would it be cheaper to rent a car rather than fly? Can you split airfare with friends or family members traveling at different times of the year?

5 Research every city before you arrive

Before you set out on your dream vacation, do your homework. Traveling is a great way to experience different cultures and places—but it doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition. A little preparation can go a long way, especially if you’re planning a road trip or backpacking trip.

 If you want to save money on travel, start by looking for cheap flights online (Kayak has a handy feature that lets you search for flights by price). Once you know where you want to go, research each city before your trip so that you know what areas are safe and which neighborhoods aren’t.

You should also check out sites like Yelp so that you know where all of the best restaurants are located in town before heading there. When traveling with family members, think about booking one hotel room instead of multiple ones; it might cost more initially, but you’ll end up spending less over time.

6. Go camping (with or without gear)

Camping is one of America’s favorite vacation activities. The best way to save money is by doing it yourself—that way you can skip buying expensive gear and make your own supplies at home. If you go with friends, it’s also more fun, which is important because enjoying yourself makes you happier and less likely to be stressed out while traveling.

Plus, there are tons of free campgrounds in America if you know where to look. All that said: Don’t forget your bug spray! It’s definitely not as glamorous as spending a week at an oceanfront resort, but camping has its benefits too.

For starters, many campgrounds offer electricity for those nights when it gets too cold or rainy for you to sleep outside. And just think about how much easier it will be to get up early and hit all of those national parks before everyone else wakes up. Besides, who doesn’t love sleeping under the stars?

7. Travel alone

If you have trouble leaving home and interacting with people, take a solo trip. That way, you can’t rely on your friends or family for fun and conversation; you’ll be forced to socialize with strangers. We tend to be our most extroverted when we travel, so book vacations that force you out of your comfort zone (think: solo traveling or group tours).

Not only will it help you become more comfortable around others, but it will also give you something to talk about in interviews. Plus, if things don’t work out with one employer, your experiences abroad could make for a great story during future interviews—and who knows? It might even lead to another job offer! The key to any successful experience is planning ahead.

 Whether you’re hitting up Disney World or checking out New York City, consider what makes each place unique and decide how much time you want to spend there. Remember, too much planning is better than not enough: Try planning at least an hour-by-hour itinerary before you head out on your trip—it will make all of your excursions smoother.

8. Eat out for cheap

If you’re traveling with family or friends, you should think twice before going out for an expensive meal. If you want to splurge and treat yourself, do it once—or split an expensive entree. By going out for cheap meals during your stay, you can stretch your vacation dollars further than if everyone were dining at upscale restaurants every night.

Plus, it’s a lot more fun! And no one will feel like they’re being denied. The key is finding affordable places that are also authentic. For example, in New York City’s Little Italy neighborhood, tourists flock to pricey pizzerias and trattorias.

 But locals know that some of the best food is found at hole-in-the-wall spots offering $5 pasta dishes. If you’re visiting Rome, skip tourist traps such as Tre Scalini (which has been around since 1931) and head instead to La Carbonara, where plates start at just €8 ($10). Or in Paris, visit Le Comptoir du Relais Saint Germain for delicious French fare without breaking the bank.

9. Do an Eat Everywhere Challenge (EEC)

While your Eat Everywhere Challenge doesn’t need to be fancy, there are some rules. (If you’re looking for fun examples of EECs, check out our personal stories .) The idea here is that you save money by choosing meals at grocery stores and other non-restaurant establishments. You can eat all kinds of things—you don’t have to stick with fast food or convenience store items—but it must be made or sold somewhere other than in a restaurant or gas station. For example, A Subway sandwich from a grocery store deli counts; one from inside a Subway restaurant does not. A bottle of water from a vending machine counts; one bought at an airport gift shop does not.

 A pack of gum from a convenience store checkout counter counts; one purchased at a 7-Eleven register does not. And so on…The goal is to see how much variety you can get while sticking within these restrictions. If you want to make it more interesting, try doing two weeks instead of just one!

10. Couchsurf with friends instead of paying for expensive hotels

Since hotels are so expensive, it makes more sense for travelers to save money by staying with friends. For example, Couchsurfing is an app designed specifically for meeting people and having a place to stay during your trip. The best part? No matter where you’re going, there are always locals willing to host you!

 And if that doesn’t work out for you, make sure you use Airbnb. You can find great affordable accommodation in interesting neighborhoods around your destination city. This will allow you to experience a new neighborhood while still saving money.

 If all else fails, sleeping in airports or train stations is cheap and safe—and you might even meet some new travel buddies along the way! Don’t let travel expenses hold you back from exploring a new city. There are plenty of ways to have fun without spending much money.


Planning is essential when it comes to taking vacations, even if you’re traveling with family or your significant other. If you want to keep costs down, there are plenty of things you can do to stay within your means. Research and planning go hand-in-hand when it comes to vacations; so does staying flexible. By planning well in advance, staying flexible, and keeping an eye on costs, you can have an incredible time while saving money at home, too.

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