We all need a break from the daily grind, but not everyone can afford an annual trip to a tropical location. Others want to save as much money as they can, or make a trip an adventure in frugality. Whatever your motivation, vacations do not have to break the bank. Need proof? Here are seven money-saving vacation ideas that will leave you with plenty left over for souvenirs.
Drive, don't fly
I grew up in a family of seven. We never took an airplane when we went on vacation. Instead, we chose locations within about a 10 hour drive of our home. Luckily for us, this radius included places like the Oregon Coast, Canada, the San Juan Islands and endless beautiful lakes in Northern Idaho. When pricing out the cost of flying my own family to Colorado last summer, we decided to drive instead. With careful planning, kids can survive and even enjoy long car trips, and you can save money.
Camping is much less expensive than staying in a hotel. If you're looking to save money, try camping. It does take more preparation and gear, but many campsites are fairly nice, with warm showers and electricity. You can camp in your car, at a campsite, in an RV or on your friend's couch. We have friends and family in several parts of the country whom we try to stay with while on vacation. It's fun to catch up and then return the favor another time.
Eat out creatively
My husband plans entire trips around the places he wants to eat. To avoid blowing your whole budget on food, be smart about where you eat. I always choose hotels with a free breakfast or a fridge so we can buy some cereal and milk and eat in our room. You can stop at a grocery store and pick up deli items, including prepared salads and sandwiches, for lunch, and then splurge on dinner. Or, since many restaurants have less expensive lunch menus, eat out for lunch and then have a simple dinner. We also graze during the day on vacation, grabbing a taco from a well-known food truck for lunch, then gelato for a snack. Finally, skip expensive drinks most of the time and opt for water.
Visit in the off-season
If your travel times are flexible, go when there's less demand. Hotels and resorts adjust their prices seasonally, so early spring and fall are great times to travel. Avoid holidays and the height of summer. In hot places, the off-season might be during the summer, so consider that factor when planning your trip.
There are many travel sites that offer discounts, packages and last-minute travel fares. If you don't have a favorite site, try Kayak, Priceline or Hotwire. If you routinely use a travel agent, he or she can also find you good deals. Farecompare.com offers data on the best time to buy plane tickets and the cheapest days of the week to fly. Booking in advance often saves money.
Act like a local
Tourists often get sucked into expensive tours and outings that may not be worth the ticket fee. When I travel, I like to explore like a local, visiting bookstores and markets, taking hikes and seeing outdoor spaces. If you steer clear of the tourist traps, you'll save money and get a better sense of what a place and its people are really like.
No one wants to feel like they can't have fun on a trip. Some things cost money, so be prepared to spend on what's really important to you. When I'm in a big city, I love to visit art museums, no matter the admission fee. My husband likes to attend sporting events, which often have big ticket prices. If it's something you've always wanted to do, spend the money and enjoy the experience.
Vacationing is always an adventure. If you use your money wisely and follow these tips, you'll be able to continue traveling and exploring. Get packing!
Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.