Living the life of a twenty-something generally means having a budget, and having a budget generally means you might not get to take that sweet vacation you’ve been dreaming of. Our jobs probably don’t pay enough, and even if they do, they probably don’t give us enough paid time off, so we’re left fending for ourselves and creating the best cheap vacation for a fraction of the cost. Here are some of our best tips for enjoying a vacay on the cheap.
- See if there are any vacation spots within an hour or so of where you live. Lots of times there will be national parks or lakes near where you live, and you can save a ton on gas/airfare costs if you stay close to home.
- Go camping. For a fraction of the price of a crappy motel, you can camp. Most campsites that have car camping also have bathroom and shower facilities. And because you’re camping out of your car, you can bring an air mattress and be extra comfy.
- Hit up Happy Hour. One of the most exciting parts of visiting a new place is enjoying the food, but eating out can get expensive. Explore local food-focused Happy Hours as a way to stretch your dining dollars and try fun restaurants.
- Make a Budget. It sounds like the lamest thing ever, but budgets are really helpful. It sucks to want to do something at the end of your vacation only to realize you’re too short on cash. Having a basic plan for your trip will guarantee that you have money left for those splurge-worthy items.
- Look into the free tourist attractions. That is, if you decide to spend a day being a tourist. Generally hotels or hostels are near all of the these hot spots, museums, architecture, city views, etc. Check it out online, ask the front desk clerk, or get yourself a physical map and start circling. Besides food, and maybe coffee, you won’t be spending a dime.
- That Student Discount. Even if you have recently graduated, use that student ID for some really fantastic discounts. In LA, there are a couple of museums that are completely free to students. If not free, they’re usually significantly cheaper than the regular adult admissions ticket. Student IDs can get you into movies for cheap, as well as discounts on city passes (a cheaper grouping of tourist attractions that you are guaranteed to see if you buy them in a bundle).
- Hostels. Again, assuming you aren’t looking in to beach vacations, relaxing vacations, or anything that would be disrupted by hostel environments. You’ll meet folks from around the world, and generally go out with them at night, and possibly doing the tourist attractions during the day. You’re able to buy your food at a grocery store and prepare everything at your hostel, which is good since eating out every meal can get expensive very fast. They are significantly cheaper than hotels, and yes, it’s because you don’t have as much privacy, but if you don’t really care and don’t plan on being in your hotel very much anyways, it’s a good option. If you really want to get crazy, you could also check out Couchsurfing.net, a community of traveling folks who leave their couches open to other fellow travelers. It is completely FREE. But maybe this option would be wiser if you are traveling with a buddy and not completely alone. It’s safe. People have profiles so you can check out whether you’ll be couching with a hermit or a party animal. And this option generally goes well with someone backpacking, or does not plan on relaxing much.
- Cook while on vacation. It sounds like a drag, but if you make food ahead of time and then bring it in coolers, you can save a ton of cash. Beach tip: Make a bunch of burgers, wrap them individually, and freeze them—they can double as ice packs on the drive down, and if your place doesn’t have a grill, just sneak in a George Foreman. Instead of wasting money on a bunch of little, overpriced meals, plan to splurge on one great dinner—that way you won’t feel deprived!
- Airbnb. A mixture of hostels and couchsurfing. This is where anyone around the world rents out a room, their apartment, their barn, their house, villa, cabin, a floor, whatever, to you. Depending on where and what exactly you are renting, the charges vary from dirt cheap to fairly pricey. It’s definitely well worth a try, especially when on a budget. Here’s why: good pricing, typically free access to do your laundry, free breakfast (all the hosts will give you free, authentic breakfast, and maybe even dinner once in awhile!), free access to water for showers. Plus, you get a local’s inside information, and they will usually give you a tour. Create a profile on the Airbnb website and look up where you want to go!
- Family vacay, anyone? A cheap vacation is easily accomplished by including yourself in with the parentals. Most families take at least one big vacation a year. Assuming you can actually deal with your family and keep your sanity, vacationing with the fam will favor your twenty-something bank account. Mom and Dad will be happy to spend time with you. Grandma and Grandpa love splurging on you, spoiling you, and spending precious time with you as well. HUGE bonus points for your wallet if the Grands come along. Just keep in mind that excessive amounts of time with immediate (and extended) family can be hard. Pack books to read, bring a journal, bring your secret cash stash, and don’t be afraid to take some “you time.” Have faith in yourself to make it through because at the end of the day, years down the road you’ll look back on those priceless memories and you’ll be thankful you vacationed with your family while you had the chance.
- Eating on the road. If you’re driving to your destination over a couple of days, but the trip itself isn’t a road trip, in order to save money just eat lunch on the road. Think trail mix, protein bars, fruit (lots of banana and oranges). Then, when you are done driving for the evening, go to a local restaurant or even a chain restaurant. Stopping for lunch will cost you both in time and money; plus, trail mix can be fun.
- Get cash from the bank. If you’re going abroad, this is a pretty simple rule but a lot of people still don’t do it. Get your foreign currency from your bank. Not at the airport, not at a hotel, not through an ATM. Seriously, a couple of weeks before you leave, just go to the bank asking for the exact amount needed. You will save a whole lot of money doing it here.
- Book cruises at the last minute. If you can get off work in a pinch and don’t mind booking vacations at the last minute, consider keeping an eye on deals and booking cruises less than a month before you travel. We’ve seen all-inclusive, 5-day cruises for as little as $300 per person for a room with a balcony. All meals are included, so as long as you can afford the initial cost of the trip and transportation to and from your port, you don’t even have to make a budget!
- Visit extended family members who live in cool, nearby cities. Let’s face it. The majority of what you spend on vacations consists of lodging and travel. When you visit extended family members who live in nearby cities, you have somewhere to stay for free, and then there’s the added bonus of a having a local to show you the sights that only a local would know about. Who knows? Your family might be so excited to see you that they treat you to a meal or two.
- Day-tripping. Seriously. Day trips are cool!
- Go to Europe before 25. Yes, Europe is expensive, that dollar to Pound Sterling or Euro conversion is brutal, but if you’re under 25 you get a LOT of things cheaper. Not only are you able to stay in hostels, but you can get a youth railcard, and if you’ve still got it, a student ID often gets you even more discounts.
- Travel in off-peak times. Yes you may want to get your summer vacation in, but it’s also going to be more expensive. Try going to the beach in the fall, or Europe before July (when it gets real warm and tourist season heats up). You’ll pay a lot less in booking fees and things won’t be quite as marked up.
- Stay a few miles away from the hot spot you’re traveling to. For popular tourist attractions, beaches, theme parks, etc., be sure to look for a hotel that is not in the middle of it all. Search for public transportation in the area, and utilize the savings you’ll rack up on those expensive drinks and fancy dinners. For instance… Did you know that you can stay in downtown Las Vegas right on Fremont street for $22 to $49 a night? That’s a hell of a lot cheaper than the $300-plus you’ll pay to stay at Caesar’s Palace. It may not be as “cool” to stay off The Strip, but there is a great 24-hour bus in Vegas that can get you to The Strip in less than half an hour using a $20 three-day pass.
What are your best vacay money saving tips? Comment below or tweet us @LitDarling!
Food Writer at Literally, Darling
Liz is armed with a passion for food, degrees in sustainable food & farming and political science, and a serious Instagram problem. Her culinary style walks the line between hedonism and nutrition. She loves the color red, sci-fi movies, her miniature Australian shepherd, Zeppy, and fresh Krispy Kremes. When she's not cooking she can be found squeezing more plants into her community garden, knitting like crazy, or traveling with her main man, Peter. Liz's dream is to have a homestead where she'll grow food and raise lots of chickens with a side hobby of world travel. You can find her writing about food, gardening, knitting, and life over at girlandpepper.com.