When I think about going on vacation, I usually picture the beach or some other outdoor location, eating out at yummy restaurants, and seeing local sights. It can be a romantic getaway or a busy attraction such as an amusement park. Most of all, I see vacation as a chance to get away from the usual routine and have some time away from work and other responsibilities to just relax and enjoy myself. Forbes said that the average vacation costs $1,145 per person or $4,580 for a family of four. That’s a big chunk of change!
If that kind of spending goes beyond your family’s budget, you are far from alone. Fortunately, there are many cheap travel options and even some ways to travel for almost nothing that can help you save money and get away from it all. Here are some ideas to consider.
1. Stay closer to home.
Most of my vacations have been close enough to home that I didn’t have to fly there. We even drove 12 hours down to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and 14 hours to Milwaukee, Wisconsin because it was cheaper to drive with a carload of people than to fly all of us there. And since we are only about two to three hours’ drive from the New Jersey and Delaware beaches, we have also vacationed there several times.
Chances are, no matter where you live, there are at least one or two good vacation destinations within a few hours’ driving time from your home. By not flying, you can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on how many are in your family. So consider destinations that are within driving distance and take advantage of these cheap travel options.
2. Use credit card reward points.
If you don’t already have a travel credit card, you can earn hundreds of dollars in bonus points for getting one and using it for the things you already buy, like groceries, gas, and regular bills, then paying it off each month. These reward points can significantly reduce the cost of your vacation, including airline tickets if your destination just can’t be reached without flying. Reward points can also be used for hotels, dining, and rental cars as well.
3. Do an exchange.
A home exchange allows you to stay in someone else’s home and they stay in yours while you vacation. Hotels can cost $100-$200 a night on average, and even more in some areas, and renting a home is usually thousands of dollars per week. Home exchanges avoid these costs but be careful to have an agreement about how the home must be taken care of and what happens if something is damaged, and be sure your insurance is up to date to cover any unforeseen problems. Another great thing about a home exchange: you can cook meals in the kitchen and save money on eating out.
4. Work for it.
Another way to significantly reduce the cost of your getaway is to do some sort of work while you are there. If you are attending an event, you may be able to do so for free if you volunteer for a few hours each day. A music festival we attended for years would let you camp and attend for free if you volunteered one shift each day helping park cars, handle performers, or perform other needed tasks.
While a working vacation may not be for everyone, it may be a way to get away when your budget just wouldn’t allow it otherwise. One popular way to vacation with minimal work is to house-sit and/or pet-sit for another individual or family. The family gets peace of mind that their home and animals are taken care of while they vacation, and you get free lodgings away from your own home.
If you take a work trip for a charity, such as helping to rebuild homes damaged in the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida or Puerto Rico, some workplaces will give you paid time off and not count it against your vacation time. If your company also allows you to cash out unpaid vacation time at the end of the year, this could provide money for a future vacation.
5. Visit on free days.
National parks, museums, and other attractions will often have free days one or more times a year, and these are the perfect times to visit when your budget is screaming for relief. You may even be able to combine these free days with a house swap to make the vacation even cheaper. Another option is to have a staycation where you take time off from work and do day trips to these free attractions rather than travel and pay for a hotel.
6. Vacation during off-peak times.
Many vacation destinations have peak times when most people want to visit, such as going to the beach during summer vacation and skiing in winter. If you go to these destinations during other times of the year, known as off-peak times, you can save a lot of money and take advantage of a cheap travel option because the rates for hotels and rentals go way down.
7. Enter a contest.
While this may seem like a long shot, there are tons of travel contests for the Googling. Some require you to write an essay while others are just an entry. If you enter enough of them and are flexible about where you are willing to go, you just may win a free vacation somewhere.
8. Take family up on the offer to stay with them.
Staying with family may seem like a problem waiting to happen in some cases, but if they’re offering you that cheap travel option, you may not want to pass up the huge savings if your budget is tight. Another advantage to staying with family and friends is that they know the best things to do in the area while you’re there, and likely some good ways to save money as well.
9. Be in charge of a tour.
If you organize a group tour in the area you are vacationing, you may be able to travel and stay with that group for free–there would still be costs for food, but travel and lodging would be at no cost. This could be a great way to vacation if you are a teacher, professor or other community leader and don’t mind traveling with a group in that capacity, this might be a great opportunity to see a part of the world you couldn’t otherwise afford to travel to.
10. Find a great cruise deal.
There are cruise deals to be had if you are flexible about where and when you go. Cruise lines sometimes offer buy-one-get-one-free deals when sales are slow on a particular trip, and the great thing about cruises is that all your meals and activities are included other than activities and meals when you put into port for the day.
11. Go last-minute.
If you are flexible and can handle making travel plans on very short notice, there are many last-minute deals to be had when hotels and flights don’t fill up as expected. Being spontaneous and flexible can save you half or more on your vacation costs when you just look around and see what’s an exceptional deal that day or week.
12. Use a travel agent.
Travel agents who know you are looking for an exceptional deal on a cheap vacation may have resources you couldn’t possibly access on your own. Another benefit to travel agents is that you avoid a lot of the legwork you normally have to do to find good deals because that’s the agent’s job. You may have to do a little research, though, to make sure you’re really getting as good a deal as the agent will tell you it is.
13. Incorporate downtime.
Fancy dinners and expensive attractions may be what you associate with vacations, but walks on the beach and sandwiches on your balcony can be just as nice, and can do what a vacation is supposed to do, ultimately: relax and renew you before you have to go back to your busy working life. My family used to plan every moment of vacation and try to stuff in as many (expensive) tours and events as possible, but at some point, we decided that slowing down was actually a positive thing even if we didn’t get to see every single thing we wanted to. Another benefit? It’s a great way to enjoy a cheap vacation.
The important part about vacation is spending time together with family or friends and relaxing so that you don’t end up feeling like you need to have a vacation from your vacation when you go back home. You don’t have to break your budget and put yourself in a financial hole to find a way to have a good time during your time off from work this year.
You may be able to find even more good ideas for cheap vacations at Just Answer, where you can ask an expert for advice on just about any subject and see answers to others’ questions as well.