It’s possible to have a fun vacation with limited funds. Vacationing doesn’t have to break the bank and put a financial strain on you and your family. And that does not have to come at the expense of your vacation. I’ve seen many people confused by their kids not having fun at a theme park, but you actually can ruin an experience as magical as a trip to Disney World. My wife had to sit me down and explain to me that I ruin our Disney trips when I brought PB&J sandwiches to save money. She loves Disney, but she’d rather not go than go and not eat, and she worked there so we got in for free.
You can have a cheap vacation without sacrificing enjoyment by saving in the right places. Here is a list of tips you can use planning your next getaway, and I’ll be using these tips to plan a vacation to Savannah, Georgia as an example.
Make a generous budget and save the cash beforehand
Nothing ruins a vacation like still paying for it a year later. If you save the cash, and give yourself wiggle room, you can spend freely on the trip knowing you gave yourself the money to do so. When you vacation on credit every expense feels extra.
Travel 2-4 hours and rent a car
First of all, if a $1000 vacation is your goal, no planes. It’s too expensive and you aren’t staying at the vacation destination long enough to justify the expense. I prefer 2-4 hours because there’s enough distance for real separation, but it’s still a comfortable drive for me. I don’t need to prepare my body to drive from Orlando to Savannah. As far as renting, I know you probably have a car that works just fine. I could write a whole article on this topic, but the cost of the rental is comparable to the cost of the miles on your car. With tax and fees an intermediate rental with the rental car company we use runs us $166 for a 4-day trip. We usually get the extra collision protection which usually adds about half the bill, or in this case $83 to our bill, and gas price calculators estimated $60, but I like whole numbers so I’m rounding that up to $100. Anyone who has had anything break on their car knows that a $349 bill is not hard to beat. Put the miles on a rental, not your daily driver.
Stay somewhere that’s awesome by itself
It may seem counter intuitive to spend the money renting a cool house to stay in that’s close to shops and restaurants, but it’s something I like to do that actually saves money in the long run. It definitely keeps me from booking the nasty hotel with weird smells that no one likes. How this saves money will make sense in with the next tip.
Save money by limiting your activities to free things
There’s always tons to do that doesn’t cost anything. For example, in planning the same Savannah vacation we wouldn’t stay in Savannah for several reasons. Savannah is expensive, and if we get a place in a great spot that’s close by, like a beach condo on Hilton Head Island, we gain access to a ton of free entertainment. We have another whole city to explore, more places to window shop, and we’re on the beach. Yes, we miss out on Savannah ghost tours (which I’m too scared of anyway), shows and other non-free things, but our trip is still awesome, relaxing, and fun. If those things are important to you then just save an extra month or two. For 3 nights I found a beach condo on Hilton Head Island for $318 using Airbnb.
Do not try and save (too much) money on food
This is not a cost saving tip. This is a vacation saving tip. How much you save definitely matters, but where you save it matters a lot. I’m not saying eat at the best steakhouses for every meal, but if your budget is such that after transportation and lodging you’re making ramen in the hotel room for dinner, or you tell your family you can only afford to drink water everywhere you go, it’s probably not worth it. Just save up a bit more money and have a vacation that meets your needs and expectations.
If we were staying in a hotel we would eat the complimentary breakfast, and since we’re not I’m okay with eating breakfast in the condo, but only breakfast.
The two of us can eat for $10 each on the drives. While in Savannah we’re going to budget $45 per person per full day for food. That breaks down to a $25, $15, $5 split for dinner, lunch, and breakfast respectively. Yes, $25 per person can be a lot for dinner, but when we only spend $20 a person on a dinner we gain wiggle room. We want to be able to eat at the local hotspots without worrying about our expenses.
How did we do?
4-day 3-night vacation to Savannah, Georgia for 2 adults from Orlando, Florida
Transportation: 4-day intermediate (I’m too tall for the cheapest options) car rental,
extra collision coverage, and gas.
Lodging: 3-night stay in a beach condo on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
Food: Per person cost of $25 for dinner, $15 for lunch, and $5 for breakfast and drives.
Two full days and two half days translates to 3 dinners, 3 breakfasts, 2 lunches,
and 2 meals on the road.
Total planned cost for this vacation
A fun vacation for $1000 is definitely possible and doesn’t have to induce stress. There are tradeoffs, like saving money on excursions and entertainment, and being limited on time. If you would rather live off of a dollar menu and go ride a jet ski go for it.
If you look for flights from Orlando to Savannah, you’ll notice we could get there for cheaper than our total transportation cost. Once we get there we need to get around. We’ll have to take an Uber to our hotel, and then we’ll be stuck there. The ability to stay on Hilton Head Island, widening our access to free entertainment is dependent on having a vehicle. If we need to rent once we get off the plane it defeats the purpose.
Do your research when renting a car. All the major ones have debit card policies, and the smaller ones may be cheaper but often don’t let you leave the state. You’ll need things like proof of insurance and a cash deposit if you’re like me and cut up your credit cards. Also, the airport branches are on a different system and don’t accept debit cards at all.
Last but not least, with this example of a $1000 vacation we came in under budget. The $53 difference I would put in food. It has served me best to put extra savings on vacation into the food budget if anything. The less I have to worry when ordering the better. If you saved up $2000 and it came out to $947 please don’t put the difference in food. Put maybe $100 in food and the rest back in savings. Or have a longer vacation.
Alan Muise, a contributor to this blog, holds a Business Specialist technical degree, and is currently enrolled at the University of Central Florida’s College of Business. Alan is a former youth pastor and currently serves as the worship director at Aloma United Methodist Church in Winter Park, Florida. He is a wonderful husband, entrepreneur and risk taker.