One of the best ways to take a vacation for cheap and see spectacular scenery is to take a roadtrip. Flights and sleeping accommodations have always taken up a significant portion of my vacation budget leaving me with little money to try local foods, enjoy excursions, and even buy memorable souvenirs. In this blog, I will review some of my favorite budget friendly travel tips so you can plan your best vacation to date!
Vacation for Cheap: Identifying Priorities
When I take a roadtrip, my priorities are usually geared towards seeing the most I possibly can in the timeframe I have. I will plan out multiple hikes for a day and find three different observation points on the way to each. If your priorities instead lean towards a leisurely drive to a few places and spending multiple days in an area, that is something to consider in your planning.
1: Drive Instead of Fly
By simply driving to your destination, you’re already saving money on airfare and car rentals all while taking in the gorgeous views around you! Having the freedom to drive your own car on a trip provides more variety in what you can do in an area.
Instead of staying in airport for hours before your vacation begins, driving gets your vacation started immediately.
You can use a gas calculator to determine how much gas will cost to go on the trip. This will help you do a comparative analysis between the cost of driving vs flying. This trip calculator on Fuel Economy can calculate the projected cost of gas with the exact vehicle you will be taking on your trip!
2: Make your own Food
While transportation and hotels add up quickly in cost, so does eating out. When away from home, people tend to eat out for every meal. Opt for making your own meals. Eating at local restaurants adds to the experience of an area, eating at Wendy’s does not. When choosing to spend extra money on food, I tend to search for cute coffee shops, famous local restaurants, or specialty sandwich shops.
That said, I have made a significant number of parking lot Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches and they taste delicious every time.
Easy on the Road Meals:
- Bagels & Cream Cheese
- Overnight Oats
- Falafel Wraps
- Rotisserie Chicken
For Adult Beverage Drinkers: Opt to take a six pack of local beer to go! I love visiting new breweries and often budget for going to them on trips but sometimes a local beer tastes just as good at a campsite!
3: Sleeping Accommodations
Vacationing for Cheap with Hotels
I would be lying if I said I didn’t have an affinity for nice hotels! For staying overnight to break up a long drive, it is more cost effective to stay in a motel or cheaper hotel. When road tripping, I usually stay at a hotel every four-ish days and camp the other nights. That also provides me an opportunity to spend a little more on sleeping accommodations to stay in cool, local cabins. When searching for a hotel, I use Hotels.com because of the site’s usability and because it’s easy to earn a free nights stay!
Vacationing for Cheap with Camping
Camping is my go to way to road trip because it is the easiest way to save a significant amount of money. When road tripping, you can easily pack all of your camping gear. I enjoy camping but it truly can help save money! Campsites are usually around $30 or less, but there is also the possibility of dispersed camping! Dispersed camping is camping in undeveloped areas for free. You can learn about dispersed camping at the US Department of Agriculture.
4: Bring a Friend or Two!
The more the merrier! Dividing the costs of a trip between multiple people will immediately decrease the cost of gas, sleeping accommodations, groceries, ect. This frees up more funds for what you’d like to do on your trip! Apps are available like SplitWise that can easily divide the cost of the trip. The easiest way to vacation for cheap, is to vacation for cheap with friends!
5: Site See for Free
For National Park visits, buying an “America the Beautiful” pass will save money in the long run. The pass is $80, but gets you into every National Park and National Forest for an entire year without any additional cost. Paying for single day admission alone can be $35 so if you’re planning on traveling to multiple parks throughout the year, this is the way to go!
Another option is to look at free admission days for museums or parks. These days can be found on the webpages of the different locations you might want to visit. If there are no free days, they could also offer discounted rates for educators, students, military personnel, or seniors. It also doesn’t hurt to ask when purchasing your ticket! As an educator myself, I regularly ask if there is a teacher discount and there have been fewer “no”s than “yes”s!
If you plan your trip on Roadtrippers.com, they can also provide amazing recommendations for free sightseeing, landmarks, overlooks, etc.
6: Travel in Off-Season
The best way to vacation cheaply is to take a roadtrip in the off-season. In April 2022, I stayed in a beautiful cabin outside of Yellowstone National Park and the daily rate was $200 cheaper than the busy season rates. Cheaper rates in off-season can be seen most prevalently in hotel accommodations and even flights, but this also goes for tourist expeditions as well.
I hope you feel inspired to hit the road on the most epic and cheap adventure of your life! Going on a vacation for cheap can lead to amazing experiences, so get out there and enjoy!