Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. This is one way that bloggers make money, but it is at absolutely no extra cost to you if you choose to make a purchase based on my suggestions! If you would like to read more about how this works, check out my Disclosure Policy!
As I wrote most of this blog post, I was sitting in a cabin in the middle of no where. I wrote most of this the week before I was debt free, while I was on vacation. Crazy, it sounds, but I did actually take vacation the week leading up to me being debt free. It. Was. Wonderful.
Work offered me paid time off, which is quite unheard of as a bartender in the U.S., but since I got it, I thought I would take advantage of it. Getting that paycheck is also actually one of the things that was going to help me hit my debt free sooner because I took my paid time off for days that I usually have off anyway (one tiny perk of working in a restaurant that is open 364 days of the year)
After the holiday season at a restaurant in a mall, I knew that I needed to get away. I needed to escape from reality a little bit, so that is exactly what I did. A friend and I rented a cabin at a state park just 30 minutes away from my home. We packed up groceries, books, wine, and blankets and headed to the cabin. We spent 2 days sitting by a fireplace with our phones off, reading, writing, snacking, and napping.
To the old traveler in me, this is exactly the opposite of a vacation that I used to take. Before starting this journey, in 2016, I took a 5 day vacation and traveled into six states and two national parks. In five days, I saw multiple people and slept somewhere different ever night. I LOVED this type of vacation, but it was an extremely expensive five days. I knew that I couldn’t do that after being on a pretty strict budget for the last two years.
My vacation breakdown:
- Cabins for 2 nights: $175
- Aldi Food we brought with: $50
- Food we went to get: $15
- Gas to get there: $20
- Park permit: $30. (I didn’t include this into my total cost because it is something we will continue to use all year around with state parks and lakes this summer!)
The vacation total was $260, but we split the costs! So I got a 2 day getaway for $130!
Here are a few tips for planning a cheap vacation
*Travel in the off season
Picking a time of year that isn’t in high demand saved us $40-$50 a night. Not as many people are trying to rent cabins in February as they are in June. While there were some things we weren’t able to do because of the weather, but we wouldn’t have wanted to use our indoor fireplace in June! I think we were the only people in the park other than employees during our vacation!
Do some research on your destination and find out when the hot season for travel is. Traveling in the off season might mean that you can’t do all of the things you want to. We definitely won’t be going to the water park near the cabin in February, but we are enjoying our time reading and writing. If you can work it around your life schedule, you can
*Figure out how you are going to get there
Getting to your destination can sometimes be the most expensive part of a trip. We decided to pick something close to home, so we didn’t really have to budget for gas outside of my normal weekly gas budget.
If you are thinking about flying, see if you can do some travel hacking to get a cheaper flight. Being flexible on travel dates and times is usually one of the ways to get a cheaper flight. Can you take a train that will make it cheaper? Being open to driving, depending on the distance, can save you a ton of money on travel as well.
*Split the travel costs
Pick a location and see if you can get a friend in on the fun! I started talking about getting a cabin a few months ago and my friend was really excited about it. One of us paid for the cabin and the other paid for the park sticker, food, and drinks for the days that we are there! Splitting the costs also means that you have someone there to enjoy your vacation with you. Planning vacations in the future, I look forward to traveling with friends and finding new adventures for half the cost! Traveling with other people can help take the financial burden off of just one person!
* Get a place with a kitchen/kitchenette
We were deciding between a hotel room or a cabin. When I saw that the cabins had a little kitchenette, I was sold. We brought the crock pot and all of the food that we wanted for a few days! We kind of meal planned just like we would at home for these few days. Bringing our own snacks helped keep us from too much food for meals as well. We planned for two meals a day and snacks!
Bringing our own food on vacation meant that we wouldn’t be spending our time or money in restaurants. We went to the store and spent $60 on groceries for 2 1/2 days worth of food. That is a little higher than my normal grocery budget, but it is a TON lower than if we were regularly eating at restaurants.
*Buying groceries after you get there
We just had a kitchenette in our cabin, but we still ended up bringing foods that we didn’t need. We are still going home with a few meals for the rest of the week. When packing, we did pack up the crockpot and instapot, but our cabin didn’t have an oven. Check out your kitchen appliances, fridge space, and schedule to see what you actually need meals for. We still didn’t do too bad for the few days that we were there and I would definitely do it all over again!
* Check on accommodations provided
Calling ahead of time or checking online to make your packing list. Just a few things to ask about are things like a fridge, oven, or TV. Ask if linens and towels are provided. Knowing what you have available for free helps prevent you from over packing, but you can plan your activities around it. Calling ahead will also prevent you from leaving things behind like I did! We were planning on cooking a few meals and failed to plan well on this one! Next time we will know better!
* Limit your spending activities
Once you get there, you may have a huge list of things you want to see. Try to pick the most important things and stick to a budget. Fill in your extra time with some things that are free like going for walks, sightseeing.
If you are planning on doing activities that include spending, I recommend taking cash and setting a set budget for your spending activities. Once it is gone, it should be gone so you don’t blow your entire vacation budget.
I absolutely love Groupon for so many different things. I have done a ton of activities that I would have never found if it weren’t for this site. There are always a ton of great local deals, so you should check out your destination city to see what is in the area to do on the cheap! I have tested wineries, gone mini golfing, and tons of great museums and local restaurants. There are often breweries or fun things to do as a family! Make sure you check out Groupon for any fun activities!
*Book through Ebates
If you aren’t using Ebates, you are MISSING OUT! I use Ebates for all of my online shopping and booking.It is a website that uses your browser to give you cash back on purchases you are making online! When you download the browser extension, Ebates will notify you when you are on a website that is cash back eligible or you can go to their website to see what is available! When you book through their Ebates Travel, you can get cash back on a ton of aspects of your trip! You can also get money back on your Groupon purchases! It iis by far one of my favorite websites for cash back!
* Take time to relax and enjoy yourself
I spent a good amount of time on my vacation with my phone on airplane mode. I had the opportunity to disconnect from social media and constantly checking my phone. One of the days, I allowed myself to sleep until 1 pm. We spent a lot of time laying around and reading instead of going out to find adventure. This vacation was more about relaxing and recovering than it was exploring new places. Sometimes, that is exactly the kind of vacation you need! Don’t be afraid to “waste” you vacation taking care of yourself.
Here are a few questions to ask when you start planning your vacation
When you are planning you vacation, it is best to decide what you want to do most on your trip.
What is the primary reason for vacation? (Rest, sightseeing, a specific event)
Are you going to visit someone in a specific location or is the destination flexible?
Can you change your travel dates around a little bit? (Traveling during the week is far cheaper weekends. Holiday weeks tend to be more expensive)
After you decide on a destination, what are MUST Do/Sees for your trip?
What free things are in that area?
Which meals are you able to cook for yourself vs what meals do you plan to eat at a restaurant?
Planning a vacation doesn’t mean that you have to spend money every step of the way. I enjoyed my vacation more than I have for most!