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20 Tips for the Best and Cheapest Vacations

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20 Tips for the Best and Cheapest Vacations

Going on vacation isn’t cheap. Between the road trip or the plane tickets, the food, the fun, the activities, the hotels it can end up costing you a pretty penny. Don’t despair. Everyone deserves a vacation and even if you need to conserve your cash to do it, you can still have a fun time! Here are 20 of our cheapest vacation ideas:

1. Go short

Sometimes, the best idea for a vacation is to go ahead and take one, but don’t go for as long as you normally would. Instead of going for a week or two, go for a long weekend.

2. Road trip

Don’t fly — drive. Even with the cost of gas, often the best option to save money is to drive to your destination. Make it fun. Stop and see attractions along the way to your destination, like Mount Rushmore or the world’s largest ball of string. Do a web search ahead of time and find small, inexpensive attractions in towns along the way — you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll see and learn.

3. Travel with friends

You can often save a lot of money when you buddy up and travel with a group or with friends. Group rates are available for hotels, rental cars (you could rent a large van), even tours of museums and other attractions.

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4. Day trip it

You don’t need to travel far to have fun. Instead of going far during your vacation and staying somewhere else, stay home and take a different trip each day. Look at destinations about two or three hours away from where you live and look for different things you can do there. Enjoy the drive, bring a lunch and spend the day doing something completely different than you normally would.

5. Cook in

Wherever you stay, eat at home, just as you would normally. Go to a local grocery store and purchase a week’s worth of groceries and make most of your meals in. Save a little money for a special dinner while you’re on vacation or for that fun day on the boardwalk. Otherwise, make the meals you like. You’ll probably eat healthier too.

6. Mind your perks

Do you get perks from your store cards? Your credit cards? For staying in hotels for work? Go look over all of your perk plans before your vacation. You might have a free night or two in a hotel, some miles for a flight or even a free meal or two while you’re out.

7. Rent it

You’d be amazed at the money you can save when you rent items instead of buying them. You can rent an RV and save yourself money on hotels and flights. You can rent a luggage carrier for the top of your truck instead of buying a fancy new one. You can rent bikes when you get there instead of paying to put them on the plane.

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8. Volunteer

Instead of doing the regular vacation thing, try volunteering instead. You’ll be surprised at the number of deals and perks available for those who choose to volunteer at a location instead of just be a tourist. Going to Alaska? Try volunteering for the Iditarod. You’ll get to see some of the most amazing scenery, get free bush flights out to a checkpoint and even meet and talk with famous dog mushers. Heading to South America or another country, look up JustGive.org and find other locations that need people to help build homes, teach classes or do other things in exchange for your time.

9. Room ideas

Decide on just what you need when you select a hotel or motel. Do you intend to do a lot of sightseeing or outdoor activities? Maybe you don’t need a huge, all-inclusive resort and can save yourself some money by getting a small, plain motel with basic amenities. On the other hand, if you want a big resort style vacation with a spa and water park, maybe you can save yourself the money by not flying to somewhere far away, but instead choosing a large, all-inclusive resort to which you can drive.

10. Geocache

This is a great way to explore local areas without the expense of leaving home or staying somewhere else. According to Geocaching.com: “Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.”

11. Check out a National Park

You’ll be amazed at how many National Parks are close to where you’re staying — or where you live. National Parks are a great resource and you can visit the Ranger Station and learn about different features of the park, take a hike or a picnic and explore. Most parks have nominal day use fees, some allow camping and there are a number of free days throughout the year.

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12. See a game

Most of cities and towns have minor or major league teams for soccer, baseball, football or basketball. Take a day and head to a game. Even if that sport isn’t your “thing,” most major league or professional sporting events are a big deal and the experience itself is a lot of fun.

13. Camp

Camping is a fun and exciting way to see parts of the country you’ve never been to before. You can either rent a small cabin or bring a tent or an RV. However you choose to camp, make sure you select a location that allows you to explore and gives you plenty of opportunities to do the types of activities you like.

14. Book a last-minute cruise

Search online at sites like Expedia for last-minute cruise deals. Cruises are usually expensive, but if you can wait until the last minute to pack and make your plans — and you aren’t picky about where the cruise is going — you could pick up a sweet deal.

15. Visit local tourist spots

Stay home and visit all of the local touristy stuff you never do because you live there. Take a tour of the local microbrewery, go to a vineyard or even a local amusement park. You could make your staycation really awesome and hire a house cleaner for the week as well.

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16. Go somewhere completely different

Thinking of Paris? How about Budapest instead? Want to go to Brazil? Try Belize. Just by picking somewhere a little less popular, you could save big bucks. And in Europe, you can travel easily to the places you want to see without having to stay there.

17. Do something new

Staying home over vacation? Take the opportunity to try out something you’ve never done before. Take sailing lessons, learn how to throw pots (clay, on a wheel, not the pasta pot through the window). Sing Karaoke at the local bar.

18. Go to local festivals

Head to the state fair, the local Bluegrass festival or the Garlic Festival (or whatever plant or item your state is known for). Do it big — try everything and have a great time.

19. Be quiet

You could lay low, too. You could really do nothing for a whole week. Sleep. Eat junk food. Watch TV. If you’re a go, go, go type of person, a few days to be quiet and do nothing might be all you need to feel refreshed. And you’ll save a ton of money not entertaining yourself.

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20. Housesit

Want to go somewhere new and not pay for it? Find a housesitting gig. Whether for a week or three months, you can find some great places to go and not pay a dime for staying there.

More by this author

Michelle Kennedy Hogan

Michelle is an explorer, editor, author of 15 books, and mom of eight.

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Last Updated on January 5, 2022

33 Painless Ways to Save Money Now

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33 Painless Ways to Save Money Now

In a difficult economy, most of us are looking for ways to put more money in our pockets, but we don’t want to feel like misers. We don’t want to drastically alter our lifestyles either. We want it fast and we want it easy. Small savings can add up and big savings can feel like winning the lottery, just without all of the taxes.

Some easy ways to save money:

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  1. Online rebate sites. Many online sites offer cash back rebates and online coupons as well. MrRebates and Ebates are two I like, but there are many others.
  2. Sign up for customer rewards. Many of your favorite stores offer customer rewards on products you already buy. Take advantage.
  3. Switch to compact fluorescent bulbs. The extra cost up front is worth the energy savings later on.
  4. Turn off power strips and electronic devices when not in use.
  5. Buy a programmable thermostat. Set it to lower the heat or raise the AC when you’re not home.
  6. Make coffee at home. Those lattes and caramel macchiatos add up to quite a bit of dough over the year.
  7. Switch banks. Shop around for better interest rates, lower fees and better customer perks. Don’t forget to look for free online banking and ease of depositing and withdrawing money.
  8. Clip coupons: Saving a couple dollars here and there can start to add up. As long as you’re going to buy the products anyway, why not save money?
  9. Pack your lunch. Bring your lunch to work with you a few days a week, rather than buy it.
  10. Eat at home. We’re busier than ever, but cooking meals at home is healthier and much cheaper than take-out or going out. Plus, with all of the freezer and pre-made options, it’s almost as fast as drive-thru.
  11. Have leftovers night. Save your leftovers from a few meals and have a “leftover dinner.” It’s a free meal!
  12. Buy store brands: Many generic or store brands are actually just as good as name brands and considerably cheaper.
  13. Ditch bottled water. Drink tap water if it’s good quality, buy a filter if it’s not. Get 
      a reusable water bottle and refill it.
    • Avoid vending machines: The items are usually over-priced.
    • Take in a matinee. Afternoon movie showings are cheaper than evening times.
    • Re-examine your cable bill. Cancel extra cable or satellite channels you don’t watch. Watch the “on demand” movie purchases too.
    • Use online bill pay. Most banks offer free online bill paying. Save on stamps and checks, and avoid late fees by automating bill payment.
    • Buy frequently used items in bulk. You get a lower per item price and eliminate extra trips to the store later on.
    • Fully utilize the library. Borrowing books is much cheaper than buying them, but in addition to books, most local libraries now lend movies and games.
    • Cancel magazine/newspaper subscriptions: Re-evaluate your subscriptions. Cancel those you don’t read and consider reading some of the other publications online.
    • Get rid of your land-line. Do you really need a land-line anymore if everyone in the family has a cell phone? Alternatively, look into using VOIP or getting a cheaper plan.
    • Better fuel efficiency. Check the air pressure in your tires, keep up with proper auto maintenance, and slow down. Driving even 5MPH slower will result in better fuel mileage.
    • Increase your deductibles. Increasing the insurance deductibles on your homeowners and auto insurance policies lowers premiums significantly. Just make sure you choose a deductible that you can afford should an emergency happen.
    • Choose lunch over dinner. If you do want to dine out occasionally, go at lunchtime rather than dinnertime. Lunch prices are usually cheaper.
    • Buy used:  Whether it’s something small like a vintage dress or a video game or something big like a car or furniture, consider buying it used. You can often get “nearly new” for a fraction of the cost.
    • Stick to the list. Make a list before you go shopping and don’t buy anything that’s not on the list unless it’s a once in a lifetime, killer deal.
    • Tame the impulse. Use a self-enforced waiting period whenever you’re tempted to make an unplanned purchase. Wait for a week and see if you still want the item.
    • Don’t be afraid to ask. Ask to have fees waived, ask for a discount, ask for a lower interest rate on your credit card.
    • Repair rather than replace. You can find directions on how to fix almost anything on the internet. Do your homework, and then bring out your inner handyman.
    • Trade with your neighbors. Borrow tools or equipment that you use infrequently and swap things like babysitting with your neighbors.
    • Swap online. Use sites like PaperBack Swap to trade books, music, and movies with others online. Also, look for local community sites like Freecycle where people give away items they no longer need.
    • Cut back on the meat. Try eating a one or two meatless meals every week or cut back on the meat portions. Meat is usually the most expensive part of the meal.
    • Comparison shop: Get in the habit of checking prices before you buy. See if you can get a better price at another store or look online.

    Remember that saving money is not about being cheap or stingy; it’s about putting money into your bank account rather than giving it to someone else. There are many ways to save money, some you’ve never thought of, and some that won’t appeal or apply to you. Just pick a few of the ideas that sound doable and watch the savings add up. Save big, save small, but save wherever you can.

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    Featured photo credit: Damir Spanic via unsplash.com

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