I don't know how it happened, but summer's just around the corner, and vacation season is upon us. Mine's beginning with a Memorial Day Weekend roadtrip, which has gotten me thinking about budgeting, frugality, and vacations.
For starters, how much do you budget for vacations? I know it comes down to personal priorities, but do you have any rules of thumb? I always feel like I'm pulling a number out of the air.
Then, of course, you've got to squeeze as much fun as you can out of that budget. What are your tips? I've got a lot to learn, but here are some of mine:
- Eat as many non-restaurant meals as you can handle without feeling deprived. For me, that usually means eating out for one meal a day. You don't want to make your own food for every meal but resent it, and often eating local cuisine is a big part of enjoying your vacation. But if you're eating at restaurants so often only because of habit or because you didn't plan ahead, that's a waste of money. Pack a cooler from home, bring and buy foods that don't need refrigeration, and/or don't hesitate to stop by the grocery store instead of a restaurant.
- Eat out for lunch instead of dinner, if you're only eating out for one meal a day. Lunch menus are usually cheaper, plus you've got a better chance that your leftovers will keep for the few hours until dinner rather than overnight. (Try trading leftovers if you don't want to eat the same thing for two meals in a row!)
- Consider camping, if you own or can borrow a tent. Vacations centered around camping are fun on their own (and conducive to being especially low-cost because you're often in the middle of nowhere, where you can find your fun in nature instead of being tempted by pricey entertainment options), but even if your vacation is to a big city, you can often find somewhere to stay outside the city, or at least camp if you need to stay overnight on your way somewhere.
- Plan trips to places where you have family or friends, if you can. Not only do you get to spend time with people you care about, but nothing beats a free place to stay. (Or almost-free, since you should probably treat them to something nice in thanks!) Plus, being locals, they will probably have great tips on the best things to do and see and the best places to eat in their area.
- Be a tourist in your own backyard. You can do this on your own, but it's especially fun when you're hosting friends or family. The attractions in your area have that extra sparkle when you're with people enjoying them for the first time. If you're taking days off to share with your visitors, you can take advantage of things like museum free days that you usually have to miss since you're working. And you get to spend time with people you love and don't get to see regularly. It's obviously low-cost for you since you don't have to travel and can sleep in your own bed at night, plus your guests will likely be willing to reciprocate when you visit their area.
- Consider driving instead of flying. Obviously this depends on how far you're going and how much time you've got-- and with the price of gas, it's not as good a deal as it used to be. But it still usually saves money, especially since you don't need to rent a car when you reach your destination. And the more people who are traveling, the better deal it is. But don't forget to factor in the wear and tear on your car. (Here's one post about this question.)
- How about a volunteering vacation? Especially if you want to travel to a foreign country, working as a volunteer can be a cheaper alternative (don't expect it to be free, though-- you'll still have to pay for airfare and probably some fees). You'll be working for a good cause, and you'll have some free time to explore the country on your own. And through your volunteering, you'll probably get to know the country and its people in a much deeper sense than you would as an ordinary tourist. This is something I definitely want to look into for the future, but I haven't tried it yet and so I don't have much wisdom to share. Here's a link to start with, though.