The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Vacation on a Budget

“Vacation, all I ever wanted…”

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Planning a vacation is on the forefront of my mind lately because it is one of the most exciting things happening in my life at the moment! My one-year anniversary and my partner’s Birthday are both happening next week and we finally took the financial leap and decided to go on a trip.

I like to live a champagne life but I definitely have a boxed wine budget. Can you relate? I want this vacation to be awesome because who knows when we will be able to justify the expense again? Not to mention, we deserve a good time!

Do you want to plan an amazing, adventurous, and inexpensive trip? I’ll teach you how from start to finish!


Ready to go on the vacation of a lifetime? Want to have your best adventure yet? What if I told you that dream could come true without breaking the bank!


The Pre-Planning Stage

  • Set a Budget
  • Pick  a Location
  • Decide on Mode(s) of Travel

Set a Budget

Like I said, I am living life on a boxed wine budget. But regardless of whether you can spend a lot or a little, it’s not a bad idea to set a dollar amount on how much you are willing to spend on your vacay. If you are not careful, spending can get very out of hand and end up breaking the bank while you are there!

Taking time to plan out your trip in advance can really help curb impulse spending at your location and allow you to get more bang for your buck. Spending the upcoming week or two keeping your eyes out for deals could mean getting a great experience you wouldn’t have been able to afford.

When setting your budget, be realistic. Figure out the minimum amount you could spend to do the kinds of things you want. And keep in mind, regardless of how carefully you plan, you will most likely go over budget. So give yourself some wiggle room!

Pick a Location

Once you have set that budget, you can start looking at locations to take your trip. Can you afford airfare? Does your budget allow you to leave the country? Are you better off staying inside the US (Or your own country)? Maybe stick somewhere that you can drive to or take a train to? Is your budget more friendly for “stay-cations?”

Personally, as this is my first post-grad vacation, I am choosing to stay somewhere within driving distance. It keeps expenses low since the only travel cost is gas money (shoutout to Nissan Sentra’s for being hella fuel efficient).

Decide of Mode(s) of Travel

Before you can start planning your trip in detail, it would be good to decide how much you are willing to invest in basic travel expenses. For instance, do you need to reserve funds for a rental car? If you have your own vehicle there, will you need to pay for parking? Is there reliable public transportation where you are going that you could buy a pass for? Do you need an Uber or taxi budget?

(Uber is a great, more-inexpensive way to get from place to place when you are traveling than taxi cabs. And if you are in your twenties, you may be doing some drinking, right? You need a safe way home. Use this link to get your first ride for free!)
I think this part tends to get left out of the budget because it is not fun to think about. But it’s very important, nonetheless.


The Research Stage

  • Find Lodging
  • Find Exciting Activities
  • Find Restaurants

Find Lodging

Hotels can be awesome and luxurious… but luxury comes at a cost. This article is steered towards 20-something’s that likely have little to spend. Nothing wrong with that! Luckily, there are totally cheaper options out there that will do the trick.

Option 1: Airbnb

If you haven’t heard of this awesome website/app, you need to get out from that rock you are living under! Basically, “hosts” are able to rent out a room, an apartment, or their entire home to guests for a cost that ends up being much cheaper than a hotel. (with a lot less fees, too!)

Hosts are vetted and anywhere you want to go, there are going to be places to stay with a dozen or more confirmed reviews. So you know what you are getting!

We booked a studio with all kinds of amenities, (seriously, way more than we would have gotten in a hotel room), in a major US city, for $68 a night. Roach-infested motels don’t run that cheap near a major city! Do yourself a favor and consider staying in an Airbnb on your next vacation!


Option 2: Camping

I know I just turned a bunch of you off, and that’s fine! But I’m Midwest girl and the thought of “roughing it” somewhere beautiful is actually pretty enticing to me. The average campground is going to run you about $10 a night if you really need to save a few bucks.

If you are planning a trip with your significant other, this could be a real bonding experience. I’ve camped with my partner and I have to say, it was pretty cute.

For $50 or less, you can get a quality, easy to set up tent like this one. Then you’d just need an air mattress and everything else you can pull together from home! Mother Nature is free therapy, right?


Option 3: Go Somewhere you know Someone

Simple solution to the lodging cost: travel somewhere you can couch surf! You gotta have an old college buddy or extended family member that lives somewhere cool. Bribe them however necessary to crash at their pad for a weekend!


Find Exciting Activities

Now for the fun part of planning – finding cool things to do! This is totally a personal preference type-of-thing but here’s a small list of possible options:

  • Museums
  • Sporting Events
  • Fairs and Festivals
  • Shopping
  • Concerts
  • Theater
  • Brewery Tours
  • Wine Tasting
  • Spa Treatments
  • Hiking

Most places you are going to visit will have a myriad of organized activities and special places to visit that you can take part in. Taking the time to discuss what you might want to do while you are there with your travel partner will save so much stress when you arrive. There’s nothing worse than wasting precious vacation time scouring the internet trying to decide what to do.

You know I got your back! Here are some places to look online ahead of time to find what’s up where you are going:

  • Trip Advisor
  • Check the City’s Website
  • Google Search “Events” for the dates you will be there
  • Find Tourist information/lists
  • Search Events on Facebook

There’s no way you do all that and don’t come up with activities that sound exciting to you! One final place you should really check out is Groupon. I’m sure you know what it is, a great website/app that provides you will coupons and deals. Set your location and select “Things to Do” to find bargains!


Find Restaurants

It’s a good idea to research some restaurants to try out and possibly even see if you could snag a coupon from Groupon. I’d say have a list because when the meal comes, you might not be craving tacos like you anticipated.

Still, it’s good to see if those restaurants have daily specials or events that make them more desirable for a certain day. For instance, maybe they have a live band on Friday’s or Bottomless Brunch on Sunday.


Pro Tip: One amazing way to save money on vacations is to eat some of your meals “at home.” Restaurants get really expensive so having breakfast or lunch options where you are staying is an easy way to save a buck. Not to mention, having some snacks for late night or between meal cravings is luxurious, right? Get a box of cereal and some milk or PB&J ingredients at a grocery store when you first get to town and get it out of the way.

Super Pro Tip: Stop at the liquor store also and pick up whatever you fancy. We are twenty-something’s… part of vacation is at least one night of going out. Pregame “at home” as well so getting tipsy isn’t so pricy!


Make Your Itinerary

FINALLY! You did it! You did all the research, painful as it may have been, and you are ready to take your trip! One last step and I promise this one is easy!

Compile all that research into a schedule so you can have a visual representation of what your trip will hold. This is when you can make final decisions about what you will be doing and where you will be eating each day. And having a schedule ensures that you actually do the things you sought out to. (I say this for fellow lazy people like myself who can make all kinds of excuses just to stay in bed all day)

I highly suggest using a template on Google Sheets for this. (let me know if you’d like a tutorial on how to use this google app!) There is one template called “Schedule” and another called “Travel Planner.” Either would be a great, free organization tool that can easily be shared with your travel partner(s).

I have been adding to the daily schedule template which you can see below:




Closing Thoughts

Vacations don’t have to be stressful and overly expensive. Careful planning and thoughtful organization can make a huge difference in the quality time you get to have on your trip. Do a little work ahead of time and watch the benefits rock your world! 










Have any guidance for me on my upcoming adventure? I’d love to hear it in the comments!

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  1. In order for my husband and I to travel together the itinerary is a must. He’s a saver and I’m a spender so deciding what we’re going to spend and on what has been a life saver. So these tips are not just helpful for your wallet but also sanity. Great read!

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