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How To Take A Frugal Summer Vacation

How To Take A Frugal Summer Vacation
Candice Elliott Apr 24, 2018
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Being frugal doesn’t mean you can’t take a vacation this summer. But as frugal true believers, we don’t want to spend more than we have to. You don’t have to. We have your frugal summer vacation all planned!

You Need a Break

It is well documented that taking a break from work and everyday life is good for us.

It’s good for our mental and physical health. But when we hear the word, “vacation” many of us think it’s out of our reach. That vacations always involve expensive international flights and exorbitantly priced resort hotels.

But a vacation doesn’t have to be expensive, and you don’t have to spend a lot to have a great one. You might not even have to leave your town!


What is the difference between having a frugal food budget and spending a fortune on food? Planning. When you meal plan, you save money. The same is true of a vacation. If you don’t want it to bust your budget, you have to do a lot of planning.

The good news is that planning a vacation is one of the great pleasures of life, so it’s not going to be a hardship.

The starting point of a frugal summer vacation is setting your budget. You need to figure out how much money you can spend and then choose a destination and everything that comes after it. So take a look at your budget and see how much you can spend on your vacation.

Calendar Timing

Timing is often more important than the destination. Certain times of the year are more expensive to travel than others.

Most of us all familiar with the big ones, major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, long weekends like Labor and Memorial Day and most of the summer since parents want to vacation when their kids are out of school.

But beware of other times of the year when airlines and hotels are likely to raise prices, like spring break.

In the US, we don’t get much vacation, and some of us don’t get any paid vacation at all, so it’s understandable that we want to travel at those times when we don’t have to use what precious vacation days we do have.

But do the math. Are you spending more on increased travel costs than you would be making if you were working? If you are, it might make more sense to use your vacation days to travel at a less expensive time of the year, even if those days are unpaid.

In the summer, the big holidays will be more expensive to travel but the weeks near them are often cheaper since everyone has just done their traveling. Look for dates just before and after Memorial and Labor Days and the Fourth of July.

Destination Timing

Timing also matters in specific locations. Flights to and hotels in and around Orlando, Florida are likely to be higher during times when kids are on break from school. If you want to go to Disney World, early June would be cheaper high summer.

The same is true of coming to New Orleans. It’s much cheaper to come during the summer months when it’s hot and sticky (honestly, it’s not that bad) than to come during Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest. Most destinations have an “off-season” when everything from flights to hotels to food will be cheaper.

In fact, if you are looking for a frugal summer vacation destination, New Orleans is great. Not only are the flights and hotels cheaper but for the entire month of August, dozens of restaurants offer low-cost price-fixed menus at both lunch and dinner.

And you will have the whole city to yourself. Even the locals don’t go out much in August, but we have air conditioning just like the rest of the country, I promise!

If you can travel outside of the broader peak times and the local peak times for your destination, your vacation will be much less expensive.

Surprise Me

Sometimes we just need to get away somewhere too far to drive, and the flight is going to be a big part of your vacation budget. If you are the type of person who thinks it would be fun to throw a dart at a map and let where it lands decide where you’re going to go, you might like Google Flights.

You can just pull up the map and enter dates and see flights to destinations all over the world. If you see one that fits your budget to a place you’re interested in traveling to, you can choose your destination that way rather than trying to make dates and places fit your budget.

You can also set alerts if there is a specific destination you want to travel to and you will get a notification when the prices drop. Google Flights will also play around with travel dates for you.

Showing you that a flight is $80 cheaper if you leave a day earlier than the date you indicated in your search for example.

Lots of Options

Thanks to the internet and the sharing economy, we have so many more choices when it comes to selecting accommodations. In many places, a hotel will be the most expensive option. You can often stay in an Airbnb or VRBO for less than a hotel, and you’ll have a lot more room and amenities too.

Hostelworld has a comprehensive guide to hostels all over the world, and your only option isn’t to stay in a big dorm style room with strangers. Many hostels offer private rooms. Hostels are also a great way to meet fellow travelers.

If you are looking to go the super frugal route, you can even see if the destination you chose has listings on Couchsurfing. You get to stay in someone’s home or apartment for free! Sometimes you are literally camped out on their couch, but many hosts offer private bedrooms.

Stay For Free

You can even take a vacation that includes free room and board so long as you don’t mind doing a little work. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunites on Organic Farms. The organization has hosts all over the world.

Travelers stay and work on an organic farm in exchange for free room and board. While you are a guest, you will help on the farm and learn organic farming techniques.

If farming is not your cup of tea, you can check out Workaway. Work Away is similar to WWOOF. You stay with a host and work in exchange for free room and board, but the organization offers a much wider range of opportunities.

You can do everything from clean rooms in a bed and breakfast in France to help with the olive harvest in Italy.

If you want a truly local experience and at a bargain price, just paying for your transportation costs and having some pocket money, you can’t go wrong with either of these options. You will really get a glimpse of local life.

Take it in Trade

If you live in a place that is desirable to vacationers, you can set up a home exchange on sites like Guest to Guest and Home Exchange. You and other members of the site can arrange to swap homes for a vacation.

Like staying in an Airbnb or VRBO, you get a more authentic experience of your destination than you would have in a hotel, you have more room and more amenities.

You and your exchange partner might even agree to exchange cars saving the cost of a rental if you are not in an area with good public transit or a lot of restaurants and activities within walking distance.

We All Have to Eat

And eating is one of the best parts of being on vacation. But there is no question it can be expensive but only if you aren’t resourceful and creative! There is no need to eat every meal and snack in a restaurant.

If you are in a home, you have access to a kitchen so you can cook some of your own meals. Even better if there is a farmer’s market nearby.

It’s fun to try your hand at cooking with ingredients from other places. Even if you are in a hotel or hostel if you have a small refrigerator and a microwave you can at least have breakfast in your room.

Milk and cereal, yogurts, peanut butter, and jelly. To me, breakfast is always the least exciting meal of the day, so I don’t want to spend any money on it. If you get hungry while out and about, you can bring some snacks like energy bars and nuts from home to keep in your day bag.

Find out if your location has any food trucks. Food trucks are usually cheaper than a restaurant, and the food is often very fresh and innovative. If the weather is beautiful, buy some bread, cheese, and fruit from a farmer’s market or even just a regular grocery store and have a picnic in a park.

Of course, you are going to want to eat some of your meals in a restaurant, and this is where your planning and research come in. Researching restaurants is my favorite part of planning a vacation!

There are so many places to do this, Yelp, Zagat, but I prefer reviews by locals, so I check out the restaurant reviews of local newspapers and magazines. Ask the locals too.

It’s a great way not only to find a good restaurant with excellent prices but a wonderful way to strike up conversations too. And people love to talk about food. In New Orleans, where I live, being able to guide tourists to a good meal is a point of pride, and we will do it even if you don’t ask!

Look for good happy hours too. As long as you aren’t strict about meal times, you can eat and drink your fill really cheaply at the right happy hour.

If there are some really high-end restaurants that you want to try, go for lunch rather than dinner. The lunch menus are often the same as or similar to the dinner menus, and the portions are usually the same size, but lunch is cheaper than dinner.

Many restaurants will offer a prixe fixe menu as well. You can choose two or three courses from a limited menu for a set price.

One of the best ways to keep your restaurant bills low when you are traveling or not traveling is to skip the alcoholic drinks; they really pad the bill. This is definitely not my preferred method of having a frugal vacation, but it is a method!

Frugal Things to Do

When you’re on vacation you will want to do things like visit museums, historic houses or castles, take a boat trip, jet ski, or paddle board. All of those things can get expensive though, and you don’t want your activities to bust your budget.

Check out a venue’s website to see if they offer free days or discounts if you belong to a certain organization like AAA or are over or under a certain age.

If you have a membership to a museum, zoo, or botanical garden in your own town, those organizations in other places may have a reciprocity agreement, and you can get in free with your hometown membership.

Read the local newspaper in your destination for free events like concerts or art gallery shows. And check out sites like Groupon for discounts on activities.

My favorite vacation activity is to sit at a café, and people watch so for the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, you can spend an enjoyable hour checking out the local life.

Stay Close to Home

Not every vacation has to involve getting on an airplane and jetting off to an exotic locale. Most of us have someplace within driving distance that would make a great vacation destination.

Decide your parameters, to some people two hours is a long drive, and some people can do six standing on their heads, and find a place within them.

I spent a long weekend in Pine Mountain, Georgia which is about six hours from New Orleans. We biked, hiked, and saw a birds of prey show in Calloway Gardens, saw the home that FDR vacationed in and died in, and the spring-fed pool where he swam to ease his Polio symptoms (I’m a sucker for anything history related).

We also spent a couple of hours touring a winery and tasting their wares which was totally free! It wasn’t an exotic vacation but it was fun and relaxing, and I did not have to suffer any jet lag!

Stay Local

Sometimes you want to get away from home, not your town but your actual home! There is always something at home that you should be doing, the dishes, the laundry, mowing the grass.

Sometimes you just want to get away from those responsibilities without all the hassle of the actual traveling part of a vacation.

So book a hotel right in your town! And because you aren’t splashing out on airfare, you can afford to spend a little more on the hotel and get a swanky one with robes and mints on the pillow.

If you think you need a little more luxury in your life but don’t have a big budget, this is a good way to get some.

You can just take a bath in the big, sunken tub, or lounge by the pool with a trashy novel, or put on that fluffy robe and order up some room service.

Some hotels offer packages where the cost of your room includes things like spa treatments and bottles of champagne so even more luxury if you can find one of those deals.

If you do feel like leaving that grand hotel room, do all the cheesy tourist stuff that you never do in your own town. I lived in New York City for 15 years and never went to the top of the Empire State building. It just never occurred to me as a local to do it, but as a tourist, it would be on the top of my list.

Some people take it a step further and do a “staycation” in their own home. I don’t recommend this.

There are just too many things that you “should be doing” like painting the bedroom or cleaning out the closets to make staying at home any kind of relaxing, enjoyable break and that is what a vacation is meant to be.

Make it Happen

Don’t let another year go by when you think about taking a vacation and talk about taking a vacation but don’t actually go on vacation. If you think you can’t afford it, this article has proved you wrong! There are lots of ways to make taking a vacation frugal.

Summer is still a few months away so you have plenty of time to plan your trip and save up or make some extra money before it’s here. So pack your bags and hit the road!

Candice Elliott

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