19 Cheap Vacation Ideas

cheap vacation ideas

This winter business is starting to get really looooonnnnng. I'm sick of being inside and I'm starting to dream of warmer weather and idyllic, beachy getaways. Are you too? Has Spring Fever got ahold of you as well? We don't have anything planned, I've just been dreaming…

My husband, Aaron, is wanting to go on a trip too (he's pretty much ALWAYS ready for a trip!) so he rounded up his favorite cheap vacation tips and ideas for you. xo. Anna

19 Cheap Vacation Ideas…
1. Drive

Drive someone else's car across the country. While this may sound strange it's a totally legit way to hit the road without all the expenses. Many auto transport services need people to drive their clients cars to destinations all across the country. Drivers usually have to stick to an agreed upon itinerary and are given a small budget for gas, but that doesn't mean you still can't do some sight-seeing along the way. Keep in mind, trips are one-way, so if you are looking to keep this trip cheap, more than likely the Greyhound bus will be in your future!  If you are looking for a route check out Autodriveaway.

2. Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to see new places and meet new people for super cheap. The sky is the limit, depending on your ambition level. Find a local or international volunteer opportunity that interests you, then explore the area in your time off. Most often room and board or a small cost of living stipend is provided. Check out JustGive for a start.

3. Work If you are looking for a job and love to travel, there are tons of ways to do both.

  • Consider teaching English in a foreign country (this post How to Get a Job Teaching English Abroad has a lot of great tips)
  • Joining the Peace Corps
  • Work at a youth hostel in the city you'd like to go to
  • If you are fluent in another language, look for opportunities where you could be a translator
  • Try getting a job on a cruise ship and hitting the open ocean (for more upscale travel, try to get aboard a Yacht crew)
  • If you have writing skills, try writing reviews for hotels, resorts or restaurants in exchange for free accommodations or meals. (A note from Anna: This sounds like a dream job to me! Before you can get paid to travel you've got to prove yourself by actually doing some travel writing. It can be as simple as starting up a travel blog or doing contributor posts on travel for blogs the bigger the audience the blog has the better. Then, get yourself some street-cred, insider tips and resources by attending the TBEX conference. I've heard great things about this conference for travel writers.)
  • If you're already on vacation and don't feel like coming back, pick up a casual or odd job, it doesn't have to be anything fancy. Anywork Anywhere is a good place to start. If you already have a job that requires that you to travel often for business, see if you can extend your trips by a day or two so you can check out the local scene.

4. Swap Houses

Have you ever considered swapping your house for some else's in a destination you've always wanted to see? While you will still have to pony up for travel costs, your accommodations will be free and you get to have most (if not all) of the comforts of home. When looking for a swap, see if the potential swappers might also be willing to swap cars that way you can eliminate yet another expense. If you don't have a cool-looking place and if you aren't into strangers touching your personal stuff then this isn't going to be the best idea for you but if you couldn't care less then, get swapping!  Airbnb is the most well-known home rental site but there is also HomeExchange which is more geared toward house swapping.

5. Learn

Put your brain to good use and get free(ish) travel. Enroll in a study abroad program, an internship or apply for an apprenticeship. You could even try listening to a timeshare pitch (even though those are dreadfully boring and painfully high-pressure). Sometimes incentives are offered tp people who are willing to simply endure the sales pitch and sit through the seminars (just don't fall victim to their selling tactics! If you're worried you might, don't risk it.) Another idea is to try applying for grants, scholarships or education fellowships.

6. Hospitality Exchanges

Go for something a little more extreme than swapping your home and become a guest in someone else's home while they are there! Not everyone will be into the idea of crashing on some else's couch, but it's a great way to get free lodging, meet and live like a local, and make connections in foreign countries. If you can't go anywhere at the moment but still feel like having a little adventure in your own town, open up your spare room (or couch) to a hospitality exchange and become a local tour guide for your new friend. Maybe they'll return the favor for you down the road which could pave the road for a free place to stay when you are ready to travel. Check out Couch Surfing or Hospitality Club.

7. Join the Military

Okay, this is a bit extreme (especially if you were just looking for a free vacation) and you probably won't be able to travel on your own terms, but you'll be learning a new vocation, defending our country and earning money while traveling.

8. Get Married

Yes, this is up there with joining the army you if you were just looking for a couple of ways to save a buck on a vacation, but if the nuptials are in your future, a free vacation could be staring you right in your face. Nowadays, people are waiting until later in life to get married and because of this, most individuals are independent and self-sustaining before they marry. This means that less and less couples will actually want (or need) a blender or bread maker as a wedding gift. Couples are forgoing the classic wedding registry and are hoping for donations for their honeymoon instead. Some honeymoon registry resources for you: Honey Fund and Honeymoon Wishes.

9. Friends and Family 

The easiest way score freebies and land free accommodations is to search out and take advantage (not in a dead-beat sort of way) of family and friends that live in different parts of the country or if you are lucky enough, abroad. Be sure that you are ready to repay the favor though when people are traveling through you neck of the woods.

10. Get Lucky

Sure, it's a long shot, and there is no guarantee that this will work, but start entering contests, sweepstakes, and raffles that are giving away free vacations. In order to combat a lot of spam and junk email you'll get, create an email address that you plan on using strictly for this type of thing. If you have an extra dollar, consider playing the lottery. Again, winning the lottery is a long shot (Though it can happen! Remember when Anna interviewed the guy that won 6 million in the Colorado lottery!?), and if that dollar can help go to pay off some debt, than maybe use it for that… but sometimes it's good to offer up a dollar to Lady Luck.

11. Get a Credit Card

If your finances are in good shape and allow you to have a credit card, search out the credit cards that allow you to redeem points for airline miles or give you cash back on your purchases then put those rewards towards a vacation, and consider cards that offer promotional trips when you sign up. Another idea (if you are fiscally sound) is to use your card throughout the month, get the points, than pay off the balance monthly. (A note from Anna: if you are struggling with credit card debt please do not make things worse for yourself by getting another credit card simply for the “rewards” it may offer.)

12. Earn Frequent Flier Miles

No matter how often you travel (but especially if you travel often) be sure that you are sign up for an airlines frequent flyers mileage program.  I don't advocate airline loyalty because I bargain shop around for the best price, but I sign up for almost any frequent flier program I can find. It's often free and over time you'll eventually build up enough points to get a free ticket. Lately, due to the perks (mainly not charging for bags) I've been flying with Southwest (even though I hate their check-in process). I'm about halfway to a free ticket and all I did was sign up for their rewards program.

13. Use Other Redeemable Points

Besides frequent flier miles and credit card points, don't overlook redeemable point programs at hotels, rental car agencies, and even restaurants. The downside is that if you are budgeting traveling you might not be staying in a hotel or eating out often, but it doesn't hurt to sign up for and take advantage of the programs and start earning the points.

14. Membership Discounts

Sometimes to save a bit of money you have to spend a bit. Companies such as AAA or AARP charge for membership services, but you can recoup the membership costs by taking advantage of all the discounts they offer at hotels, restaurants, car rental agencies, museums, just about anywhere.  Plus AAA is super handy if you are on a road trip and break down and they are a great place to score free road maps (they come in handy if you don't have a smart phone!). Look into local agencies as well. Here in Colorado, if you become a member at CPR (Colorado Public Radio) you are entitled to tons of discounts throughout the city.

15. Give Up Your Seat

If you are flying and aren't in a rush to get to or from your destination then be sure to listen for those announcements asking for volunteers to give up their seats on oversold flights. Most often in return voluntarily giving up your seat the airlines will reward you with a free ticket! I do this as often as I can and it's awesome, so be flexible when you travel!

16. Be Vocal

Simply asking for a discount never hurt anyone. You'll never know until you ask, right? (A note from Anna: Merge this tip with the above tip. Even if the flight staff hasn't asked for volunteers you can offer yourself up so if they do need someone to give up their seat you'll be first in line.) Not all places, but a surprising amount, are open to negotiating on the price of services. If you roll into a city late at night a hotel might be willing to give you a major discount to fill a room that would otherwise sit empty. Now, I don't advocate complaining for no reason, especially just to get a discount, but if you are truly unsatisfied and something is not up to the standards that are advertised (be it food, the hotel room, rental car, you name it) voice your opinion and ask for the situation to be rectified. Most companies would rather give you a discount or comp the service than risk negative complaints that could show up on sites like Yelp.

17. Be Holy

If you have a passion for travel and are of the religious type, go on a mission and spread whatever word you deem necessary.

18. Be Adventurous

This idea might not be for the faint of heart but check out the “Rideshares” section on Craigslist. Basically, with a Rideshare people are looking for a companion(s) on long drives. Sometimes these people want help with gas money, help behind the wheel, or they simply don't want to do a road trip alone. While this tip requires major discretion and serious use of safety precautions (be sure to properly research the person you'll be traveling with and if you get even the slightest bit of a weird vibe trust that feeling) this can be a great way to get free or cheap transportation and meet new people. And if you don't really care out the destination, post your own ad asking to join people on their road trips. If you really want to get crazy and throw caution into the wind, stick out your thumb. Yeah, hitchhiking can be dangerous and stupid, but also totally exhilarating (again, be super safe). Check out this blog entry from the Art of Manliness about hitchhiking safely. (Anna says: please don't hitchhike even if it does mean a free ride somewhere!)

19. Become “Famous”

This is right up there with winning the lottery or winning the sweepstakes, but if you have a great personality start applying for reality TV shows. Survivor, The Amazing Race, Naked and Afraid…there are tons of travel shows needing globe trotting contestants. You never know, you might get lucky. Here's info on How to Get on a Reality Show.


Do you know any other free or cheap vacation ideas?

P.S. I LOVE Airbnb because it lets me feel like a local while also helping me save money on food costs (since I can use the kitchen!) CLICK HERE to get $55 for you to use on your 1st trip!