30 Essential Tips for Cheap Vacations

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We are firm believers that everyone deserves a good vacation. However, the combo of a hotel, attraction tickets, and flights can be prohibitive. There are alternatives if you can be flexible and creative. Try out some of these tips for cheap vacations and avoid breaking the bank.

1. Camping

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Everyone is not outdoorsy, but camping sites have come a long way! State parks and chain camping locations offer shower and bathroom facilities, often providing access to common areas with activities. It's a cheap way to stay if you need somewhere to lay your head. 

2. Crash With Friends

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It's all in who you know. If you want to get away but don't have a destination nailed down, consider places with friends willing to host you.

3. Share a Rental

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Are you longing to stay at the beachfront but can't swing it alone? Enlist another family with whom you are close and split the home rental cost. It's got the added perk of splitting food costs and having playmates for the kids. 

4. House Share or Pet Sitting 

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Consider enrolling in a house share program such as Home Exchange. If you're a pet lover and traveling domestically, consider Trusted Housesitters. You can score a free place to stay in exchange for pet care.  

5. Hostels With Family Accommodations

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If you want to go to Europe cheaply, consider a hostel. Some are quite nice and have larger rooms just for families. 

6. Choose a Hotel With Money Saving Perks

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Complimentary breakfast is becoming standard at many hotel chains. Other perks to look for are free shuttles to local attractions and an indoor pool. A valuable perk is in-house entertainment, such as movie nights and crafts for kids on site.

 7. Travel Mid-Week

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Weekday stays are almost always cheaper than visits that last over a weekend. An added benefit is that attractions in the area may also be less crowded. 

8. Join a Hotel's Loyalty Program

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Score some members-only rates and rack up loyalty rewards. Research the various hotel programs and determine which fits your traveling style best. 

9. Boondocking 

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Boondocking is also called “dry camping.” Government agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, the National Forest Service, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife allow free camping on public lands in designated areas. Pitch a tent, park your RV, or sleep in your van, but no facilities are available. While not technically boondocking, Walmart allows people to park in their parking lot overnight.

10. Try Public Transportation

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Your destination might have a fantastic public transport system. Buses, subways, and trollies are frequently available in tourist destinations. Buy a pass for the length of your stay and save on car rental. 

11. Pick the Flight First

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Use a tool such as Google Flights or Skyscanner to pick your destination based on where the cheap flights are. If you are flexible, this can be a fun way to decide on your destination while saving cash. 

12. Use Flight and Gas Trackers

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Set up price alerts if you've already decided on a destination or booked the flight. You can use the tools mentioned in the last tip to see if you can snag the lowest fare to your destination. If you're road-tripping, install an app such as GasBuddy to alert you to upcoming gas stations and their pricing. 

13. Peer-To-Peer Car Sharing

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Turo and Getaround are two apps offering an alternative to traditional car rentals. Plug in your destination and see if anyone is leasing a car near you. Some vehicles can be rented by the day, even by the hour. This can be a huge convenience.

14. Scope Out All Available Airports

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Play around with flights to airports surrounding your destination. Some travelers have found that flights into and out of smaller airports are cheaper. A coworker saw the opposite to be true. A USA Today article reports that smaller airports near larger metro areas are more affordable, while smaller airports in more remote locations are more expensive. 

15. Destinations as Main Attractions

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Places such as beaches or mountains offer built-in entertainment for cheap. If you're content to spend most of your time on the beach or hiking and biking in the mountains, you have the makings for cheap vacations

16. Visit National Parks

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National and state parks are fantastic bargains. Not all of them offer lodging, but the parks do offer cheap or free things to do for the curious and active. 

17. Take the Road Less Traveled

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Choosing lesser-known vacation spots is a great way to save money. You might be pleasantly surprised at what smaller towns have to offer. 

18. Love Your Library

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If you're traveling within your state, find out what your local library offers. Passes to parks, museums, and other local attractions are frequently available. 

19. Go for the Discount

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Google for coupon codes for attractions. Remember that sites like Groupon can offer significant savings.

20. Free Is Better Than Cheap

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Do a Google search for “Free Things to do in________” It's a great way to find fun things to do that often get overshadowed by more prominent attractions. 

21. Embrace Nature

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If the weather cooperates, take advantage of outdoor activities. Swimming, hiking, and fishing are fun. Biking can also be cheap if you bring your own bike.

22. Take a Free Walking Tour

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Search for free walking tours in your destination. Students or interns often give these, so be sure you tip well!

23. Use Your Credit Card Perks

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Bank of America cardholders get free admission to select attractions on the first weekend of every month. Some cards offer their users discounts through select merchants.

24. Rush for Tickets

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If you want to see a Broadway show, look into rush tickets. Some theaters sell discounted tickets if seats are available an hour or so before a live performance. 

25. Reciprocal Admission

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Do you have a membership at a local museum? Check to see if your membership is honored at a facility in your destination. Many museums, zoos, and botanical gardens participate in a reciprocal admission program. 

26. Afternoon Tickets

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Some attractions offer discounted tickets if you arrive later in the day. You'll have less time at the attraction, but you can save a lot of cash. 

27. Plan Ahead

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Sometimes, you can snag some great last-minute deals. However, it's always a better bet to book in advance. Waiting until the last minute might cost even more.

28. T-Mobile Tuesdays

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Look for discounts from your tech providers! T-Mobile provides its customers with different discount deals every week. 

29. Get Rewards for Dining Out

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If you're going to be eating out, use the Seated app. You can make reservations through the app. When you upload your receipt from participating restaurants, you'll get a percentage of the bill back in rewards. Cash them out for a variety of gift cards. 

30. Embrace Senior Discounts

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Organizations such as AARP offer discounts on travel if you book through them. Many hotels, restaurants, and attractions offer senior discounts if you're not an AARP member. 

Cheap Vacations Are Possible

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The key to planning cheap vacations is to scour every resource you have available to you. From credit card perks to alternative lodging options, you can make cheap vacations a reality. Think about all the new family traditions you could start. Try something new, and you could be pleasantly surprised! 


Author: Amy Albers


Amy Albers is a wife and a mom of three young adult boys living in a suburb of Atlanta. She loves road trips and the great outdoors but doesn't hate luxury hotels. Amy has road-tripped extensively around the southeastern U.S. but loves exploring any new destination. She's also a genealogy and Georgia history librarian who is a sucker for all historic buildings. You can see her ramblings on Instagram at Exploring the Amysphere and her reads at Reading the Amysphere.