Taking a vacation on a budget is way better than chicken-induced indigestion. It’s the difference between a butt-burning wing and a golden nugget of happiness.
The difference is the delivery.
As a chronic explorer who makes less than the average American, to get my vacation fix I had to craft hacks for savings.
Less fun money doesn’t mean less fun. Instead, it means I’m a living version of Extreme Couponing but without the dumpster diving.
Golden Food Stash
I love food. I do! But, food can be a suck on my soul like Cousin Eddy from National Lampoon’s Vacation – awkwardly persistent and consistently uncomfortable. Food entails tiny, persistent complications like what to eat, where, and is everyone agreeing to this BEFORE I make it?
I try to settle these issues with food planning. Normally, I make a grocery list of ingredients that we use in our weekly recipes. For vacations, I plan meals. Rarely do I expect to eat out. Instead, I bring a bunch of freeze-dried food with a hearty helping of snacks.
Freeze-dried food is easy to prepare, just add scalding water. No refrigeration, condiments, or complaints required. Since our vacation on a budget involves a heavy helping of camping, this is campground dining at its finest. If we happened to be in a motel, only Mr. BuLL, me, and the trashcan know about our extra efficient dining.
Healthy(ish) snacks are how we survive lunch. From hiking trails to visiting bizarre sculpture gardens, packable snacks make lunch lighter, cheaper, and walking friendly.
If we are feeling the deep-fried life, we splurge and enjoy the trappings of fresh sushi, sticky treats, and artery-clogging burgers. It is far from frequent, more like an occasional treat on top of the vacation-on-a-budget pie.
Crispy Shelter Stash
Of all the vacation expenses, paying for a place to rest is near the top. Ways I save on shelter are picking locations that are outside the main attractions or have fewer amenities.
Yellowstone National Park is a prime-cut example. We love this place with its abundant wildlife, mountain views, and geysers that will happily blast scalding water in your face.
It helps that we live in the same state.
Yellowstone is cheap compared to the costs of Disney World where a week pass at Yellowstone is $35, which pays for one-third of the day pass to Disney World. My magical kingdom is nature, where life is less expensive, and trees outnumber humans.
Even with a meager entrance fee, staying in the park is expensive; the fancy hotel rooms will set us back a couple hundred, unlike the cheaper campgrounds.
The cheapest place around is actually a few miles down the road at a campground whose amenities are a vault toilet, a campfire ring, and a spot devoid of tiny boulders. This luxurious site is $7 per night.
Does the siren song of onsite attractions appeal? Yes. But, only a hardy few are proud to become homeless in a location that lacks running water and first-world problems. I am one of those few who takes my vacation on a budget like a food-eating champ on a grotesque winning streak – it won’t be pretty, but my budget is winning.
Hot Priced Tours
Cutting costs is easy with competition, and there is plenty of competition with places to stay and food. Tours, activities, and human-guided shenanigans, however, rarely have oodles of options.
I occasionally partake in these expensive, limited options. Sometimes I need a little nugget of delight in my life. Some of my fondest vacation memories are splurging on tickets to the top of the Eiffel Tower, paying full price for an unexpected dinner show in Alaska, and saying yes to anything that starts with chocolate and ends with strawberries.
Sometimes money needs to be spent to capture the glow of a well-lived life.
With fewer options, outfitters have me by the adrenaline-inducing glands, and their prices reflect it! In such instances, I ask for discounts or research seasonal price changes. Online tools like Groupon will sometimes have discounts for popular activities. Using credit card rewards is a healthy option too.
Paying full price for an epic travel-induced-expense is where I practice feeling content. I try to get a discount, but sometimes I have to settle for sticker price.
We like to spice up high-dollar activities with healthy heapings of free activities like hiking, wildlife ogling, and other fun ramblings that don’t involve money.
As with any greasy encounter, a healthy savings can survive any budget-clogging experience.
Vacations on a budget are much better than frustration with a chicken nugget.
Finding ways to save through food, lodging, and activities takes extra effort and some greasy experiences. However, saving money for the next vacation is well worth any poultry-induced indigestion.
Do you get frustrated with tiny meat nuggets? Are you a vacation-on-a-budget pro like the reigning champ of Nugget Eating? Tell me your secrets in the comment box below!