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Ways to Spend Less on Vacation

save money on vacation

Bainbridge Island from the ferry boat

Summer is here. It’s time for cookouts, flowers, and vacation! We have just over a month until our Hawaii vacation, and aside from the flight, I am looking forward to every minute. I strongly believe vacation time is essential to well being. I also believe people can let vacation spending get way out of hand, before, during, and after vacation. You don’t have to go into debt or spend all your savings if you can find ways to spend less on vacation.

You Don’t Need a New Wardrobe To Take a Vacation

It’s fun to have new clothes to wear on vacation, but it certainly isn’t necessary. I didn’t buy clothes for most of last year, but that didn’t stop me from going on a several trips. The good things about travel is that you usually don’t know anyone where you’re going, so if you wear the same jeans that you’ve had for years, no one will know (unless they are acid washed and penny rolled). I have no problem with necessary clothes shopping and looking for good deals, but I can’t tell you how many people I’ve known, prior self included,  who frantically rush around at the last minute to buy vacation clothes. Look in your closet. Odds are, unless you’re going to Antarctica, you probably have something you can wear.

You Don’t Have to Eat Out on Vacation

Eating out, especially for a family or if you order alcohol, costs big bucks. I love to eat out, especially on vacation, but it doesn’t have to break your budget. We always try to stay in a place with some sort of kitchen. Having a fridge and microwave or stove is a huge money saver. Even if you still eat out one meal a day, you can prepare the other two to eat on the go. I bet we saved $100 in one day alone by not eating at Sea World.

Another option is looking for a hotel that provides meals. In the US, many family friendly places like Homewood Suites or Residence Inn serve breakfast every day plus dinner Monday through Thursday. The food might not be 5 star, but it’s not bad, especially when you don’t have to pay extra for it.

Another thing that often happens after vacation is continued eating out for the first day or two because there is no food in the house. Keeping a stash of easy non-perishable or frozen food means a quick meal when you get home. A little planning can save the cost of fast food or take out meals.

There Are Coupons for Everything

If you are visiting and attraction of any sort, do a search for coupons. If you can’t find a coupon, is it cheaper to buy online or go during off peak hours? We are going to the Glenwood Hot Springs next week, and it will save about $15 to go after 6 PM. Who wants to sit in the hot springs during the hottest part of the day anyhow? Signing up for emails from particular restaurants or attractions is also a great way to find discounts. If you pay full price at the door, you are probably wasting money. It takes some of the spontaneity out of travel when you plan, but I’d rather have money than surprises any day.

Stay Off the Beaten Path

Popular tourist attractions can be great, but they can be expensive. Often you are paying for a convenience. There are all kinds of guided trips all over Colorado. I’m sure they do a good job, but if you have a map, read up on weather and altitude safety, and can walk, you are often able to see many of the best spots on your own. The national forests are also free for the most part. If you’re in the city, try to visit on week days or find an alternative to the mainstream. When we were in Seattle last year, we really wanted to take a cruise around the bay, but at $40-$100 per person, it was pretty pricey. Instead, we took the commuter ferry out to Bainbridge Island and back. It was less than $10 per person, and I bet we got the same views as the tour boat. Plus, we got to walk and explore the island.

vacation off the beaten path

Go off the beaten path. This one is free!

Use Reward Points

I almost left this section out because I know many of my readers don’t use credit cards. I respect that, but if you are responsible and pay off the bill every month, using credit card rewards allows you to travel for much less or even free. Another bonus I’ve found is that when you book a hotel room with points, often you don’t  pay taxes and resort fees. For our upcoming stay in Hawaii, those costs would have been about $100 a day in addition to our room cost. Since we booked with points, it’s completely free. If you do use credit cards and don’t like to keep track of travel reward programs, I think you’re crazy you can use a card like the Barclay Arrival Plus, which offers 2.2% back in travel rewards for every dollar spent. You can use it for any sort of travel expense, which is amazingly handy. We’ll be renting a car in Hawaii for free with this perk.

I hope everyone gets to take some sort of vacation this summer. Whether you are camping or staying in a luxury resort, having time off to do something different or nothing at all is truly priceless.

What’s your biggest money saver for vacation this summer? Would you rather have several budget trips or one blow out extravagant one? 

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. When we go for a vacation in another place, I always make sure that I bring a bottled refilling water with us, especially that I have a seven year old daughter who always wants to drink. And I don’t usually buy clothes, I already own a lot of clothes so buying a new clothes is my least things to do.

  2. You really can find a coupon for most everything. The RetailMeNot app is great for checking for coupons on the go! Thanks for sharing- and have fun in Hawaii!!!!

    • I use RetailMeNot for just about everything we do or buy. I’m amazed that there is usually at least 10% off of everything.

  3. I didn’t know that about booking hotel rooms with points- that you don’t pay tax or resort fees. That’s pretty awesome! We love the Barclaycard but we don’t have any hotel cards yet.

    • Yes, it’s a great perk. I’ve discovered that with Holiday Inns, you often have the option to buy points cheaply for your stay. It costs about the same to pay normally or buy points and book, but if you buy the points and book that way, there are no taxes. It’s a pretty good saving since lodging taxes can be really high depending on where you are.

  4. Great tips Kim! We use quite a few of them ourselves, especially the rewards points. We also like to stay somewhere that has a kitchen or offers a breakfast at the very least. Those hotels tend to have larger room anyway, which works out great for us with the kids and then we really only buy dinner as opposed to three meals per day.

    • I can’t imagine eating out every day with 5 people. Even if 3 are kid’s menu meals, that’s still a lot. If you stayed somewhere with free breakfast and dinner, the hotel is probably not making any money on your family!

  5. My biggest money saving trip is to not go anywhere. LOL! Actually I try to visit places if I can where I know someone that I can try to stay with. For instance Hawaii. For years I knew someone who lived there who I stayed with, but she moved. So I waited and now I have another friend who lives there. Worth the wait!

  6. These are great points!! I think it’s important to remember that you don’t have to impress your kids. They are just so happy that you have taken time off with them and that you are not working, that they really don’t care what you do at the end of the day. My son wouldn’t know the difference between the pool at the Ritz or the pool at the Red Roof Inn. He just likes staying in a bed that’s not his own and spending time with us.

  7. We are on a last minute long road trip right now, and we are doing a lot of the things in this article for our trip! We plan on doing a few camp outs near national parks, making a lot of our own meals, and more. I’m excited!

    • I love national parks. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad experience in or around one, aside from the two screeching cats in the campground at Bryce Canyon…..

  8. Great tips Kim! You are right about not needing to eat out. We cook a lot when we go on vacation. I do ask for recommendation from some of the locals in order to find if there is a really good place to eat that I should try.

    • That’s a great tip. At our VRBO house last summer, the owner left a list of local favorites. It was very helpful.

  9. Great tips, Kim! I agree everyone needs/deserve some sort of break. Hawaii is one of our favorite places and the first big trip we took as a family. We didn’t do much besides veg out, but the girls were pretty young and not up to full days of exploring and we just needed the break. And yes, I agree – you don’t need a brand new wardrobe to go on vacation and staying off the beaten path is often cheaper and more fun too! Have a great weekend!

    • I hope we take a day or two to veg out. We generally aren’t very good at sitting, but maybe a nice beach will make that a good option.

  10. I love the tips. I’m definitely a budget and more type of person. I never really enjoyed extravagance. I’m the type of person that enjoys a great hike. It just so happens that most of those are free!

    • We are hikers ourselves. You also feel like you earned a good meal after a long hike, so that’s another plus.

  11. We always look for house sharing services like airbnb or vrbo and we’ve been able to save a lot of money that way. The great thing about those is that it’s usually a house or apartment for rent and they always have a kitchen where we can cook.

  12. I like to stay in hostels, or stay with friends. It helps so much to have at least 1-2 meals in, instead of going out. I also buy alcohol at duty free shops. I also stay off the beaten path and can literally walk for hours and just explore. I am just getting into travel hacking and should have a flight to Europe soon!

    • Good luck on your hacking. There was a time when I could have stayed in hostels, but it’s long past. I really want my own bathroom, and thankfully points are letting us stay in some pretty sweet places.

  13. The last time I went on Vacation in Hawaii, I went to a time share presentation almost every day, from 8-10 AM. It forced me to get up and going early, and gave me and my GF tickets to great shows for those nights. I think we went to four presentations.

    Saved a ton of money, rather than paying for the shows. Of course, I probably would not have went to the shows, if I didn’t have free tickets.

    • I’m not sure I could sit through 4 timeshare presentations in one week, but if the incentive was enough, I probably could. My sister and I got to take a helicopter ride in Hawaii as a time share presentation gift, so it was certainly worth the two hours.

  14. My wife and I just came back from our honeymoon and we had a small kitchen in our villa. We bought a small amount of groceries and ate breakfast and most lunches in. It was a lot cheaper than going out to eat for all 3 meals each day.

  15. Great tips! One that some people might forget about is reciprocal agreements for places where they already have memberships. We have a membership to our local zoo and are traveling to two new cities later this month. I found out that our admission to one of the cities’ zoo will be free if we show our membership card and the other one will be 50% off.

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