Affordable Vacations: Ditch the Pricey All-inclusive

affordable vacations

I’m a major fan of vacation–any type of vacation, from road trips to international travel. I even have an app called Been and my poor app is a sad state of affairs.

Alas, I’ve only traveled to seven percent of the countries in the entire world. (I know, I know, that sounds very spoiled of me to say, but when you get right down to it, my goal in life is to hit six out of the seven continents, and gosh darn it, I’m behind! There is so much in this world that’s completely amazing to see.)

If it were my goal in life to say, try all the different kinds of pie in the world, you wouldn’t begrudge me that, would you? No! So if I complain about only having seen seven percent of the world, equate it to me never having tried a lemon pie.

Right? Does that make sense?

(I’m only getting defensive because someone I know accused me of having ample opportunities to travel and do the things I’ve wanted to do, and there are people who never get to go as many places as I have during their lifetimes. Right, right! It’s true.)

Still, I realize that travel takes 1. Money 2. Time.

I also realize that there are plenty of fantastic places and affordable vacations close to home, so don’t discount going somewhere within a five-hour radius. In fact, I discovered a website that will give you locations within a certain number of miles around a point, so you can figure out how far you can drive and land somewhere awesome:

I thought long and hard about some of the things you can do that are less expensive than flying to an all-inclusive in the Caribbean. (Why, oh, why is it so expensive to travel there, by the way? That really gets my goat.)

Here’s a short list of affordable vacations ideas that will save you money and are still tons of fun:


National parks, state parks, your own backyard… the options are endless! Whether the Tetons beckon or if local Lake Red Rock is the furthest away you can get… who cares?

Either way, you’re still away from it all, and you’ll be able to channel your inner outdoorsy persona to boot.

Family/group reservations for Yosemite National Park, for example, are a reasonable $26-$50 for family/group camping reservations. First-come, first served available campsites are $6-$18.

State parks are also an awesome option. California state parks, for example, are $30/site.

And, hey, if you’re really strapped for cash, what about actually camping under the maple tree in your own backyard? Your kids will love it.


Not a fan of twigs in your hair or ticks in your clothes? Look no further than your own town for a weekend “getaway.”

So what if the exterior of the downtown Marriott is as familiar to you as the exterior of your own house? To appease the ol’ budget, dress up, check out a new restaurant and live it up. If you bump into people you know, oh, well, take it in stride!

Volunteer/Mission Trip

Use your trip for good. Okay, hammering up roofs on homes in Mexico may not seem like a true vacation (it’s not exactly sipping mai tais on a beach), but why not take some time to give back?

Many times, you can raise money through your community or your church for a volunteer or mission trip, so your investment is minimal.

If you actually do spend a week building houses in Mexico, then, believe me, you’ll have an instant “in” with the locals. Plus, you’ll still get away and your heart will be fulfilled, all at the same time.

affordable vacations
Kablonk Micro/

Stay with friends or family

Make a list of people in your life who live in really cool places. This sounds overly simple, but it sure works!

For example, I have a high school friend who lives in San Diego, my aunt lives in Chicago and my best friend’s brother’s mother-in-law (hey, it doesn’t hurt to stretch the list!) lives in Orlando. I also happen to know that none of these individuals would ever dream of allowing me to stay in a hotel if I ever found myself wandering their respective cities.

Bonus: If you do stay for free, maybe you can splurge on a few of the other “extras” that go along with vacationing–maybe a better flight, maybe a more expensive excursion or restaurant.


I have a friend who, during college, spent her whole summer house sitting for two traveling professors. She found herself in really cool digs for free. Lucky duck.

That could be you! Use your connections for house-sitting and/or your love of all things furry (or scaly!) for pet-sitting to score an awesome vacation spot.

A couple of websites could also help you out:

Stay with larger groups of people

It’s much cheaper to spend your vacation with a family or a couple of families, especially if you go in together to rent a house or condo.

For example, in 2015, my husband, daughter and my parents all took a vacation to Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. We rented a two-bedroom condo for a week and split the cost. It was way affordable because we were cooking our meals in the condo and we also split the cost of lodging.

It was eye-opening to see some of the huge houses on the beach–you could have fit five families inside some of those giants! It really can be super affordable to plan a vacation like this, as long as you’re okay with sharing your space with lots of other people.

I know there is a laundry list of other ideas that people use when they’re trying to be creative in thinking up their affordable vacations. What’s your method?

Here are a few other tips and tricks for affordable vacations:

  • Go for the road trip. Usually, it’s cheaper. You’d be amazed how far you can get by folding the top down and driving for 8-10 hours in any given direction.
  • Credit card points are a vacationer’s best friend. It’s like finding money under the couch cushions–only better. You can even apply points directly to hotel stays.

Finally, think about how you can be as creative as possible! Think outside the box. Do some internet research. Talk to people. You’ll be amazed at the connections you can rustle up when you’re really looking for some neat options.

One of my co-workers just spent a week in Canada all because her son got married and his new in-laws offered them a free stay at their cabin in Ontario for a week. Major cool!

You see? Affordable vacations are totally within your grasp.

Melissa is a Midwesterner with a penchant for travel (the further away, the better!) and personal finance. Previously, she worked as a writer/editor for a gardening magazine and has done lots of writing and editing for publications. Now, she works in the admission office of her alma mater, Central College in Iowa. She has special interests in reading about finance and politics, and together with her husband, spends most of her time chasing after their two kiddos.

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