Unforgettable Yet Affordable: 16 Frugal Vacation Ideas To Consider for Your Next Trip

While many people might say you need to break the bank to create lasting memories, I believe they just need to look at it differently. Everyone deserves a chance to unwind and experience the joy of travel without emptying their wallets. Here, we’ll give you inexpensive vacation ideas that will leave you with incredible experiences and cherished moments, all without burning a hole in your pocket.

Vacations Are Expensive, but They Don’t Have To Be

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With the average cost of vacation about $2,000 per person, or $8,000 for a family of four, it’s no wonder that many people are searching for cheap vacations to fit their budget. You will need to lower your expectations from images of five-star hotels to maximize savings and minimize your disappointment. Be adventurous and make memories.

1. Tour Your Environs

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You don’t have to go far to have a vacation. You can vacation in a place or have a staycation, and make plans to explore your city, town, or region on foot, by car, or bicycle. It may be that you live close to a National Park, lakes, rivers, and you always wanted to take your family and explore these places.

You may have heard others who visit your location tell you where they found the best beaches, lakes, musical and theater events, amusement parks, breweries, boating, hiking areas, and now you want to see all these places.

Think about where you live and how you would like to spend your time. You may find treasures right in your backyard but haven’t been able to explore your area.

We have had a house in Litchfield County since 1995 and enjoy roaming through the various towns and visiting the Berkshires.

We peruse through flea markets, look for antiques, jewelry, arts and crafts and then find cute cafes or gorgeous houses turned into restaurants. Through the years, and even now, we climb mountains (now with our car!), go fishing, swim, ski, and bike.

You’ll save on airfares and maybe even hotels, especially if you decide to go camping or take day trips. It is a wonderful way to validate the beauty of where you live.

Related: 41 Best Family Vacation Spots for Any Budget

2. Travel Off-Season

people walking in paris in december
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There are benefits to traveling off-season to your destination. By going off-season, you can avoid crowds, lines, fewer tourists, and have greater availability to explore. Determine what off-season may be as they differ by cities, countries, beaches, amusements, casinos (is there ever an off-season?), or ski resorts.

The improved supply and demand are favorable for travelers, allowing better pricing options and availability in packages, airfares, car rental, and hotels.

So what qualifies as low season? It will be dependent on the type of trip you are planning, weather, school schedules, holidays, and special events like the Olympics or World Economic Forum in Davos, as examples.

3. Off the Beaten Path

Tourist woman enjoy travel in temple of the emerald buddha, Wat Phra Kaew, popular tourist place in Bangkok, Thailand
Image Credit: Depositphotos.

There are treasures to find when you go off the beaten path. Besides savings which are often considerable, it is an excellent way to explore cultures and towns chockful of beautiful surprises.

Being able to talk to the people who live in the towns, many enjoy pointing you toward unique finds, a cultural site, or an affordable restaurant with the best cuisine.

These places may be outside of major cities in the US or abroad and provide benefits like a more fabulous hotel or bed & breakfast availability, cheaper accommodations, fewer tourists, giving you more time and less stress.

4. Timeshare Vacation Rentals

what is a timeshare

Have you considered renting a timeshare for your vacation? A timeshare is a type of resort that divides ownership of vacation condos among multiple people. There are different resorts and retail chains to choose from and satisfy your needs.

Timeshare rentals are desirable destinations for cheap vacations at premium resorts, with many amenities like pools, beaches, on-site activities, and great restaurants. You can rent condos with kitchens and living space when traveling with a large family.

Some of the best deals may be near your travel departure, which may work for you if you are a last-minute traveler. On the other hand, if you like to plan well ahead of your departure and during peak times, you still can get a deal at popular places that would make any frugal person happy.

5. National Parks

Traveler sitting in cliff edge in national park
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Have you been to Yellowstone? Our country has breathtakingly beautiful National Parks. The parks are majestic and remind us that we are small parts of our universe. There are 423 national parks in the US, DC, and our territories, including 63 with Congressional protection.

Many choices provide excellent budget options. You can enter most parks for free or get seven-day passes for $35 per carload, not per person. If you are an avid visitor, you can buy annual America the Beautiful passes for $80. Senior citizens 62 and older can get a lifetime pass for $80.

The parks accommodate those who want to do picnicking or camping. Many parks have modest lodging facilities, but you need to book way in advance and pay about $200 to $300 a night. Many people use hotels or motels outside of the parks and save money.

I enjoy traveling to the US and Canadian national parks and have lodged both ways, and the savings are worthwhile when being within driving distance of the entrance.

Most of us live within driving distance of a national park, so we have the potential to save money on airfare. Explore the region where you live.

6. Camping

Family having snacks and coffee outside the tent at campsite during a family camping adventure
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Enjoying the great outdoors is always a great way to have a cheap vacation with family or friends. Camping steadily grew before the pandemic and continued to experience strong growth. You can find a  location with lakes, fishing, and hiking trailing.

The 2021 North American Camping report reflects the US and Canadian campers surveyed on their sentiments and behaviors on outdoor recreation. They found more than 86 million US households consider themselves campers, and 48 million of those took at least one camping trip in 2020, up over six million over 2019.

New habits for campers emerged from the survey during 2020, notably:

  • Increased diversity among campers
  • More weekday trips
  • Families benefited from remote schools and work

Camping costs with your family for a weekend or longer are typically inexpensive compared to a traditional vacation. How much you spend will depend on whether you are a first-timer or experienced. If you are a first-time camper, you need to buy equipment gear: a tent, ropes, tools, flashlights or lanterns, and blankets.

There are free camping sites but will likely charge for parking fees and possible amenities. Other costs will be food, drinks, sun lotion, and other personal items you probably have at home, like outdoor chairs.

Some people prefer to go glamping which is camping with comforts and amenities. Glamping.com costs range from $50 to $3,000 per nite, depending on the services.

7. Book a Trip With Costco

A view of the membership counter at a local Costco store.
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Are you a Costco fan? Their members in the US have access to exclusive discounted travel packages, cruises, hotels, rental cars, and limited deals. Just use your membership number to book travel services. There are savings for value-seeking travelers but want luxury.

The retailer offers two membership levels to get more benefits for those who aren’t Costco members.

The Gold Star membership is $60 annually. In contrast, the Executive Membership costs $120 annually with extra perks, including a 2% back on your purchases up to $1,000 per year on select travel products and amenity credits.

We sold our Disney timeshares when we saw better prices on Costco Travel for booking Disney World with our kids. There are impressive discounts on theme parks, park-hopper tickets, and decent hotels outside of Disney.

As part of Walmart, Sam’s Club has some travel discounts, but more limited.

8. Last Minute Cruises

Cruise Ship Wooden Deck Chairs and Some Senior Tourists.
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The pandemic has crushed the cruise liners as passengers have worried about the lack of social distancing. In recent years before the pandemic, getting a last-minute cruise has been an excellent way to snag a bargain for those who seek to cruise for a vacation.

That doesn’t mean coming to the dock on the day of sailing with your bags. Travel experts define last-minute cruises as roughly 60 to 90 days before embarkation as the best time to book a cruise to get $1,500-$2,000 off the price. Your best bet is to avoid peak times like Christmas and New Year’s.

Each cruise liner has its deals, or you can try Cruises.com to compare prices.

9. Online Travel Auctions

Young Asian attractive business woman passenger sitting on business class luxury plane while wearing wireless headphone
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Bidding online is an excellent way to find bargains for travel packages. Travelers control the prices they are willing to pay for domestic or international packages, rental car deals, hotels, or just flight deals. eBay, the company that kicked off the online auctions for everything, has a travel auction page.

You can find luxury bargains ( a bit oxymoronic) travel options on Luxury Link when you sign as a member. They have various auctions to choose from, like Dutch auctions and Best Shot auctions.

There are many travel auctions to explore, including Priceline,  SkyAuction, and Bidding For Good. For those who are ultra-flexible, you may even want to consider mystery auctions.

Travel auctions for not-for-profit organizations like schools, churches, and elder care are popular for raising money for charities. The money you bid goes toward a desirable purpose, and you may get a tax deduction.

Like anything else you buy, especially online, read the fine print, ask questions, and understand what the package includes before bidding for your prospective deal.

10. Airbnb and Vrbo

Portrait of Asian young maid showing an invitation to stay in hotel brown brick room.
Image Credit: Shutterstock/Tong_stocker

Airbnb is a  fast-growing peer-to-peer online marketplace for people looking for a vacation rental as an alternative to standard hotels.

The company has more than 5.6 million active listings in more than 100,000 cities and towns worldwide. More than 4 million hosts rent their property to guests through Airbnb. They offer a wide variety of spaces: entire place, private rooms, shared rooms, and hotel rooms.

Airbnb’s rentals are often cheaper than hotels, but not all the time. Airbnb’s colossal inventory in desirable places may be expensive, so it best to make comparisons based on the market.

You could pick and choose among amenities that serve your needs. There are potential savings from renting larger spaces with a kitchen and laundry to accommodate families and kids better than hotel rooms. You could even bring your dog if pets are allowed in the listing.

Vacation renters can feel a more personal touch, experience a city more like a local, getting tips from owners. Travelers should weigh these benefits against hotel amenities like 24/7 concierge service, housekeeping, gym, pool, complimentary breakfast, and room service, which come at higher costs.

Vrbo is a competitor of Airbnb but has a smaller inventory at about 2 million bookable standalone vacation rentals and doesn’t offer Airbnb’s variety of accommodations.

11. Hostels

A sign on the wall of the hostel.
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There are many hostels in the US and globally. They are attractive choices for single people or small groups, typically young people. It is not just for young people as there are hostels for seniors who take classes on a college campus, paint, go to museums, or ride bicycles.

Hostels are budget-friendly with varying accommodations that provide shared social experiences when traveling internationally.

You have a range of choices, from booking a minimalist dorm bed in a room you share with others to luxurious private rooms and more amenities. Prices vary from $10 to $50 per night and per person. It depends on the hostel, location, and amenities.

Hostels run deals that will further bring down prices. For many, this is an exciting way to travel, meet people worldwide, and learn about different cultures.

12. Home Exchanges

Pretty cheerful girl in a stylish pullover holding miniature house
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Home exchanges, also called a house swap, are economical to vacation far from home. Typically, you arrange to occupy someone’s primary residence at your desired destination while that party will occupy your place.

Home exchanges work on a membership with annual fees, where you have a better chance to swap homes. Some people have multiple homes and may opt to put a non-primary home for changing with another party. In some cases, the parties may offer just a guest room in their home when they are still occupying their place.

Home Exchange is the largest home swapping network, with 450,000 homes in 159 countries, including the US. Their membership is $150 per year or $13 monthly. Users claim they find these exchanges better bargains and rarely have any problems.

13. Couchsurfing

woman sitting on couch at home
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Couchsurfing is an excellent way to travel worldwide, especially for solo travelers seeking cheap vacations. It began when Casey Fenton traveled to Iceland without a place to stay. He reached out to a group of Icelandic college students, who offered accommodations.

This experience gave birth to  Couchsurfing.com, an online global travel community founded by its Chairman Fenton that has grown to 14 million people in more than 200,000 cities to connect, find a place to stay or share their homes as hosts.

Until the pandemic, CouchSurfing on the site was free, but the company went with a subscription service, mandating monthly fees of $2.99 monthly or $17.99 annually. These fees are well below alternatives like hostels or hotels and provide a personal experience.

14. Be a House Sitter

Wearing shoes at home
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Housesitting is an alternative to traveling on a budget and earning some money. Owners often hire house sitters when they take vacations, travel for work, or extended leave. They don’t want to leave their home empty, and it relieves their worry about burglaries and provides them with security and peace of mind.

You can live rent-free in locations you want to explore in different areas in the US and globally. Professional house-sitters may water plants, collect mail, take out the trash, and do pet care. Depending on the location, you can earn $25-$45+ per hour.

House sitters may do short overnight stays or more extended stays. This option is beneficial for those who prefer not to stay with the owners.

It is essential to the owner to trust someone temporarily residing in your home, taking care of beloved pets or plants. They will want a background check. You can register with organizations such as TrustedHouseSitter.com or HousesittersAmerica.com

15. Visit With Family and Friends

Happy extended family reading together. Young parents, little kids and mature grandparents sitting on sofa at home, enjoying book of good kind educational stories or looking through family photo album
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For many, this is an excellent way to save money, especially if you are going on vacation to visit family and friends who will enjoy seeing you and your children. We stayed with family before we had kids, especially when we had young kids who would see their grandparents, Craig’s parents.

Frankly, I wish that we had done more of this type of travel, not solely for saving money, but because these memories are irreplaceable and meant a lot to my in-laws, who are long gone.

Despite many sincere invitations to see friends, we may drop by for a meal or a barbeque but stay at a hotel nearby. Staying with friends is an excellent option depending on your destination, relationships, and ability to reciprocate with your friends.

16. Hop on a Cheap Flight

Mountain View, United States - September 11, 2018: Website of Google Flights, an online flight booking search service.
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Airfares could be a significant part of your travel budget. Knowing how to save on flights can make a difference in your destination choice. We sometimes learn the hard way that booking early or last-minute doesn’t necessarily get you the best deal.

There are many tips to abide by to get a cheap flight: Here are just a few we use:

  • Flying off-peak times.
  • Having to change planes rather than direct.
  • Searching flights incognito or privately.
  • Finding the cheapest day (weekday) and time to fly out.*
  • Using air mile points and credit card rewards.
  • Flying on budget airlines.

* Crack of dawn flights is a challenge, especially when you have young kids and are dragging them through the airports.

These days, you can find cheap flights to your destination on various websites to make your vacation more affordable. You may have to lower your expectations if you need more perks.

Related: The Ultimate Guide To Taking Cheap Caribbean Vacationsking List

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Linda is the Founder of TheCentsofMoney.com. She's out to teach financial education and inspire a greater comfort about one of life’s great stresses. She uses the financial skills honed by decades of professional experience to help others.

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