How to Save Money on a Beach Vacation

I started writing this post-mid-August while I was on vacation. Don’t worry; I also did plenty of relaxing, and I felt like I’d been relaxing a bit too much and not taking full advantage of potential blogging time.

Because once that two-week vacation was over and I returned home to my day job, I knew there would be the usual time crunch. Blogging would be de-prioritized, and my focus would again gravitate to my regular 9-to-5.

(Hello, one month later…)

Although I have hopes, I can start motivating myself by making clear blogging goals and being more productive daily.

But while I was in the beautiful Outer Banks of North Carolina, I thought maybe I could make a little bit of progress on my blog.

How to save money on a beach vacation. Outer Banks, NC #OBX
Yes, this picture was taken from the deck of the beach house we rented  — Rodanthe, NC.

And now that I’m back in New England and back into the swing of things — it’s time to get this puppy out there.

Because can you believe it’s been a whole month since I’ve posted anything?

Crazy how time gets away from you —

But here we are, with the next topic at hand:  How to Save Money on Vacation (at the beach).

As everyone knows, money is a pretty big factor when one starts to consider going on vacation.

It can dictate where you go, how long you stay, what you do there, and what kind of meals you have.

So I figured this would be an appropriate way to tie in these two topics — vacation and money.

And being on this two-week excursion with my family and friends, I can pretty much speak from our own personal experiences.

#ButFirst

butfirst2

Before we get into specifics, I figured I should address the obvious.

I write about debt.

My family has a decent amount of consumer debt that we’re trying to pay off. That’s pretty much the entire basis of what I write about on this blog. Spending less, saving more, and hustling through any Side Jam I can find so we can pay off our debt.

So how can we possibly take a beach vacation when spending money is most definitely involved? Shouldn’t we be throwing every last penny into our existing debt and not wasting it on frivolous things like vacations?

And wouldn’t we be able to pay off our debt so much sooner if we didn’t take a vacation every year?

If anyone is thinking such things, then I will need to disagree with you respectfully.

Yes, we have debt. Yes, it’s quite a bit. And we’ve made some fantastic strides over the past year, but there is plenty more to go.

And on paper, it makes sense to keep pushing along. To run at maximum capacity and go full steam ahead with the debt payoff.

But there’s also another factor involved:  it’s the human element.

Because how long do you think you can successfully perform an activity with no release or breaks in the process?  There’s potential it may backfire on you in a big way.

Have you ever seen or read Stephen King’s “The Shining”? There’s a famous line in the movie, which is also the pretty pivotal point in Jack Torrance’s character development.

He’s under such immense pressure to write his next novel that his psyche hits a breaking point, and he begins typing one single sentence on his old-school typewriter. Over and over and over again.

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Creepy, but Jack Nicholson at his best. So what do we learn from this?
(Other than don’t agree to be the winter caretaker of a scary, possessed resort).

If you’re working hard at something, you need to take a break once in a while.
To keep you sane, to keep you motivated, and (in some instances) to keep ax-wielding psycho killers at bay.

Jack Nicholson The Shining gif

My family takes one vacation each year. It’s always to the beaches of North Carolina, we drive the entire way, and we enjoy the heck out of a relaxing week.

This year we were fortunate enough to stay for two weeks, and it’s not likely we’ll be able to do that again.

So if anyone thinks we should be skipping our annual vacation, please know that you are unequivocally entitled to your opinion.

Also, we budgeted for our trip, will pay for everything in cash, and will not add a dime to our existing debt.

I will not feel guilty for taking my one vacation.  Also, it’s none of your gosh darn business.

no regrets

So now that we have that out of the way, let’s get into ways you can save some money while on a family beach vacation —

Note:  This page includes affiliate links — which means I may receive some compensation (at no cost to you) if you sign up or make a purchase through these links.

Where to Stay

Stay with friends/family. If you know someone who lives in the general vicinity, you can save some money by crashing at their place. This is assuming they have the space, and you won’t be an inconvenience. Also, factor in whether you plan to go out to eat or buy groceries to cook at the house. Make sure your host is okay with whatever you’re planning. A nice gesture would be to take your host out to eat a time or two or even offer to cook a few meals to thank them for their hospitality.

Rent a vacation home. If you don’t know anyone in the immediate area or would rather not inconvenience someone you know, there is always the rental home option. Cheaper than staying in a decent hotel and has none of the annoyances of sharing walls with neighbors.

OR…

Rent an Airbnb. Peruse an online marketplace to find either an available room for rent or an entire home or cottage. Again, renting a room is not ideal for large families or groups that want a little more privacy/isolation. But if you’re looking to save money and only have a handful of people, this could be an economical option.

Tip: If you rent from an Airbnb or vacation rental agency, take a look at how prices vary based on arrival week. If your timing is flexible, you’ll find weeks later in the season are way cheaper than earlier in the summer.

The closer you get to Labor Day (early September), the lower the weekly rate. And if you’re traveling to a warmer beach climate, the weather will still be beautiful. (But also be mindful that you could be entering hurricane season.)

Be sure to weigh these options carefully while planning your beach vacation. And while saving money is often the priority, don’t forget to consider travel insurance. Because you never know what mother nature might have in store or what other curve balls life might throw at you.

Traveling

Drive to your destination. If possible, instead of paying for an expensive plane ticket, take a road trip to your destination. That way, you don’t have to worry about airport parking, baggage fees, ticket counters, flight delays, or pet sitters. Also, the road trip itself becomes a part of the vacation, and you can plan stops along the way, take your time, and enjoy the scenery.

Pack snacks. For the road trip, and for once, you’ve reached your final destination. It’s cheaper and easier than buying food from a restaurant in a rest area or hitting the drive-thru to get fast food.

Plan a couple of multi-purpose pit stops. Stop at one location to buy gas when your tank is getting low. While you are there, everyone should take advantage of the facilities for a bio-break. And take a minute or two to stretch your legs. Then everyone will be fully refreshed and ready to continue on their journey. Making fewer stops will be a more efficient use of gas and get you to your destination quicker.

Have multiple drivers. Ideally, three or more. Here’s why — if you’re headed out on a long trip, you may be driving late at night. Or even if you’re traveling for hours on a straight road, it can get tiresome. Without a lot of scenery or city lights to look at, sleepiness is bound to set in.

When someone is driving late at night, it’s always good to have a passenger stay awake to keep them talking. Engage in conversation, or sing along with the radio. Even rent an audiobook from the library — as long as the narration doesn’t become too monotonous, especially at night.

Something that I’ve done every year is making a vacation playlist to listen to for the drive. With my Amazon Prime membership, I can download tons of music to get my vacation jam on. My sister and I sing along with hits from the ’80s and ’90s… and my partner puts in his earplugs!   😆

Rest up. The third driver can rest in the back until it’s time to switch it up. This strategy will save you money by always having a driver refreshed and available, thereby requiring less pit stops. (But by all means, feel free to take breaks if the drivers become too tired. Even if you’re trying to make good time, it’s never a bad idea to stop for a caffeinated beverage to stay awake.)

Wait till the midnight hour. While on the subject of resting up, you may also want to consider traveling off-hours. Over the years we’ve been traveling on vacation, we found driving at night to be preferable. There are fewer cars on the road, which means reduced traffic and less stress.

This means we are being more efficient with both our time and our gas mileage. If you have the option of driving through the night into the morning, it’s something to consider. But be sure to nap the day before, if you can. And this is also where having multiple drivers will come in handy.

Pets

Bring your furry friends. Boarding your pet in a kennel is a pretty significant expense. To save money (and worry less about their well-being), look for a hotel or rental home that allows pets.

Even if you are staying at the beach, there are many pet-friendly vacation homes — even for multiple pets. We’ve been taking our dogs on our beach vacation for several years and wouldn’t do it any other way.

I’m the kind of person who considers pets to be members of our family. If I’m away from them, I genuinely miss their company. And the times I have gone the boarding option, it didn’t end very well.

One fateful year, my dog tore her ACL while she was staying at a boarding facility. From that point on, I vowed never to leave any pet in someone else’s care and unless it was someone who I could trust 100%.

bulldogs beach vacation pier walkway
Gus and Layla — cutie pies at the beach

Many rental homes are extremely pet friendly and include amenities such as dog crates, bowls, outdoor shower/grooming stations, and even fenced-in pet runs for your dogs to do their business.

Be sure to read the house listing and rental site for pet-specific restrictions (size, breed, age, etc.)

Don’t forget pet essentials for the road trip.  Vacation traveling with pets adds another level to packing. But as long as you have a list of the incidentals, it’s straightforward to prepare for their vacation adventure.

Some things I keep on hand and available for the car ride are:

Having these items readily available during the car ride will ensure quicker & easier potty breaks. And will also avoid having to stop at a convenience store if your dogs need a drink or a bone to keep them occupied.

At the Beach

Discount shopping. When you’re specifically on a beach vacation, there are many items you will inherently need. For example, beach blankets, beach towels, sunscreen, umbrella, fold-up chairs, flip flops, sunglasses, and possibly floaties or beach toys for the kids.

You’ll need to leave a lot of room if you plan on packing all of these items. But before you do that, peruse your house rental listing once again to see if any of these items are listed as amenities.

beach toys bucket shovel vacation

Many beach houses keep spare beach items on handsome from previous occupants who bought things and didn’t have the room to bring them back home. (We did this in prior years until we achieved a comfort level of vacationing with less “stuff.”)

Sometimes it’s easier and more efficient to buy some things once you have arrived at the beach. But there’s no need to spend lots of money, especially if you don’t plan on bringing them home with you. There are tons of discount stores in the tourist or boardwalk areas where you can pick up a super-cheap pair of sunglasses, flip flops, or a couple of beach towels.

Snack time.  The same holds for snacks while on the beach. You can walk up to the food truck or local ice cream shop and pay inflated prices. Or you can buy a large box of ice pops or sundae cups and bring a small cooler with you down to the beach.

Dining and Entertainment

Coupons. When you arrive at your rental home or Airbnb, check the counters for coupon books. Most places leave them lying around, and some rental agencies hand them out when you first check-in or have them laid out on a counter in the office. These coupon books hold great deals for dining, entertainment, and even shopping while you’re enjoying your stay at the beach.

My family has successfully used these types of coupons for things like 20% off your entire dinner bill, a free appetizer, or a free dessert. Many souvenir shops offer a free t-shirt or coffee mug with a (low) minimum purchase.

I’ve also seen deals for BOGO pizzas, ice cream cones, boogie boards, and breakfast buffets. From whale watching to dolphin tours, from kayaking to parasailing. If you want to try something, chances are pretty high there is some coupon for it.

Headed to a particular establishment and can’t locate a coupon for it?

Ask them Do they have any current specials or deals? Many places will come up with something if it means getting you in the door or keeping you there longer.

IMG 9544 e1536795141150

Early bird specials. Speaking of dinner deals, there are a ton of specials out there for early bird entrees. If you hit the restaurant between 4:00-5:00 pm, you’ll not only get in and out of there quicker but can also get a percentage off of your bill.

Plan a few stay-at-home meal nights. Just because it’s a vacation, it doesn’t mean you have to go out to eat for every single meal.

My family has beach vacation grocery shopping down to a science. We arrive at our vacation home, take a short break to unwind, and immediately head out to the store.

Make a list of the staples, and try not to deviate too much. Because try as you might, there’s pretty much no way you’ll end the vacation with an empty fridge. And perishable items do not travel well. (We tried to do that one year — threw all of the leftover deli meat into a cooler and kept our fingers crossed. But it didn’t end well.)

Basic meal planning goes like this:

  • Breakfast:  Eggs, bacon, toast/English muffins with butter and jelly, cereal, milk, fresh fruit
  • Lunch:  Sandwiches with deli meat or PB&J; necessary condiments and chips or pretzels on the side; more fresh fruit like apples, peaches, or grapes
  • Dinner: Burgers and hot dogs, grilled chicken, and maybe a steak night.

You don’t need to go out to dinner every night — but you also don’t need to go all-out with huge home-cooked meals.

Remember, this is vacation, after all. Feel free to use paper plates and plastic utensils for easy clean-up. When I’m on my annual vacation at the beach, there’s no way I’m washing dishes or scrubbing pans each & every night.

Wrap-up

So that’s my whole spiel. Everything I’ve learned through research, trial, and error, from many years of taking our annual beach vacation.

Ideally, this would’ve been an excellent post to publish while we were actually on vacation. But whaddya going to do — life happens, right?

And now I finally have this out there — just in time to begin planning next year’s beach vacation!?

About The Author

Scroll to Top