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How to Save Money on Vacation and Avoid Going Into Debt

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Even though some travelers choose to give up their gym memberships, cable TV, and movies for the sake of affording vacations — you don’t have to. [1] So, if you want to get away and not sacrifice part of your life, here are some simple tips to save money on vacation.

If you want to take a trip without going into debt — as nearly a quarter of Americans did in 2017 (74 percent) according to the financial planning site LearnVest — there are a few ways you can that don’t include becoming an extreme vagabond. [2] The best ways to save are to plan out all your expenses (not just flights and hotels) and opt for cheaper destinations.

5 cheap vacations to take in the U.S.

If you’re looking for a getaway while staying in the country, there are so many beautiful — and cheap — destinations to think about. Here are U.S. News and World Report’s top 5 picks for cheap vacations: [3]


1. Grand CanyonFind flights »

If you’re into camping, you can save a ton of money on hotel costs, plus you’ll have an even better view.


2. Glacier National Park in MontanaFind flights »
There is a small entrance fee, but after that, you can take in all the beautiful sights while hiking, swimming, or relaxing in the parks or nature centers.


3. Anchorage, AlaskaFind flights »
Anchorage has the best weather in the summer months, with averages of 70 degrees. For a cheaper vacation, and bearable weather, travel there in the spring or fall.


4. Gatlinburg, TennesseeFind flights »
Downtown Gatlinburg is very walkable, meaning you’ll save on transportation. There are also three entrances to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


5. Williamsburg, VirginiaFind flights »
This historical town has a ton of attractions you can save money on with a combo pass. The Jamestown Ferry is also free to ride.

If you’re looking to save another buck, you can also “season swap,” or go to a place that’s usually popular in winter during the summer or vice versa. Ski resorts, mountains, and even certain beaches can be a steal if they’re in their offseason.

Sometimes, all it takes is a cheaper destination or a “season swap” to cut down vacation expenses.

Season swap to save money on your vacation

This is one of the best secrets out there. Go to a place that’s usually popular in winter. Ski resorts, mountains, even certain beaches can be a steal if they are in their offseason.

In California, places like Big Bear and Mammoth Mountain are expensive during the winter months because they are prime ski destinations. You’ll easily pay $300 a night for a place. But during summer, prices drop substantially. We recently went to Big Bear with some friends and places that were $250 a night were priced at $98.

What a lot of people don’t realize is these places are absolutely stunning in the summer, especially if you like the outdoors. There is hiking, mountain biking, swimming, even just simple outdoor walks. It’s a great deal with great experiences for everyone. Just know that there are times when it’s not as cheap, like holidays and three-day weekends.

What a lot of people don’t realize is these places are absolutely stunning in the summer, especially if you like the outdoors. There is hiking, mountain biking, swimming, and even just simple outdoor walks. It’s a great deal with great experiences for everyone. Just know that there are times when it’s not as cheap, like holidays and three-day weekends.

Other ways to save money on vacation

Flights and hotel reservations only represent a portion of your vacation costs. You’ll also spend money on food, entertainment, and even transportation while you’re there. The credit card bills from your trip may be even bigger than what you paid for travel and accommodations if you aren’t careful.

Do a little research on restaurants, attractions, and events in the area you’ll be visiting. If you see something you absolutely don’t want to miss, write down the cost for our family to do whatever it is. Use these prices as to estimate how much your trip will cost per day. It always helps to get at least one meal a day at no charge…

Hotels that offer free breakfast

Make sure to double check, because the list can change, but here are some hotels that offer free breakfast. These are known as “limited service” or “select service” hotels and don’t offer as many amenities as full-scale Marriotts, Hiltons or Hyatts.

Some “full service” hotels give you free breakfast if you are an “elite” member of the hotel chain — meaning you’ve signed up for their free loyalty card and have stayed in their hotels for a certain number of stays or nights. If you don’t mind the emails, it can be worth it.

Cutting back to enjoy the experience

Make sure while you’re doing this to avoid extra expenses you don’t need.  Don’t take expensive tours when you can just walk around with a guide book.

Here’s how you use this info to help you plan…

  1. Take the research and use it to build out an estimated cost for your trip.
  2. Count the number of weeks (or pay periods) until your departure date.
  3. Divide the total cost by the time between now and your trip to see how much you need to save.
  4. If you can’t save enough, push the dates for your trip so you have more time.

This may mean delaying your vacation for a month, but think how much better you’ll feel when you get back from your trip without a bunch of credit card debt that you now have to figure out how to pay back. You don’t want your getaway to just add to your stress.

Be sure to check our other guides about how to save money on airlines and hotels.

Kristen Grau contributed to this report.

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