Family swimming at the beach while on an affordable vacation

We all need to get away from our everyday routines occasionally while also keeping our budget in mind. How do you save money on vacation and when planning for one? Travel expert Donna L. Hull, author of “My Itchy Travel Feet, The Baby Boomer’s Guide to Travel,” has some ideas about how travelers of any age can stretch a vacation dollar.

Pick a trip to fit your wallet

Any category of travel can range from budget to luxury, depending on accommodations, activity and transportation choices, time of year and destination, says Hull. “Some destinations are far more expensive than others, and if U.S. travelers are considering an international trip, the strength of the dollar against the local currency comes into play.” 

That said, Hull notes that (very generally), these types of vacations will range from least expensive to most expensive:

  • Camping
  • Weekend getaway
  • Road trips
  • National park trips
  • Independent travel 
  • Cruises
  • Organized tours
  • All-inclusive resorts (Some all-inclusives can actually save you money, though you will need to do some comparisons.)

Tips for saving money on vacations

With the exception of remote or exotic destinations, most vacations can be made into affordable travel destinations by making budget-friendly choices, says Hull.

“Staying in hotels and resorts is expensive, especially after adding up the cost of restaurants for all meals,” she notes. “Booking a vacation rental not only saves on lodging but it also allows for cooking some meals rather than dining out morning, noon and night.

Traveling during a destination’s “shoulder season” (between peak and off-peak seasons, especially spring and fall, when fares tend to be relatively low) is a great way to save money. If you’re longing for a trip to the Caribbean this winter, for example, wait until after spring break when prices are greatly reduced.

Transportation costs, especially airfare, make up the biggest portion of vacation budgets, says Hull. “If you have the flexibility, time-wise, take advantage of airfare sales. Carriers usually offer them as incentive to fly during a destination’s offseason,” she adds. “I often see great deals on flights to London for travel during early March. Of course, it will probably be rainy.”

Or pick a destination closer to home. There are plenty of beautiful beaches, scenic wonders and cultural experiences right here in the U.S. Want to save even more on transportation costs? Check visitors-bureau websites in nearby cities and check out the calendar for local festivals, music events and more.

How to save for a vacation

The best way to determine how to save for a vacation is to create a realistic goal, Hull says. Want to plan a trip for a year from now? Estimate the cost of your vacation on this handy vacation cost finder. Then divide by 12 and set your monthly savings goal. 

“Make it official by starting a savings account that’s expressly for travel,” Hull suggests. Then choose a couple of areas in your daily life where you can cut back. Pick any habit, estimate what it costs you, then cut back or totally eliminate the habit. Put the money that you’ve saved into the travel savings account. 

“The savings from substituting black coffee with flavored creamer instead of a latte, downsizing food items, bringing your lunch to work or quitting smoking all add up,” she says. You may also want to hold a family garage sale with proceeds going to the travel fund.

If you are able to handle credit carefully, use a credit card that offers a cash-back program and then deposit the payout in your travel fund. “But don’t go into debt,” Hull says. “If you can’t pay off the credit card balance each month, this is not the way to save money for a vacation.”

Stay loyal and get social

Sign up for email alerts from your favorite travel companies: hotels, cruise lines, airlines, etc. You’ll be the first to know about discounts or specials. “Follow them on social media. Participate in loyalty programs, especially if you travel regularly for work,” Hull advises. “Those hotel points and air miles add up.

Protect your vacation

Talk with your insurance agent about travel insurance, which protects your vacation investment in case of canceled flights, illness or injury - even stolen bags. It’s a small investment that, should problems arise, you’ll be glad you made.