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Vacation Planning on a Budget


There is a lot that goes into planning a vacation and budgeting for the occasion.  Some items are due at the time of purchase, such as flights and theatre tickets, but other items are not due until you check-in or out such as your hotel and rental car.  If you are planning to drive on vacation your gas budget and hotel stops are other items that you pay for when they happen, as opposed to staying at an all-inclusive resort which is paid up front or in payment installments prior to arrival.  No matter what type of vacation you are going on, planning is very important.  Below are my ten key areas to focus on when planning your next vacation.

Search for Online Deals

When planning my vacation my first instinct is to search for deals online.  I suggest using multiple travel deal websites and take your time researching the cheapest flight and hotel deals out there.  Remember that booking hotels and flights together online might not always be the cheapest options, and searching individual hotel websites might pose a great deal to be had.  If your vacation dates are flexible check the box in your online search that says just that.  Searching flights this way will save you money and get your trip off on a positive start.  Hotels in major popular destinations like Las Vegas and New York City always have promotions going, so consider two or three hotels you would like to stay at that than just setting your heart on one particular place.  If you are going to a more rural destination, ask friends and read social media reviews on hotels in that area.  Word of mouth is one of the best ways to make a decision on a hotel or resort.

Driving vs. Flying

If you are not sure if driving or flying is the better choice for your upcoming vacation budget out a plan for both options.  Start with an estimated flight cost and travel time.  Then do the same this with gas prices, stops, overnight hotel stays, and travel time.  See what fits your family better.  If you have small children then driving might be better for the family because it could be cheaper than buy a lot of plane tickets.  If flying gets you and yours kids to your destination fast and more efficiently then flying might be the better option.  When you decide to drive remember that they can be extra cost associated with it such as car trouble and speeding tickets, if something like this happens on your road trip then flying might have been the more affordable and predictable option.

Hotel, All-inclusive Resort or Rental Property

So you want to go on a vacation but you are not sure where to stay?  Try looking for deals on Groupon or Living Social.  Websites like this give you a good idea of new destinations you may not have thought of on your own.  If booking something like that is not your style, you can go through a travel agent to book an all-inclusive resort.  This a great option if you have a few different groups of friends or family trying to plan one large trip together.  This is ideal for weddings and family reunions.  If you are tight on money but want to visit the West Coast, book a house on Airbnb.  You can read reviews of rental properties and save a ton of money if more than a few of you split the cost.  There is nothing wrong with booking a traditional hotel room though, and it might be the most reliable choice when booking your vacation. There are a lot of chain hotels that have good reputations, and reading online reviews of the specific hotel you want to stay at can give you peace of mind.  Knowing the hotel is clean, in a nice location, and has all the amenities you need is very important when booking your vacation.

Packing Clothes Appropriately

Depending on the destination of your choice, packing your suitcase appropriately can be a challenge of some people.  First make sure you plan your outfits before you pack them in your bag.  Lay them out and try to wear the same bottoms or shoes more than once.  Most people need two outfits per day and many women need accessories for each of those outfits.  Plan your suitcase accordingly to the weather you are going as well, and don’t over pack on items like pajamas and bathing suits.  When packing roll your clothes and packing them in little logs, this will save you a lot of room in your suitcase and might even fit your spouse’s clothes.  If you are flying and have to pay for checked bags, I suggest trying that method and only checking one bag for two people.  This will save you money and prevent either of you from over packing.  If you are driving to your destination, then packing things like pillows for the car ride, games, and cooler are essential for your families comfort.  Stock up on things like snacks and drinks, and don’t forget the iPad chargers and the Netflix password.

Shopping Ahead of Time

When planning for your vacation, you should shop ahead of time not on vacation.  This goes hand in hand with packing the proper suitcase.  Go through your closet and look for clothes you forgot you had last summer, take them on your Florida vacation this spring.  After you go through your closet you many only need one or two essential items for the vacation.  Purchasing clothes off-season at your local mall will be much cheaper than buying them on the boardwalk of a vacation town.

Eating Out vs. Cooking

If you decide to drive or stay in a rental property I suggest cooking or grilling for the family on-site.  You can drive to the local grocery store and pick some great food to grill on the patio or deck of your rental home.  Drinking homemade cocktails is much cheaper than spending tons of money a local restaurant and you can come and go as you please.  If you are staying in a hotel and don’t have the option of an onsite resort restaurant of rental property patio take Uber or a taxi service to a restaurant of your choice.  Vacation destinations always have great local food and restaurants to check out.  Never go to a chain restaurant on vacation, you can get the same food there as you can at home.

Book and Reserve Entertainment Prior To

For major vacation destinations with lots of entertainment, I suggest booking your tickets online prior to the show or experience.  Some websites offer discounted tickets at a fraction of the price if you buy them prior to the show.  If you are flexible, then waiting until up to an hour prior to the show to wait and buy the tickets from the main box office can also you money.


Having a budget is something everyone should have when planning their vacation.  Knowing how much you can spend while you are on vacation vs. how much you can spend prior to vacation all go hand in hand.  You and your family need to make decisions when it comes to the budget, if driving and staying at a resort cost the same as flying and staying at a rental property, what would you guys prefer?  Budgeting out the trip makes the vacation more enjoyable when you’re not worried about spending.

Rewards and Discounts

Many employers offer discounts on hotels and rental cars just for being an employee of their company. Research your company’s employee benefits and see if any of them will for your vacation.  You should also sign up for rewards through hotels and airlines you prefer.  Getting promotional emails for different companies can be very valuable to your wallet.  One of the best things to sign up for is a credit card that gives your rewards for hotels and airline miles.

Extra Expenses

When planning a vacation it may be hard to plan for extra expenses but do your best.  From flight delays, car trouble, or rental car issues you can predict the future.  There even might be an extra expense because there is a new theatrical show you want to see, or an expensive steakhouse dinner you want to go to.  I say do those things, but with moderation, it is vacation after all.

Making the decision whether to fly or drive, to stay at a condo or all-inclusive resort, and where to go are all major areas to think about before booking your next vacation.  As long as you plan ahead, but go with the flow, you are sure to have a relaxing vacation with family and friends.  Visiting your favorite place for a second time or trying out a new destination are both great ideas.  As long as you book a trip where you know you will be happy is all that matters.

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