How to plan a vacation and travel on a budget

Want to plan a vacation and travel the world but always seem to run short on money?

Or maybe you have some money to take a vacation and a few ideas of where you might want to go, but don’t know how to plan your trip.

It happens to my wife and I all the time!

The weather starts getting nicer, and my cubical walls start feeling more like a jail cell. Feeling like a rebel, my wife and I chose to plan a vacation. There is something freeing about skipping out on your responsibilities and living life for once!

My wife and I were tired of always feeling like money was an excuse not to plan a trip. It’s time to come up with a plan, so I decided to write this “ultimate guide to planning a vacation and traveling on a budget” blog post, hoping it might help you, an inspiring traveler, out!

Want to plan a vacation and travel the world on a budget? This guide walks you through how to plan a family trip while saving your money. Vacation tips!
How to plan a vacation and travel on a budget

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How to plan a vacation and travel on a budget

When is your family vacation going to happen?

Planning a dream family vacation to Walt Disney World might prove difficult to do last-minute unless you have an awesome travel agency.

The first thing you should decide is when you’ll hit the road (or airline) for your families vacation.

If you’re looking to save money, planning a summer vacation may be more expensive than during the winter. I love going on summer trips, but gas is more expensive and vacation spots usually charge more for the increased demand in people traveling.

You should try and plan your vacation to exclude holidays and long weekends. Holidays and long weekends are usually the highest traveled, leading to increased demand and accommodations are usually more expensive.


Affordable vacations start with a budget. How much money do you have saved?

Have you decided, how much money do you have saved for your trip? Budgeting for your vacation is one of the most crucial steps if money is a concern.

Your budget will help you determine whether or not you can afford the luxury suite or a motel 8. Knowing how much money you have to spend will determine if you can eat at a fancy five-star restaurant or if you need to bring a sack lunch.

You need to have a budget for your trip!

You should consider reading the ultimate guide to budgeting. If you need more money for your vacation, this guide will help you get your household budget in order and save money towards your adventure.

You can also use the guide to create a vacation budget, a separate money tracking system that details all the expenses of your trip. If you only have $1,000 for your getaway, do you have enough money for gas, lodging, food, emergencies, etc?


Decide on a vacation destination. Where will you travel?

Now for the fun part, that is, unless you find vacation planning a stressful event. It’s time for you to decide on your travel destination. Don’t worry if you’re stressed. Choose a vacation destination based on what makes sense for your budget.

Don’t worry if you’re stressed. Choose a vacation destination based on what makes sense for your budget. If you’re planning a vacation for stress relieve, remember that studies show taking a small weekend trip relieves just as much stress as a massive two-week endeavor.

Vacation ideas that typically range from least to most expensive include nature, beach town, large city, cruise, theme park, and different country.


Vacation destinations from least to most expensive


You should also consider the distance to your destination. It is usually cheaper to drive somewhere for a weekend getaway than it is to fly on an airline.

When you’re traveling on a budget, remember that parking your car can cost money. Where do you plan on parking? Can you save money by having a friend drop you off or taking an Uber?

Where will you go on your next vacation? Tweet me and let me know.Click To Tweet


Choose your travel accommodations. Where will you stay on your vacation?

As when deciding on a travel destination, there is a variety of options so it’s important to choose a location that fits your budget.

Typical price from least to most expensive includes camping, bringing an RV, motel, hotel, bed and breakfast, and timeshares. Most of us won’t be taking the timeshare route, but if planned well in advance you can often find hotel rooms for $110 per night.

Keep in mind that booking a hotel room near downtown or the fun activities will cost you more. Here’s a look at what it would cost for you to stay in a hotel in downtown Portland.

Don't book your travel plans for downtown locations
Staying in downtown can be expensive

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to pay nearly $200 to stay downtown! There are some more reasonably priced hotels ($115), but these often go quickly or will have price rises when big events are happening.

A short drive away from downtown Portland is Beaverton, which has more affordable hotels with all the same accommodations.

Hotel costs in Beaverton, a short drive from downtown Portland.
Hotel costs in Beaverton, a short drive from downtown Portland.

There are Pros and Cons of staying downtown, but if you’re on a budget, looking outside the hotspot of the city is the way to go!

What activities will you do on vacation? What are the fun things to do at your vacation destination?

When planning a vacation, it’s ideal to keep an activities log. The activities log is a list of things you would be interested in doing and the cost associated with each.

Plan a vacation on a budget by keeping a list of things to do!
Keep a list of things to do!

So how do you come up with things to do on your vacation? It all starts with Google.

Find your next travel idea on google
Find your next travel idea on google

You’ll get a lot of different search results, some more helpful than others. When I plan my vacations, I like to click through the first few pages of Google and get an idea of what bloggers and websites are saying about the area.

Search through Google to find activities for your vacation
Search through Google to find activities for your vacation

My favorite part about using Google is that you can search for activities on Google Maps. From the main search engine, click on “Maps” and you will be taken to a more visually oriented way of finding vacation activities.

Google Maps makes vacation planning easier
Google Maps makes vacation planning easier

Using Google Maps is a great way to get familiar with the area before you go and visit. You may also decide that you want to plan your activities prior to finding a hotel so you can make an informed lodging decision.

What food will you be eating? What restaurants do you want to go to?

I don’t hide the fact that I’m a foodie! There is nothing more that I enjoy on vacation than finding the local cuisine that I can’t find at home.

The problem is that eating out can get expensive fast. You should have an idea of how much money you can spend on food from your vacation budget. Just like your weekly routine at home, it’s time to create a meal plan.

I love using Google Maps for finding food as well. Simply searching for “Food in Portland” brings up a lot of food options.

Vacation food options in portland
Food options in Portland

You should know that zooming into the map will bring up more food results for that area. You can filter your results by price, rating, cuisine type, and hours open. The left sidebar has a little preview of the restaurants with the rating and how expensive each place is to eat.

Food preview on Google Maps
Food preview on Google Maps

If you’re on a tight budget, you may want to stick to the single $ options.

Aside from eating out, you’ll want to pack plenty of snacks and meals that you can eat in your hotel room. For example, you might take instant oatmeal cups and use the coffee maker to have hot water. Remember, cooking meals is still cheaper than eating out!

Try and plan your meals under the amount you have budgeted for food. Usually, something comes up, such as a hangry person who needs food that wasn’t on the schedule. Other times, you might just run across a food vendor by chance that sounds appealing, but it may be more expensive than you planned.


Looking for vacation deals. How to book your travel plans on a budget.

Airfare is one of the most expensive factors to consider when planning a vacation. Usually, you find better deals by being more flexible on your departure date. Here is your best strategy for finding the best deals on airfare.

Start researching cheapest airfare and be flexible

Finding the cheapest flight is a pain unless you know about Google’s Matrix Airfare Search. Let’s say you want to book a trip for 2 adults in September, departing from Seattle to LAX. Fill out the matrix search to be as flexible as possible:

Find the cheapest flights by using Google Matrix Airfare Search
Google Matrix Airfare Search Homepage

Hit “Search” and you’ll see a calendar showing the cheapest flight departures on a daily basis:

Find the cheapest airfare
Cheapest flight by day

You can see that there are multiple round trips for only $105 per adult! Let’s say I want to leave on the 16th, all I need to do is click on calendar day 16 and the flight details and other flight options appear:

Find cheap flights
Flight options for the 16th

Spirit is my cheapest option, but if you would rather fly a different airline you can see how much it would cost. You can click on the flight to see the itinerary but unfortunately, you cannot book the flight through Google’s Matrix.

Book your flight through travel websites and receive cash back

Ebates is your secret tool for booking travel on a budget! I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to pay more than I have to and Ebates gives me cash back when I shop online through select stores.

I did a Google search for “book flights” and a lot of popular travel websites show up in the search results. You’ll notice that certain websites have the Ebates logo above the search result, indicating that you can earn up to 10% cash back on certain travel websites.

Use Ebates to earn cash back on airfare
Use Ebates to earn cash back on airfare

Now before you click on any of the travel websites, you’ll want to activate private browsing. Airlines and travel websites install cookies when you visit their website. These cookies are not your friend!

You might search and find a flight for the $105 initially, but if you leave the web page and come back the price may increase. This is a tactic used to scare you into purchasing a ticket because you might believe the airfare price will increase further. Using private browsing blocks the use of cookies so that airlines and travel websites cannot use these tricks.

Now that you’ve activated private browsing, click on a few different travel websites and enter the dates you researched on Google’s Matrix Airfare Search. You’ll see that Ebates will pop up and ask if you want to activate your cash back.

Activate your Ebates cash back
Activate your Ebates cash back

Activate your cash back and see which of the travel websites gives you the best deal. Book the travel website that gives you the best deal!


Don’t go on vacation without your belongings. Here’s a packing list to prepare you for your next trip.

Don’t get caught off guard. You’ll need a packing list to go on vacation. Here is a list of things to consider taking. While I’ve made every effort to make sure it’s all-inclusive,  please make sure the list suits your needs and verify that you have everything you need before leaving.


  • Pants/Shorts/Skirt
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Shoes/Flip Flops/Watershoes/Dress Shoes
  • Sweatshirt/Coat/Rain Jacket/ Wind Breaker
  • Belt
  • Swimsuit
  • Dress/Suit/Tie
  • PJ’s
  • Hat
  • Jewelry
  • Glasses/Sunglasses


  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Deodorant
  • Hairbrush
  • Hair dryer
  • Comb
  • Shampoo and Conditioner
  • Lotion
  • Lip Gloss/Chapstick
  • Feminine products
  • Hair Clips/Pins/ etc.
  • Contact lenses and solution
  • Medication/Asprin
  • Emergency First Aid Kit
  • Shaving Cream and Razor


  • GPS
  • Phone
  • Phone Charger
  • Tablet
  • Laptop
  • Gaming system (handheld device like Nintendo)
  • Electric converters and adapters
  • Music/CDs/headphones


  • Sunscreen
  • Snacks
  • Itinerary
  • Pillow
  • Blankets
  • Towels
  • Pet Records/Location of nearest vet
  • Water bottles
  • Passport
  • Driver’s License
  • Airline Tickets
  • Hotel confirmation/directions

What to do before leaving for your vacation

Before you leave for vacation, make sure you’ve taken care of the following:

  • Pay your bills
  • Turn down your water heater
  • Unplug your appliances (leave a TV on for security)
  • Turn off or adjust your AC/heater
  • Arrange pet and/or child care
  • Hold your mail
  • Hold your newspaper
  • Arrange a house sitter
  • Arrange your ride to and from the airport
  • Leave a spare key with a trusted friend or neighbor
  • Assess any school absences and homework assignments

What’s next?

Enjoy your vacation! Planning a vacation can be hard work, but remember to have fun and relax. I hope this guide gives you the peace of mind to plan your next family vacation.

If you’re looking for more ways to save money, check out the ultimate guide to saving money.

Don’t forget to join me for my money saving course by entering your email in the form below. The course discusses valuable and proven ways to help your family save more money. It doesn’t matter if you make $100,000 per year or $12,000 per year; we could all use a little extra money!

John is the founder of TightFist Finance and an expert in the field of personal finance. John has studied personal finance for over 10 years and has used his knowledge to pay down debt, grow his investment portfolio, and launch a financial based business. He is committed to sharing content related to personal finance based on his experience in his career, investing, and path towards reaching financial independence.