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How much does a vacation cost? According to NerdWallet, $3,594 on average (if you’re flying or booking a hotel). So it makes sense that 91% of the over 2,000 American adults surveyed are cutting costs to save on travel.

Not overspending on vacation is important in any season. At Accredited Debt Relief, we’re experts at helping people find and maintain financial freedom. This guide aims to show you how to plan a vacation on a budget — and inspire you to get creative. Let’s dive into our five best tips for planning a cheap vacation.

1. Figure out how much vacation you can afford

Time off is important to your health and happiness, but so is your financial wellbeing. Having a realistic budget for your vacation can keep stress at bay and ensure you still have a great time. 

Here’s how to save for a vacation:

  1. Look at your monthly net income (that’s your take-home after taxes and deductions like health insurance). From there, subtract your monthly essentials like rent, groceries and bills.
  2. Build your vacation budget from the remaining balance. The earlier you start planning, the better shape you’ll be in to travel. 

For example, setting aside $50 a week in January means you’ll have a budget of $1,000 by June. 

Let your ambitions guide your budgeting. With a good plan, your cheap family vacation doesn’t have to feel inexpensive! 

Using Credit Cards and Points

1 in 5 respondents told NerdWallet that they’re planning on going into credit card debt to travel. With high APRs — at time of writing, the industry average was 24.62% — that slightly out-of-budget trip could balloon into a major problem. 

If you are planning to use a credit card to accumulate points, make sure you have the ability to pay the balance in full after booking. (If you’re in a Debt Consolidation Program, make sure you’re not using an account you’re working on.)

The points you’ve already acquired are a different story. Use these to your advantage by booking flights, accommodations and rental cars through your card’s specified partners. And don’t forget to keep an eye on your inbox for special promotions to stretch your points even further. But remember: Don’t let the lure of earning points catch you in a cycle of debt. 

2. Let your boundaries guide you

Need to get away, but don’t know where to go? 

Cheap vacation spots may be right in your backyard. See where your car or local Amtrak station can take you. You might have been overlooking a sweet bed and breakfast, a cool vacation rental or a great campground within a few hours of home. 

If you can stretch your budget a bit further, try using the explore features built into many travel booking platforms. These tools allow you to browse ticket prices by the length of your trip within a specified period of time. Beyond a good deal, you can discover options you’d have never otherwise considered.

3. Don’t forget the incidental expenses

You’ve figured out where you want to go and stay. But that’s only half the battle: Will you need to rent a car? How much will you spend on food? Entertainment? 

Make a list of everything you need and add those to your budget, plus at least 10% to cover extras. Save more by assessing alternative transportation options, like public transit or bike rentals.

If you’re planning something big, look into that place’s off-season. You might be able to score tickets to a normally sold-out show or get competitive restaurant reservations. Seeing a different side of your destination could pay off — and help you travel in comfort.

The importance of being organized

Planning a budget vacation takes a fair amount of work and attention to detail. So it’s best to create a spreadsheet to track your ideas and expenses. When you have all your options laid out in front of you, you can mix and match to find the best spots to save (and splurge). 

4. Plan with a group

Living large is more affordable when you split the cost several ways. So round up your people and start searching for somewhere everyone will love. Vacation rentals are ideal for big groups. Find a large home with a pool, (for a fraction of what you might pay to sit poolside at a hotel). 

5. Keep it simple

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the best things in life are free (or, at least, cheap). 

Consider the alternatives to spending big bucks at an amusement park or fancy restaurant. Your kids might have as much fun looking for salamanders in a creek as they would seeing them behind glass in an aquarium. An ice cream cone during an evening walk can be as sweet as dessert at a five-star bistro. 

Focus on relaxation and togetherness over your to-do list. After all, isn’t vacation about getting away from stress? You deserve to breathe. Simplifying your trip can give you the space to relax and enjoy your hard-earned time off. 

What about cheap, all-inclusive resorts? 

For those looking for the best family vacation on a budget, an all-inclusive resort can sound like the perfect solution. But there’s a hitch: You may find that the quality of the resort matches its low cost. 

Booking a cheap beach vacation at an all-inclusive resort may not translate into a trip that’s worth your money and time. Doing your own research might result in a more luxurious vacation (and likely cost you less, too). 

Some great places to start exploring

Browse worldwide cheap flights

Google Flights – Expansive flight searches from the biggest names in the industry

Kayak – Search for vacations with your favorite activities in mind

Going – Formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights, a small upfront fee can mean major savings

Find unique travel ideas

HipCamp – Characterful campsites and stays in scenic destinations

Visit the USA – Ideas for destinations, road trips and more

National Parks Service – Make memories in America’s wilderness

Atlas Obscura – Quirky, spooky and fantastic things to see and do across the globe

Links are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only

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