Women's back against a tropical island
Women's back against a tropical island

How To Not Go Into Debt Over A Vacation

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Save more, spend smarter, and make your money go further

Is it just me or is everyone under the sun planning a vacation? Let’s be honest though, whether those plans involve a ski trip or a beach- they can get pricey. Between airfare, hotel accommodations, spending money, and other added expenses, you could easily spend thousands on your annual getaway.

According to a study by Bankrate, the average amount Americans spend per year on summer vacations is $1,979. 

That’s why I love STAYCATIONS. You don’t need to go far to get all the benefits of a vacation. A staycation is a great alternative to give yourself a little R&R without breaking the bank. If you’re worried about ALL the money you’ll be spending on your next getaway, unsure of whether you can afford to go on vacation, or are anything like me and want to know tips and tricks to save on travel, I’ve got you covered. 

The words budget and fun aren’t enemies! They can live together; I promise. You just have to be a little more creative to get them cooperating and collaborating. 

The first question you should ask when budgeting for a trip is: Can you afford to travel? Vacations are a luxury and by no means a necessity, although sometimes they might feel like one. However, if you have any outstanding consumer debt, then you should probably rethink your travel plans. 

Ok, now the fun part — here are some ways to save on your next vacation and not come home with debt. 

  1. Make a Budget and Stick To It

The key to vacation spending is—you guessed it—plan plan plan and budget budget budget. When trip planning, balance your total costs based on 1) where you’re going; 2) how you plan to get there and 3) what you’ll do once you’re there. For example, while New York City is really expensive and you will pay a lot on hotel rates, it might cost less to fly there—you’ll also save on low-cost activities, tourist attractions, and dollar pizza. If you’re on a budget, plan a trip that doesn’t gouge you in all three areas.

Pro-tip: Set aside a separate savings account just for your vacation. By putting a little money into it throughout the year, you can accumulate a nice chunk of change. 

  1. Book Your Flights Strategically

Did you know early morning flights are usually cheaper compared to other times of the day, and if you buy your tickets on a Tuesday it’s usually cheaper– so try and book those times if you can. 

Pro-tip: Not only should you try to book your flights well ahead of time, but you should also look at the flight times and airports you’ll be traveling through. Also, consider a companion voucher. 

  1. Create a Daily Cash Allowance

After you calculate the cost of transportation and hotel, set a daily budget for expected food, drink, activities and souvenirs/shopping for nicknacks. Calculate the number you get after the expenses by 10 to 15 percent as a cushion in case of an emergency or unforeseen expenses. Once you arrive at your daily allowance, set aside that amount in separate envelopes for each day and stash the envelopes in the hotel safe. Each day, use only what’s in one envelope.

Pro tip: Vacations are a great time to be on a “cash diet,” aka use cash not your credit card. Your credit card can be saved for emergencies.

If you’re traveling abroad, sometimes foreign money doesn’t feel like real money because it’s hard to convert and looks different. Consider jotting the cost in US dollars on the envelope to keep track. Or just keep looking at the envelope to see how much is left for the day —so you don’t blow through half an envelope on lunch. Think of it as a mind game to trick yourself into spending less!

  1. Locals Deals

A lot of hotels and attractions will cut deals for those who live in the region. Take a peek at their websites to see if you can score a lower price based on your zip code.

  1. Get Pool Access

If you don’t want to pay for an overnight stay at a hotel, sometimes spots with awesome resort-like pools will offer day passes for you to enjoy the facilities.

  1. Get Your Apps In Order

I love deals, especially last-minute deals. Hotel Tonight is a great app that scouts out unfilled rooms in hotels and will give you some serious discounts. 

Need a spa day or want to go on a local adventure? Groupon and LivingSocial have so many great deals from facials to guided tours. 

Time off is important for your mental health, and by now you know you don’t have to go far to take a vacation. Even allowing time to be a tourist in your own city is a form of a vacation.


What are some ways you budget for your vacation? Leave a comment below. 

Save more, spend smarter, and make your money go further

Annemarie Belda

Annemarie Belda is the communications manager for Intuit Mint. She is passionate about helping readers achieve their financial goals from starting a savings account to financial freedom. More from Annemarie Belda