Tips for Travel, Vacations, or Staycations on a Budget

During June, COMPASS is sharing ideas, experiences and stories for how to have summer fun on a budget. Today we welcome back Nicole Brennan, a marketing assistant with Barnabas Foundation who shares some budget-friendly tips for summer travel, in the first of a two part blog-post series.

School is out, long weekends abound, and the beautiful weather outside your window is beckoning… All signs point to vacation!

Everyone needs a little “TLC” or “R’n’R” (pick your acronym!) during these warm, lazy summer days, but sticking to a budget is still necessary. I enjoy being frugal and thrifty, and carry these values out to my travel plans, be it a vacation or staycation.

Enjoying a ride with my friend Catherine in a gondolla while visiting and experiencing Venice, Italy

Enjoying a ride with my friend Catherine in a gondolla while visiting and experiencing Venice, Italy.

First step’s first- Create a budget! Know who is going, where you will go, what you will do, and the approximate cost. (Of course not knowing where you go is always an exhilarating adventure!) Research and estimate the cost for transportation, meals, activities, souvenirs, and create a budget including a “miscellaneous” category. Stay within your means by finding discounts, planning free or low cost activities, and taking advantage of friends and family. (Why pay a hotel/hostel/campground when you can stay in a guest bedroom/living room/backyard for free?) I also keep my receipts and journal my expenses during the trip. This way, I know where my money is going and am more budget-conscious in the midst of the vacation.

Don’t be caught unaware… Be prepared! Preparation is crucial to budgeting. There’s an old adage in event planning that can be applied to a multitude of situations: “An event can be cheap, fast, or good, but you can only have two.” Since I want my vacation to be cheap and good, I can’t have fast, too. That’s where planning comes in. Spreadsheets are my best friend, and I highly suggest you become acquainted with them. Write out (or include hyperlinks) to various information you might need: sleeping schedules, packing lists, day plans, directions and maps, meal information, and your vacation budget. (On my recent trip to Italy, I had seven different spreadsheets and a “vacation folder” I traveled with containing printed versions.) I suggest planning to happen at least a month before the trip. A benefit to prior preparation- it builds the anticipation!

“Let’s make a deal” should be your catchphrase. If you are traveling, be sure to check airfare and transportation deal sites. Expedia, and Airfare Watchdog are great sites for airplane tickets, but Hotwire, TravelZoo, Orbitz, and Travelocity provide deals on airfare, cruises, hotels, activities, etc. Try to check them all for deals and steals. Finding a great bargain can be daunting, but I get excitement from it. If that’s not you, pick your favorite “deal” site (or two) and go with those. If you only check one site, be sure to check because it compares various websites and has a “Confidence meter” that tells you when to buy your tickets. BONUS: Purchase airfare at least a month to two weeks in advance, and on a Tuesday afternoon when flight prices are their lowest.

On the famous Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy

On the famous Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy

Check with the vendor. A frequent tip I share is to check Groupon for deals, and before you make the purchase, call the vendor. Most of the time, they will honor the Groupon price without you having to purchase the Groupon. (Groupon makes their profit by taking a percentage of the purchase price from the seller.) By bypassing Groupon, you are still getting a deal, but you are putting your money in the hands of the local business. The same goes for airfare and transportation. Some budget airlines (Southwest, Spirit, Frontier, etc.) don’t list their flights on other deal sites, so you’ll have to check their websites individually.

Read the policy statements and customer reviews! I get so excited when I find an amazing deal that I sometimes buy it before checking the details. (There is always a reason why that good is on sale… find it out.) Budget airlines might charge you exorbitant fees for baggage. Hotel deals may not be available for weekends. There may be too many people in your party (or not enough) to qualify for the activity deal. Know the limits of the bargain and try to work within them.

In the next blog post, I’ll share some more helpful hints and budget friendly tips!

profileAbout the Author, Nicole Brennan: Hello there! I’m passionate about living a stewardly lifestyle, while being adventurous and frugal. I currently live in community with six other 20-somethings in downtown Chicago and work as a Marketing Assistant at Barnabas Foundation, a partner of ESC and COMPASS. In my off hours, you can find me volunteering at a nearby homeless shelter, enjoy live music with friends, or watching reruns ofParks and Rec. Email me at or tweet me at @BarnabasFdn.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

3 thoughts on “Tips for Travel, Vacations, or Staycations on a Budget

  1. Pingback: More Tips for Travel on a Budget | COMPASS: Navigating Faith & Finances

  2. Pingback: This Week’s Links « Timothy Siburg

  3. Pingback: Frugal Fall: A Financial Self-Examination | COMPASS: Navigating Faith & Finances

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