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.

Summer and Vacation Fun 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 Marcia Shetler, Executive Director and CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center who shares some thoughts about vacations. 

RVI like to travel, and I come from a family of travelers, at least on my father’s side. My grandfather bought his first RV in the early 1960s, when that type of vehicle was somewhat of a novelty. Both my grandparents and parents spent a significant portion of their retirement years as full-time RVers. As a child and even a teenager, I looked forward to our family summer vacations each year, which were often trips to an Atlantic Ocean-side beach. As a parent, I was happy to be able to provide similar vacation experiences for our own children, including RV “camping”.

Writing about vacations, of course, is referring to a subject of privilege. North American culture tells us we deserve vacations and holidays, but many persons in our world cannot imagine such an opportunity. As Christians—and Christian stewards—should we view vacations from a perspective of entitlement, guilt, or something in between?

Aaron Crowe, editor at the Credit Solution Program, wrote an article titled 7 Reasons Why We Overspend on Vacation.  He includes a sense of entitlement on his list, and some other interesting factors, like letting the feeling of needing to run with the crowd to popular, hyped-up destinations trump real rest and solitude off the beaten path, which really would do us the most good. The last item on his list of reasons for overspending is “not practicing mindfulness and gratitude”. There’s a bit of a faith-based connection! He closes by saying, “So slow down and spend some time just lounging at the hotel pool instead of rushing out to spend more money. Really talk to your spouse and kids for once, instead of allowing everyone to tap away at their smartphone screens during dinner. When you’re grateful, you don’t need to fill some inner void by acquiring stuff.”

A resource of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative is a short video, “How do you decide what to do with your money?” One of the young adults in this person-on-the-street-style video shared that his mother encourages him to invest in experiences, not things. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told the crowds of his day—and he tells us—not to worry about food and clothing, and that God will provide for us. We need to make sure we are not packing those anxieties in our bags for vacation or otherwise.

Can your faith, budget, and holiday or vacation time really coexist? Karen Baker wrote about Five ways to explore your faith on vacation in the US Catholic. Consider these ideas, many of which are quite budget-friendly:

  • Visit a retreat center or take a trip to a place with spiritual significance.
  • Spend time outdoors in God’s creation.
  • Visit an historical site (like a birthplace or monument) of a person or group that you find inspiring.
  • Invest your vacation in God’s work and kingdom: volunteer near or far.
  • Do all of the above in areas close to home that you have yet to explore.

If you have the privilege of a summer vacation, consider that it is part of the blessings that God has given you, no matter what your budget. Be grateful, and be on the lookout for God’s presence, no matter where your travels take you!

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.

Image Credit: RV

Summer Fun on a Budget

RevealsThe sun is shining, the water is warming up and the days are much longer. Happy Summer everyone!

COMPASS is sharing different perspectives and ideas during the month of June to help get you in the mood, and to help prepare you to have fun this summer while on a budget.  Some of the topics and questions we will share about will be:

  • Having Summer Fun on a Budget with Young Adults and Kids
  • Camping and Christian Camping as part of summer
  • Tips for Travel, Vacations and Staycations on a Budget

We’ll cover these topics and more with the help of a number of guest writers and me. To start our month of ideas, tips and conversation, consider these three questions:

  • What is your best summer memory? What makes it so memorable, and how could you make that experience happen again?
  • What kind of a budget do you have for summer fun? Or, do you need help making a budget for the summer?
  • Have you ever gone traveling on a vacation or spent a week (or more) at camp during the summer? If so, where did you go and what did you learn?

As I think about those questions, my best summer memories either all involve vacations with families and those close to me, or the fun around the summer that my wife Allison and I got married. The common denominator in all of these memories is fun outside (at a pool, playing baseball/kickball, etc.), spending good quality time with important people in my life. Allison and I will be moving later this summer for her internship toward pastoral ministry, so hopefully we’ll be able to build some fun sightseeing into our moving trip.

Allison and I on a quick summer trip last year to see a couple friends of ours be ordained as pastors.

Allison and I on a quick summer trip last year to see a couple friends of ours be ordained as pastors.

Our upcoming move and a planned trip for a friend’s wedding are considerations as we plan our summer fun budget. We look forward to hosting friends at our home this summer and exploring local options, like attending a ball game or two.

I have been very blessed to be able to travel throughout much of the United States with family and loved ones, and I’ve even seen some different parts of the world. What I’ve learned through traveling and vacations is that I really love learning about history and the stories and cultures of different places and different peoples. It gives me a better perspective about how I relate to the larger world which I am part of as one of God’s children and part of God’s creation.

Now, it’s your turn. How would you respond to these questions?

Also, I am still looking for guest writers on any of the topics above. If you would like to share a perspective or reflection, please let me know!

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.