Josh and I love to travel together. When we first got married, we weren’t as frugal as we are now. We honeymooned in Mazatlan, Mexico and celebrated our 1st anniversary in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Both getaways were awesome. Neither was very frugal.
Throughout the years, Josh and I have moved toward a life of simplicity. Our goal now is to live well beneath our means so we can give as generously as possible and not waste the precious resources God has given us. Does this mean no more travel ever again? I think not. Frugality will look different for everyone. These are some tips we’ve learned that allow us to getaway and explore while remaining fiscally responsible and working toward our goals together.
This depends largely on where you’re going. Josh and I are perfectly content checking out small towns in the states surrounding us, so we often drive rather than fly.
When flying, we’ve gotten into credit card points that can be redeemed for free flights. This is a legit and fairly easy way to get most places. I hesitate to recommend it, since credit cards can be a debt trap for some people. We use our credit cards for almost every purchase we make in order to take advantage of the rewards. But Josh diligently pays the balance off every month. This is key. Credit cards are a great tool but only if you know how to use them.
When driving, it really helps to have a car with great gas mileage. Our Toyota Camry does great in this department. We considered renting a car for a recent getaway to Kansas. Sometimes car rental companies will offer a really good deal that makes it worth saving your own car the wear and tear. For the most part though we simply use our own vehicle when driving.
Once again credit card points can come in handy! We recently used our IHG reward points on our Chase card to book a gorgeous hotel in Manhattan, Kansas. The stay was free both nights, and they even upgraded us to a suite free of charge. (Not getting paid to say this! It was just cool.) We chose this town partly because the hotel was such a great deal – it was featured on a list of hotels that were only 5,000 points a night, quite the steal even for points!
If you’re not into the credit card game (I admit, it’s not for everyone) camping is a great option. I grew up camping with my family everywhere we traveled. Hotels are expensive when you have a lot of kids! KOA campgrounds are reliable and always seem to have the best amenities. State parks are also generally affordable and well-maintained. Even if you’re not going somewhere rural, you can usually find a campground. We camped on the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago and on a cliff overlooking the Pacific in San Francisco. Even the ritziest campsites cost less than a hotel, and you get the bonus of experiencing so much nature and fresh air in the process. Don’t be intimidated by this! You can save even more money by making all your own meals at your campsite, but that requires a bit more gear. On the other hand, if all you’re doing at the campsite is sleeping, you need nothing but a tent and some blankets. Easy!
A completely free option if you simply need some shut-eye is napping in the car at a rest stop. Not glamorous, but extremely frugal (and safer than driving while sleepy!) Take advantage of these awesome amenities while road-tripping.
Sites like Tripadvisor make it easy to research the activities in any given place. With a little advance planning, you can pack your days with free fun. Hiking nature preserves, exploring downtown areas, and checking out parks are some of our favorite things. Ask the locals what they do for fun. In the summer months many towns have free concerts, festivals, and movies. If you still need activities, choose just one or two that cost money. Sometimes it’s worth it to spend a little on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Other times, the freebies are more than enough! (Remember, vacations should be relaxing!)
We love food! It’s a pretty big part of the travel experience for us. But the frugal habits we have at home carry over into our trips. Josh and I are used to never eating out, so it’s quite a treat when we’re out of town.
We save a lot when we pack our own breakfasts and lunches. I usually bring healthy snacks like fruits, vegetables, bars, and oatmeal for the travel days so we have no excuse to buy fast food. I also bring my own coffee supplies so Starbucks isn’t necessary (but to my delight free coffee often shows up at hotels and bookstores anyway!) I used to only want hotels that offered continental breakfast. But then Josh and I realized how fun and easy it is to go to the grocery and make our own breakfasts in the hotel room. We got cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, granola, and milk for almost nothing and it lasted us the whole trip. (Remember to bring your own bowls and silverware if you do this!) Now we choose hotels based on price, location, reviews, etc. We’re no longer roped into the “free” continental breakfast…that is usually just included in the price of the room.
Gift cards also come in handy on trips! We got several chain restaurant gift cards over the holidays and brought them with us on our last trip. Places like Starbucks (if you’re unable to score free coffee) and Coldstone Creamery are great to have when you need a free little afternoon pick-me-up.
For dinner, we like to treat ourselves. We research and read menus ahead of time and look for the best grub possible wherever we are. We love ethnic eateries, locally-grown cafes, pubs, and gourmet burger bars the best.
We rarely buy alcohol when we’re out at bars and restaurants. Instead we buy it at the grocery store and keep it at the hotel or campsite. A little pre-game / post-game drinking can save you so much! (We also believe in tipping well! Be nice to your server and brighten their day with your generosity.)
This one is kind of obvious…just resist. Take nothing but pictures if you can get away with it. I have the tendency to want to collect things. I just tell myself I’m collecting photos. I’m collecting memories. I’m collecting experiences instead. It’s both more frugal and more minimal. I’ll admit I usually buy one small trinket whenever Josh and I visit a new state, but I try to make sure it’s something that’s actually useful in it’s own right, like a mug or a magnet. (Snow globes and paperweights serve no real purpose, guys!)
All in all, trips don’t have to cost a lot in order to be awesome. Anytime you’re breaking the normal routine and enjoying time with your family or significant other, it’s going to be special.
What are your frugal travel tips? What are some of the best budget-friendly trips you’ve ever taken?