Planning a Vacation on a Budget

I have to admit my idea of a vacation is probably not the typical type of vacation most folks take. I don’t have a family and usually travel with friends; though, occasionally I enjoy taking trips alone. Both ways of travel have pros and cons. When traveling with friends there is always someone to share the time (creating fun memories en route) and costs (gas, parking, hotels, etc.). My favorite advantage to flying with friends is always having some at the airport that can watch my bags if need be.

The major advantage to traveling alone is that you can do whatever you want whenever you want. You can set your own itinerary, discover places off the beaten path and depart from and arrive at destinations at your own convenience. Your vacation truly becomes your time to enjoy (and personally, I like to travel with as small an itinerary as possible). It also presents more opportunity to meet people that you otherwise would not have met. For safety’s sake, keep in mind that it is always wise to let other people know that you are leaving home and stay in contact with those folks throughout your trip.

A major down side to traveling alone is that you have to cover all of the expenses on your own; however, there are ways to minimize costs. Campgrounds are an excellent way to save on costs (KOAs, state and federal-reserve lands and private campgrounds) compared to hotels. I have found that KOAs and private campgrounds charge $20 – $30 a night, while state and federal-reserve lands are very low cost (free – $20). I save money on food by shopping at grocery stores, packing a cooler and picking up ice as I go (I also have a portable propane stove for cooking).

Whether I am traveling with friends or sight-seeing solo, I have found that I enjoy driving more than I do flying. Driving gives me an opportunity to see the landscape change as I go, set foot in new places that I otherwise would have flown over and experience first-hand how and where other people live. A couple of years ago I took a road trip out to the East Coast. It was amazing seeing the East Coast turn into Appalachia turn into the industrial / urban Midwest turn into the rural / agricultural Midwest on the way home.

Of course it is nice to take car trips with friends to break up the driving time (too many hours behind the wheel is not good for anyone). Sharing gas expenses with other people is a great benefit. If it is a far enough trip and time is limited, flying may be cheaper (though everybody still has to pay for their own airfare). When flying, don’t forget to consider costs of transportation once you arrive at your destination (rental cars and taxis can be very expensive and you still have to buy the gas with a rental). Hopefully, these costs will be more manageable when shared with traveling buddies.

The two biggest variables I think about when planning a trip are time and money. There are lots of important questions I ask myself. How much time do I have to take my vacation? How long will it take me to get to my destination? How long will it take me to get home? Would driving or flying be cheaper (considering transportation costs when I arrive at my destination)? Where will I stay on my trip? If I am driving, where will I stay en route? Do I know people on the way who I can stay with? For myself, if a weekend destination that is more than 8 – 12 hours away, I prefer to travel via flight (even on a long 4 day weekend). If I have closer to a week to travel, I would definitely prefer to drive…even to the East Coast! 

Traveling is one of my favorite ways to spend free time and money. And if you want to save on both, consider traveling locally. I often get out to local state parks on the weekends just to spend the day. I recently spent my birthday at Maplewood Park swimming and getting some sun. Anytime I can get out to new places and do something different is time (and money) well spent. Just thinking about traveling is making me want to pack my bags and plot my maps!

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