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7 Tips For Planning A Budget Friendly Dream Vacation In The U.S.

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Traveling is something a lot of us enjoy and love, but it can also get pricey. If you're looking to plan a vacation that's not only fun and memorable but also budget-friendly, here are 7 tips to help you out!

7 Tips For Planning A Budget Friendly Dream Vacation In The U.S.

1. Set A Budget

The first thing you’re going to want to do is set a budget. Figuring out an exact number early on will give you a better idea of how to make sure you’re able to include the most important parts of your vacation without breaking the bank. Here are a couple of ways to do this, depending on your preferences. The first, and the most straightforward way, is to simply a set hard maximum limit. This is probably most ideal for shorter or single-destination trips. It’s the quickest and least complex method. However, it can limit your options if any last-minute changes come up.

If you’re looking to build some flexibility into the plan, break down this initial number into a range that includes your targeted budget for the vacation as well as some “in case of emergency” finances. This is helpful for longer trips, or trips that have a lot of aspects to them (such as multiple tours, hotels, and so on). By factoring in some extra space in the budget ahead of time, you won’t be left scrambling. And, if everything does go to plan, you can always use the extra money towards the end of your trip for an additional fun stop. 

roadtrip USA

2. Define Your “Dream Vacation”

After you’ve set the budget for your vacation, you’re going to want to figure out what exactly it is that you want out of a vacation. This is important because it will allow you to more easily prioritize aspects of the vacation important to you and which aspects can be compromised. If there’s anything that is a “deal-breaker” for your dream vacation, you’ll want to keep it in mind while planning. Camping, for example, can be a great way to cut down on lodging costs. If you absolutely are not a camping person, though, you’ll likely want to look to other aspects of your vacation that can keep the cost down. Be honest with yourself here, but also be willing to compromise on some less important aspects. 

Photo of a happy young couple walking hand-in-hand on Waikiki beach at sunrise.

3. Create Your Own Plans

Booking tours is a convenient way to assure you see the best parts of your destination, but can also get pricey. Now, there are several reasons why you might choose to book a tour. In some places, an experienced tour guide is either required or simply a good choice for safety reasons. They will also be able to offer you in-depth information about your destination, and booking a tour will streamline your planning process. However, if you’re willing to put in some extra research and planning, venturing out on your own in many places can not only save money but offer a one-of-a-kind, personalized experience. If you’re visiting New York, for example, you’ll find no shortage of sightseeing tours. While these are an excellent way to see the city, you can also plan a self-guided tour of your own – including not just iconic sights but also spots that are interesting to you personally. 

Statue of Liberty

4. Don't Be Afraid To Venture Off The Beaten Path

Some of the most popular spots to visit can not only be crowded but also pricey. While adding some iconic things to do to your itinerary isn’t a bad idea, don’t be afraid to explore some lesser-known places either! Many of these “hidden gems” will be a good deal cheaper – or even free – compared to more touristy spots. If you’re in southern California, for instance, Wild Willy’s Hot Springs are a group of relaxing, serene springs that include a unique and photogenic heart-shaped pool and are completely free.

5. Take Advantage Of Deals And Discounts

One of the best ways to make a vacation more budget-friendly is to take advantage of deals and discounts. Even pricier attractions will occasionally have promotions that cut their costs down. Check out previous years to see if there are any recurring annual discounts (such as for holiday celebrations), as well as if there are any specific discounts that might apply to your trip (such as Veteran's discounts). Another great opportunity to keep an eye out for is package deals – such as all-inclusive resorts. These can often not only cut down on costs by including food, lodging, and activities at a flat price, but also make planning easier.

6. Plan Ahead And Book Early

Planning ahead can save you a considerable amount of money on your trip. Booking early sometimes comes with deals or discounts like discussed above. Additionally, it also assures you won’t have to fork out extra money for last-minute accommodations or experiences if your desired ones are sold out or otherwise unavailable. 

Plan Ahead And Book Early

7. Travel In The “Off Season”

One pretty consistent way to save money while traveling is to visit places during the off-season.  Many well-loved destinations can be extremely expensive during their peak times for visiting, but surprisingly affordable during the other times of the year. Now, when exactly is the peak season/off-season depends on where you’re going. The off-season for popular beach destinations such as southern California is generally the fall and winter. Meanwhile, the off-season for places that are most visited for skiing or fall foliage, such as Vermont, is likely in the summer.

After you figure out where you’re going, check out what the most common reasons that people visit are. This should let you determine when the off-season is. This does bring us to the downside of off-season travel. You may be able to save quite a bit of money, but also have to compromise in some other way. If you visit southern California in the winter, for example, water may be chilly and beaches cloudy. Of course, if you’re fine with the compromises needed, this is an excellent and simple way to make your vacation more budget-friendly. 

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