How to Vacation on a Budget

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Interestingly enough, I’m writing this in the same spot I wrote about unplugging. We’re on our way back to Colorado, this time with our little girls. Family trips like this are fun and can be a great way to get away and not spend a boat load of money.

The drive is about 14 hours from Chicago to Denver. It can be a challenge to keep a 6 year old and 3 year old occupied for that long, but they’re doing great so far! The reason why we are able to take another vacation like this, though, boils down to two reasons.

Cost and vacation time.

Since there isn’t a lot that we can do about vacation time (since it’s regulated by your employer) we’re going to focus on cost.

I’m pretty sure it’s no secret that my family and I like to go to Disney World. But in order to sustain and budget for those Disney trips, we have to get creative with vacationing on the cheap for other vacations. This Colorado trip that we take just about every year is one of those cheap vacations.

For those who cannot (or don’t want to) vacation to exotic places or Disney Parks, a vacation to visit family in other parts of the country is a great way to have a great time while saving money. Hence the reason why my family can take a vacation 3 weeks after the previous one.

But there are other reasons why a vacation to visit family in other parts of the country can be a great alternative to other bigger budget vacations. Including cost, here are just a few.


Since this is a personal finance blog, we might as well get this one out of the way to start. 😉

While your average Disney World trip can cost upwards of two to three thousand dollars (or more!) for a family of four, a driving vacation to visit family can cost significantly less.

For us, we’re able to drive there. Both ways for gas it cost’s about $150. Contrast that with four plane tickets costing on average about $250 each and that’s already a savings of $850.

We actually won’t need a hotel room at all for this trip either. We’re staying with my wife’s aunt and uncle, and her cousins. We are staying for a week and not having a hotel cost is a huge savings. Even a cheap hotel rate can cost you around $60 a night. For a 7 day/6 night stay, that’s a total of $360 we’re saving.

There are a total of 9 people living in their house already, and they are kind enough to make room for the four of us in my family. Now, I know this won’t work in all situations, but it’s definitely worth a shot to see if you can stay with the family you are visiting. If a family of 9 can make room for 4 more in an average size house, I’m sure you can work something out with your family. 😉

It’s also a great opportunity to bless the family you are staying with. We’re going to take out my wife’s cousin and her husband for dinner and also offer to help pay for some groceries. We’ll still be much cheaper than a hotel for a week.

The last area where it can be cheaper is in food costs. Since we’ll be gone for a week, we’re just using the money we have set aside for our grocery budget for snacks for the car and groceries at our family’s house. We won’t need to buy groceries for the house while we’re gone so we might as well.

Eating out is a normal part of any vacation, and we’ll do that a bit too, but you can save any type of dining out budget you have for your upcoming trip and forego eating out at home for the month. For us, we have a date night dining out budget and a family dining out budget that we’re going to be pulling from.

How to Vacation on a Budget Pinterest


Oh, adventure, how I long for thee!

Have you ever read blogs or Facebook post about someone else’s vacation? Have you seen photos online that people post about places they’ve visited? I don’t know about you, but I always get this small feeling in my gut that says, “Hey, you should do that.”

Parts of our country are absolutely gorgeous. And you can see a lot of it simply by driving through to a relatives house or visiting places near where your relatives live.

You’ve got the Appalachian Mountains in the East, the Rocky Mountains in the West. Beaches in California and Florida. Hilly plains in Iowa (some of my favorite!). There’s so much to see simply by driving.

There are also places you can see near your relatives. For example, my wife’s aunt, uncle, and cousins live near some of the highest peaks in Colorado. Pike’s peak is a site to behold, from near the bottom or the top. Mount Evans has the highest paved road in North America at 14,130 feet. It’s absolutely beautiful up there! 


Near the top of Mount Evans.
Near the top of Mount Evans.

We’re going to be doing this and it’s going to cost us nothing but gas and maybe lunch at Subway.

When you go to visit your relatives, ask them what there is to do in their neck of the woods. I’d be more than willing to bet that there’s something fun to do within a couple of hours from where they live.


What better way is there to bond (or get on each others nerves) then to be stuck in a metal tube for 12 hours? I’m an optimist so we’ll go with the bonding part.

Now, before you click away and say “No thanks! I’m done!” hear me out. A trip through the country can be a great way to really strengthen your relationship with your family or friends.

Think about it. If you take away the distractions and just be with each other, a lot of magic can happen. You can play games together like “I spy” or start with A and try and find signs or words that start with each letter of the alphabet. You and your partner can finally have that long conversation you’ve been dying to have.

There are no distractions from work or other areas of life so you can really take the time to get to know your family again.

There’s also the added bonus of catching up with whomever you’re going to be visiting! Sure there are many and easy ways to get a hold of each other and talk these days, but nothing beats that in-person time together.

We only see our family we are visiting we only see once a year so it’s always a great time getting together. We are also able to see some friends we’ve made out in Colorado since we’ve been coming out here every year the past 11 years.


Our Colorado trip is very similar to trips we used to take as a family when I was a child. We have family that used to live in Texas. There were a few summers in a row when we took a drive and visited them for a week. We stayed with them, swam with them, and had a really good time.

Growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money to take elaborate vacations so Texas was a great way for us to vacation on the cheap just like Colorado is now for us.

How about you?

Is there anywhere that your family frequents to save money while vacationing? Do you have any tips for vacationing in general? 

I’d love to hear from you!

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Hey! I'm Tim.

I’m an expert budgeter, author, and Certified Financial Coach. My mission is to not only teach you money principles, but to teach you how to mold them to fit who you are and build the life you want. I don’t like typical money advice. I’ve tried to fit into a mold by using typical money advice and I had less control of my money and went further into unnecessary debt. Now, I live to teach others how to break the mold in their own lives and find their version of financial freedom. Read more about me.

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  • Budgeting principles from the five best budgeting methods
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