Something you probably don’t know about me is that I like to travel. a LOT. One of my goals is to visit all 50 United States and I am so close with only six states left to visit. In the past three years alone I have visited 26 new states on my quest.
Traveling can be expensive, but with a plan you can travel on a budget and still manage to have a wonderful time. During our trips to hit all of these states we have done nearly every single thing we have wanted to do or see and still management to stay within our budget.
Plan Ahead. Once you decide on your destination make sure to give yourself plenty of time to plan and save for your trip. We like to give ourselves roughly 6-9 months to plan and save for our upcoming trip.
Destination. Our first step is obviously deciding where it is we want to visit and what we want to to see and do while we are there. Since my goal has been to visit all fifty states our vacations lately have been dictated by this which hasn’t bothered us one bit, but I am a bit excited to see what comes afterward! 😉
Budget. Once we have our destination in mind our second step is always establishing a budget so that we can begin to save. This also keeps us from being tempted to stretch ourselves thin during our trip by trying to do too much which usually ends up costing more and leaving us worn out. It’s a lose-lose situation we want to avoid.
I do encourage you once the budget is set to see how many paychecks you have left and divide the total amount between the paychecks and start setting that amount aside each time you are paid so that you are saving a little at a time rather than scrambling to come up with a large sum as the time to leave for your vacation approaches.
Transportation. You might be amazed to learn that I had never flown commercially until just three months ago when we visited San Francisco. We even drove when we visited Seattle (which was a 32 hour drive for us) so it is possible to drive anywhere. We usually opt to drive due to it being the less expensive option. If you are going to fly try to wait until tickets are on sale or flying out of a larger airport where flights are less expensive.
Travel in the Off Season. We usually travel in late September after school is back in full swing since it is the off season and things are less expensive. This means that some things could be closed due to it coming up on the off season so check dates on attractions you are wanting to visit. We love vacationing in the cooler weather and when there are less crowds.
Accommodations. Personally, we are a hotel traveling kind of a family. Although we will stay with family and friends who have room if we are in their neck of the woods. My goal is to find our hotels for right around $100-$120 per night that has a free breakfast.
We tend to change hotels every couple of days as we travel from state to state, but if you are staying in one area for your entire trip you could also look into renting a condo or a hotel room with a kitchen so that you could cook during your stay further reducing your cost.
Whenever we are traveling to a larger city such a Seattle or Boston, I always look for hotels just outside of the city that are less expensive. You don’t have to stay at a 4 star hotel to find a nice, clean hotel. I always spend a good amount of time on Hotels.com reading reviews and double checking the Bed Bug Registry just to be safe before booking. Make sure to book any Hotels.com reservations through Ebates to get cashback for even more savings!
Other less expensive options for accommodations include Airbnb, Hostels, and other countless options you can find with a quick search. There is a lot of research involved when it comes to planning accommodations for your trip. It is definitely the thing that I spend the most time on when planning our vacations, but it pays off in the end because when you can find a great hotel in a good location for $100, that is worth the effort!
On the flip side of hotel stays, I have a good friend who loves camping and does that to save money while traveling. If you enjoy camping this is a great way to save a lot of money. I would recommend reserving campsite ahead of time though. My friend learned that the hard way and ended up driving an extra three hours one night before she found an open campsite. Yikes!
Sightseeing. We try our best to alternate between paying for attractions and finding things to do that are free in order to stay within our budget. With a little research you can find quite a few things to do that are free. I have always enjoyed visiting State Capitols which are free. You can also use sites like Groupon to save on tickets and even hotel deals.
Whenever planning our trip itinerary I use Roadtrip America’s Map Wizard to find attractions, National Parks, Historic Sites, Museums, Events, and so much more. Just make sure to sign up for a free account and log in prior to creating a map or it won’t save your map (I learned that the hard way!). This has been an invaluable tool when planning our trips since it shows you so many options of things to do and sites to see.
I also use Pinterest to search for things to do in a specific town that we will be visiting. Sometimes this is helpful and sometimes it is not depending on how large the town is and if any bloggers have visited. 🙂
I like to find free and quirky roadside attraction to stop out along the way to stretch our legs.
Food and Drinks. We use to try and bring sandwich meat and bread with us to make for less expensive meals, but we haven’t done this for some time. You see we found that after 10 hours on the road the last thing we wanted to do was stop and make a sandwich with bread that we had accidently squashed when one of us was tired and laid down. So, instead we opted to pack a few snacks and bottled water to encourage ourselves to save in that area and snack more healthily while on the road. We might not save as much, but we weren’t saving either when we ended up just throwing out the sandwich supplies either. In the long run this has worked well for our family. Find what works well for your family and budget and go for it!
I will say my favorite way to save while sightseeing is with my Platypus collapsible refillable water bottle. It takes up minimal space in my bag at the beginning of the day and I can refill it just about anywhere. Best $7 I ever spent! 😉
Souvenirs. Don’t forget to budget for souvenirs! I collect magnets from the states I have visited and I will also buy a t-shirt if they have one I like that it not an outrageous amount. Sometimes we will also bring back small gifts for family, friends, and co-workers. When traveling I also like to keep an eye out for birthday and Christmas gifts for family since you find things you wouldn’t normally find closer to home!