How To Have A Cheap (AND Fun) Vacation

John and I just got back from our mini-vacation to Chicago, which is a good 4-hour drive away (0r 45 minute plane ride, if you have $350 lying around). And while we didn’t have a strict budget, we didn’t have a great deal to spend since we had nothing saved for it and didn’t want to tap our emergency fund. We got back and counted up the numbers, and we spent $400 total, including the gas to drive there, the hotel, food everything. Which I think is pretty good, but we could definitely do better next time. So I’ve compiled a post full of tips that we already used, and things we learned to do for next time.

1. Make food to take with you. Whether it’s as simple as lugging along some leftovers from the night before, or pre-preparing a pasta salad or potato salad, or making sandwiches, it’s good to have food with you. Do you really need to be sitting opposite each other at an expensive restaurant to be having a good time together? Or could you save the money and calories and eat at the hotel, then head out for your drinks/evening plans? We all have coolers & ice packs, and most hotels have refrigerators & microwaves. So use them! – We did this to a certain extent, but we could have saved an additional $45 if we’d brought more food (plus food for the way home, which we didn’t even think about).

2. Bring water. Lots of water. I’m one of those people who cannot drink tapwater (it’s so chlorinated that I just want to gag). But we neglected to bring water, so we ended up buying expensive drinks while out and about, like sodas and flavoured drinks. A 24-pack cost us $2.49 at Aldi, or to be even more frugal, I could have filtered it at home and reused all our bottles and brought them along. – This could have saved us at least $5.

3. Look up coupons and groupons that match up with your plans before you leave the house. We did this, and it got us free popcorn at the theatre (at least a $5 saving), and a free dessert at the cinema’s restaurant (that we didn’t end up using in the end). Looking at groupons was fun, but we had to be careful. Some of the things we wanted to buy just to get the savings, even though we didn’t necessarily want to do the activity. Example, bowling. Yes, bowling is fun, but paying $10 to save $20 on 2 games with 4 people? I don’t think we’d have saved anything for just the two of us. And we’re no good at bowling. It’s clever advertising on their part though. – This strategy saved us another $5 or so, but could have saved us $10 if we had gotten the dessert.

4. BYOB. It’s always fun to have a couple of pre-drinks at the hotel before your night starts. It gets you in the mood for fun, and you don’t spend as much on alcohol while you’re out.

5. If you’re bringing a car, try not to use it. We didn’t do so well with this, and ended up paying approximately $16.50 to park AND $20 to use public transportation. Honestly, we should have gotten a hotel nearer to downtown, or at least nearer to the subway/buses. But I think we saved $20 per night by being a little further away, so it might balance out, who knows. We could have saved $16.50 if we figured out a way to leave the car at the hotel, theoretically.

6. Just walk around. See the city. You don’t have to spend a lot on a weekend away, especially if you’ve already seen the city/plan to go again in the future. You can take your time and explore all the different parts of the city, and you might end up finding an awesome place to hang out, a free museum to pop into, or have a funny story about someplace awful. Seeing the sights is nice, but you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to be a tourist.

So, those are my tips from personal experience, and I calculated we could have saved $71.50 with a little pre-planning. This would have made our trip around $330, all inclusive. I’d love to hear your money-saving vacation tips too!

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