For a lot of us, much of our working lives is part of one big, vacation-centric cycle. You save up for months, not just in dollars but (if you're lucky) in paid time off. Then you blow it all in one blissful week, only to return to the slow, grinding build again.
It doesn't have to be this way.
I can't give you the secret to more PTO (I'm not a magician, after all), but I can let you in on a few tips to make your vacations a little more affordable. I never really knew how to travel cheap until I went to Hawaii with my girlfriend Lisa. Here are a few things I learned from that trip.
Prepare some of your meals
Now, I know this isn't always so easy. However, even if you're only staying in a hotel room with a mini-fridge, you can avoid some of the expenses of eating out all the time. Stop by the neighborhood supermarket first thing, buy sandwich supplies and save money and time each day by bringing your lunch with you.
If you want to get really ambitious, you could even look for a place with cooking supplies. AirBnB is a great option if you're looking to stay somewhere with a kitchen without breaking the bank. When we were in Hawaii, we ate dinner at home half of our nights. It doesn't have to be boring either - buy local at the grocery store or hit up a farmer's market to make sure you're not missing out on what your location has to offer.
Nature! It's free!
Who knew, right? The outdoors is usually free of cost, and even when there's a small fee to enter or to park your car (at a state park for instance), this is almost always much less expensive than other, more air-conditioned options. In my book, there's no better way to take in a new location than by going on a hike or a casual stroll and soaking in the sun.
Plan ahead and travel off-peak
You can make a huge dent in your transportation costs by preparing early and shopping around for deals on plane or train tickets and rental cars. When looking to buy tickets months ahead, services like Kayak even offer predictions to help you get a read on whether prices might rise or fall in the near future. Third-party websites like Kayak and Priceline can also help you shop around on rental car deals more effectively than you can by going through each rental car company's website directly.
Traveling during even slightly off-peak hours can also be hugely beneficial. Instead of leaving right after work, Lisa and I flew to and returned from Hawaii on Sundays. Though this was a little less convenient timing-wise (we got back home at 11:30 on a work night, after all), it saved us hundreds of dollars on airfare.
Avoid tourist traps
At most vacation spots, tourism is the key driver of the regional economy. Not only are the locals waiting on you, but big chain restaurants, sightseeing companies and major hotels are looking to cash in on your week of leisure. You can save a ton of money on vacation by stepping away from these tourist traps and finding cheaper alternatives for food and lodging.
Instead of staying in tourist-packed Waikiki, find a lodging option that is a little bit farther away, on the outskirts of town. When you leave the beach, don't just flock to the first place with a few tiki torches and servers in Hawaiian shirts. Do your own research with guidebooks or Yelp to find a restaurant that is less exorbitant and probably more delicious anyhow. This way, you'll save money and get a better sense of how the locals live while you're doing it.
Do a little budgeting
I know, it's vacation. You don't have to pore over spreadsheets though. While you're planning your trip, just make a note of your personal finances while you lay out each day. If you have a restaurant in mind for dinner, try to pack lunch that morning. If you're planning on visiting an expensive museum, choose a hike for the other half of that day. With a little forethought, you can even out each day and pick up a pretty good projection of what you'll be spending overall.
What I've learned, ultimately, is that vacations can be as carefully planned as the rest of our expenses. This shouldn't mean sacrificing fun. If you're not having fun, why are you on vacation? Think of it instead as a way to free up more money for future trips. With the money I saved on my last trip, I can start planning my next island getaway sooner rather than later.
About the author: Mike Goldstein is a Content Writer at Credit Karma. Since joining the team in June 2013, he's been delivering the financial know-how on the daily. When away from work, you can find Mike watching hockey, Twittering for hours and frequenting trivia nights.
Editorial Note: The opinions you read here come from our editorial team. While compensation may affect which companies we write about and products we review, our marketing partners don't review, approve or endorse our editorial content. Our content is accurate (to the best of our knowledge) when we initially post it, but we don't guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information provided. You can visit the company's website to get complete details about a product. See an error in an article? Use this form to report it to our editorial team. For questions about your Credit Karma account, please submit a help request to our support team.
Advertiser Disclosure: We think it's important for you to understand how we make money. It's pretty simple, actually. The offers for financial products you see on our platform come from companies who pay us. The money we make helps us give you access to free credit scores and reports and helps us create our other great tools and educational materials.
Compensation may factor into how and where products appear on our platform (and in what order). But since we generally make money when you find an offer you like and get, we try to show you offers we think are a good match for you. That's why we provide features like your Approval Odds and savings estimates.
Of course, the offers on our platform don't represent all financial products out there, but our goal is to show you as many great options as we can.