5 Ways to Blow Your Vacation Budget

Looking forward to your next vacation? Don't let debt be the souvenir that you bring home. Here are five ways that people blow their vacation budget, plus some strategies that you can use to avoid these common pitfalls. Vow to bring home memories, instead of vacation bills!

Book a Hotel Without Considering All Your Options

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If you just jump online and book a hotel, you're paying too much. There's always a way to get that nightly room rate down, and a hotel isn't always the cheapest option. Expand you search for accommodations, and you could expand your vacation budget, too.

Ways to Save on Your Travel Accommodations

  • Sign up for hotel rewards programs to earn free nights. Choice Hotels will give you extra points if you book a midweek stay. And most hotel chains allow you to purchase extra points if you're close to earning a free night, but not quite there yet.
  • Check hotel websites for promotions before you book. You may be able to earn a free gas card or stay if you enter a promo code.
  • Once you've settled on a hotel, use a price comparison engine like Trivago to check for a lower rate before you finalize your arrangements.
  • Consider alternatives like AirBnB, HomeAway or VRBO. They let you rent homes while the owner is away. Sometimes camping is even a good option.
  • If you don't have to rush home, consider turning your trip to an extended stay with these opportunities that will pay you to travel.

Get Around Town Like a Tourist

Woman sitting on a bus with headphones in
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Rely on taxis to get around town, and you'll pay by the mile every time you jump in the car to go somewhere. Rent a car, and you'll shell out for gas, parking fees, tolls and the daily rental fee, too. If you don't want to blow your trip budget on transportation costs, try to travel like a local as much as possible.

Study your transportation options before you leave home. Figure out when it makes sense to walk where you're going, and where you can take advantage of public transportation. Taking a bus from the airport, for example, is loads cheaper than taking a taxi or shuttle, and it's nearly as fast. Figure out which bus you need to take and where you need to get off, so everything goes smoothly.

More Ways to Save on Transportation

  • Look into purchasing a bus or subway pass, if you'll be staying more than a couple days. It's usually cheaper than buying several one-time-use passes.
  • Explore alternative modes of transportation. Use Uber or Lyft instead of a taxi, or rent a bike when you need to get across town.
  • If you'll be driving, research free parking options before you go.
  • Use RideGuru to compare the cost of rideshare to the cost of a taxi cab.
  • Skip the cost of a rental car by transporting someone else's vehicle from point A to point B (check Autodriveaway.com for availability).

Eat Like the Food is Free

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Don't treat your trip like a free all-you-can-eat buffet. All of those meals and snacks can really take a big bite out of your vacation budget, so it's important to put thought into your choices. Spend some time strategizing ways to save on food before you leave home, so you can enjoy your meals without the side of guilt.

How to Cut Vacation Food Costs

  • Bring your own snacks and drinks from home. Pack a water bottle, so you can refill it throughout the day, instead of buying bottled water.
  • Book a hotel room with a mini fridge, so you can store leftovers and refreeze ice packs for your cooler.
  • Research restaurants before your trip, so you can look at menu prices and check reviews. This will help you to avoid expensive or disappointing restaurants.
  • Eat at food trucks. They usually cost considerably less than a sit-down restaurant and offer unique menu items. Use the Roaming Hunger website or app to track down the current location of trucks and to check reviews.
  • Avoid tourist hot-spots. Find out where the locals eat and go there. You'll pay less and probably enjoy shorter wait times, too.
  • Check for deal vouchers on sites like Groupon before you head out to eat. It's an easy way to cut your bill in half.
  • Order water in restaurants. Enjoy a soda or alcoholic beverage back at your hotel room later.

Buy Your Souvenirs at Gift Shops

London snow globe showing the tower bridge
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Gift shops are crowded, overpriced and full of junk. Skip them and get your souvenirs elsewhere. You may find something you actually want to keep if you do.

Where to Buy Souvenirs for Less

  • Be on the lookout for squished penny machines. $.51 will get you a unique reminder of your trip. Purchase a souvenir penny book, so you have a place to store all the pennies from your travels.
  • Shop thrift stores for t-shirts emblazoned with the name of the place you're visiting. Shop dollar stores for souvenir baubles for the kids. They'll have many of the same things the souvenir shops have at a fraction of the cost.
  • Take home local foods or crafts instead of the regular gift shop dust collectors
  • Bring your own souvenirs from home. If you're taking the kids to Disney World, buy them each a t-shirt to wear on the trip. It'll save you from buying them shirts in the park, where they cost a billion times more.

Pay (and Pay and Pay) to Play

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Don't feel like you have to spend a bunch of money to have a fun trip. There are plenty of ways to get around the admission price for attractions, and there are just as many things that you can do for free.

Ways to Cut Your Vacation Entertainment Costs

  • Once you've settled on the attractions that you plan to visit, check to see if there are any deal vouchers or special promotions available. Many places offer a discount if you buy your tickets online. Since that also allows you to sail past the lines, that's one offer that's hard to pass up.
  • Look for free activities to fill in around your paid activities. Go on a free factory tour or take a free guided or self-guided walking tour of the city.
  • Set aside time to enjoy the hotel amenities. Having access to a pool or cable TV can be a real treat, if you don't have those things at home.