With some planning and budgeting, not all vacations need to be costly. In fact, you can easily plan a weekend away without spending a small fortune on accommodations, meals and activities. No matter where in the U.S. you plan to visit, there are plenty of free or low-cost things to see and do. From museums to historical monuments, you’ll find plenty of things to do while traveling on a budget.
If you plan ahead, cut back on meal expenses, and look for affordable things to do near your destination, you’ll find that a weekend getaway can be much more affordable than it seems. Read on to learn more about building the perfect weekend getaway on a budget.
Budget for Your Weekend Away
To build the perfect low-cost getaway, you’ll need to plan accordingly. First, create a budget to determine how much you can afford to spend during your weekend away. Not only will this give you peace of mind during your weekend away, but it’ll help you to come up with a reasonable destination that best fits into your vacation budget.
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To create your budget, take advantage of free software systems, such as Mint from Intuit. With Mint, you can link your credit and debit cards to your account, track expenditures and create a budget for your weekend away, so you won’t need to worry about spending more than you can afford. Mint sends you real-time alerts and warnings when you’re spending too much or getting low on funds, so it’s one less thing for you to worry about when you’re on vacation. To get started, simply create a free account through Mint, sync your bank accounts, and start planning your trip.
Choose a Destination
In most cases, you’ll spend less money during your weekend away if you drive to your destination. If you leave for your getaway on a Friday evening after work, for instance, you’ll still reach your destination by that night if you choose a location within a few hours from where you live. Plus, you’ll only need to pay for fuel, instead of roundtrip plane tickets. If you download the GasBuddy app to your smartphone, you’ll find the cheapest gas prices along the way. Additionally, GasBuddy has a useful Trip Cost Calculator on its website to help you budget for your weekend fuel expenses.
To find the perfect destination, try conducting a Google search for weekend getaways near you or your closest major city. Once you get an idea for a destination, use online tools, such as Hotels.com, Expedia.com, Priceline, VRBO, Airbnb, Trivago and Kayak to compare prices on hotels, resorts and bed and breakfasts. To save money on food costs, look for deals that include a free continental breakfast. In most cases, you can enjoy a free breakfast in the morning, and take a few snacks along with you for the rest of the day.
If weather allows for it and you already own a tent and additional camping gear, you may choose to camp for an even cheaper weekend away. If you prefer to camp, perform a Google search for “camping near me,” and see what you find. Moreover, companies like Outdoors Geek allow you to rent basic two-person camping packages for as low as $99 for up to three days. If you spend $100 or so on camping gear, and $15 to $30 per night on a campsite, you’ll spend less than you would in a resort or hotel. If you go off the grid, however, you can camp for free.
Plan Your Meals
Once you’ve decided on a destination, you should plan your meals in advance to stay within your vacation budget. If your hotel includes a free breakfast, you’ll already have one meal covered on Saturday and Sunday. If your hotel does not include a free breakfast, or if you’ll be camping, purchase a box of cereal, granola or breakfast bars.
If you prefer to enjoy your cereal with milk, look for individually-packaged shelf stable milk, as unopened cartons don’t need to be refrigerated. Plus, shelf stable milks are often available in smaller, 6- to 10-ounce cartons, so you can easily consume the full serving over breakfast. As an example, you can get a 12-pack of 6.75-ounce cartons of Organic Valley Whole Milk for as low as $14 on Amazon. As a non-dairy option, you can get an 18-pack of 8-ounce cartons of Silk Almond Milk for as low as $20. Just don’t forget to bring bowls and spoons from home.
As for your lunches on Saturday and Sunday, bring a decent-sized cooler with plenty of ice packs, so you can stop at the grocery store and pick up several picnic items along the way. Pick up some bread, cheese, sliced deli meats, crackers and a fruit or vegetable tray, and you’ll have plenty of foods to enjoy for lunch on Saturday and Sunday. Once you have your picnic items, find a nice park to eat at, or simply enjoy the lunch in your room or tent.
After you’ve prepared breakfast and lunch on your own, you may have a bit of room in your budget for dining out. If your budget allows for it, go out to dinner on Saturday night. You’ll likely be home by Sunday evening, so Saturday night is your chance to go out and try a new restaurant. Use smartphone apps such as Yelp, BiteHunter or Restaurant.com to find deals and coupons for eateries and diners in your area.
Find Fun Things to Do
Depending on where you’re staying, your accommodations may include free amenities, such as a pool, access to a lake or ocean or biking and hiking trails. If your accommodations don’t include free amenities such as these, consider some of the following options:
- Visit a state park or historical site
- Head to a beach
- Rent a bike, canoe or kayak
- Go on a walk or hike
- Window shop
- Visit a museum, local coffee shop or art gallery
- Tour a local brewery or winery
- Visit a pub or bar for free music or entertainment
- Visit a local conservatory or botanical garden
- Visit a bird observatory, zoo or animal sanctuary
- Take a walking tour of the city
- Enjoy a picnic in a park
- Visit a famous monument
- Collect free keepsakes such as rocks, sea glass, pine cones, drink coasters or matchbooks
- Play a board game
For more ideas, conduct a Google search for “free things to do in [city]” or “free events in [city]”. Or, visit the city’s local library or visitor information center for additional ideas.
Once you’ve created a budget, chosen a destination, planned your meals and thought of fun things to do during your weekend away, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your getaway without spending a small fortune.
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