1 Major Money FAIL Not To Make On Your Next Vacation (+ 4 Budget Wins!)

save money on vacation

My family just got back from a 9-day vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. While we found ways to road trip on a dime, we also made a few rookie mistakes that I’m embarrassed to admit. (You’d think I’d know better about paying off over $81K in debt!) But I’m going to shove my pride deep down inside, in hopes of helping you save during your next vacation.

My parents and three sisters rented a beach house for the week. Before the trip, my husband and I had to budget for food, entertainment, and lodging on the way to and from the outer banks. It was a 12-hour drive that we could have done in one day, but we wanted to take our time and enjoy the trip. (This is the first FULL week of work my husband has taken off in his professional career. How crazy is that?!)

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not uber-frugal by nature and part of that is my need for a little spontaneity in my life. My husband and I both enjoy a little adventure. So we packed the car, hit the road with a destination, a budget and no plans along the way.

We were just going to grab a hotel wherever we ended up. Would it be Savannah, Georgia? Charleston, South Carolina? Some really awesome place we didn’t even know existed?!

Our trip started off rough with a 3-hour traffic jam two hours out of town. We also ended up in stopped traffic on I-95 that shut down the road completely for over an hour. It’s not every day that you can drive a remote control car on the interstate.

save money on vacation

Not long after the traffic jam, we found ourselves in the middle of a nasty thunderstorm. With the sun setting, traffic crawling and the squall line of storms all up and down I-95 along the entire east coast, we decided to call it a night. I started calling hotels around the next exit.

They were all full. Every single one of them. Like even the bottom-of-the-barrel options.

I called the next town. They were full too. Everyone on the roads had the same idea.

After calling well over 10 places, I found a room an hour down the road at a second-rate hotel for $153. This hotel normally books for $89 a night, but had bumped their rate to the highest price point for that night. Ouch.

With all of the cheap ways to reserve hotels in advance like Priceline, Trivago and the app Hotel Tonight, I was kicking myself for blowing through 75% of our $200 hotel budget on a mediocre hotel because I was in a pinch.

My husband and I decided to leave spontinaiety to resutrants and outtings next vacation and lock down frugal lodging in advance.

save money on vacation

4 Ways We Save Money On Vacation (+ You Can Too!)

1. I price shopped hotels and got a great deal for the ride home. I wasn’t going to blow my hotel budget out of the water by paying another $150 or more for the second night. So before I left the beach house, I sat down and researched hotel prices and ratings on Trivago. I ended up booking a hotel for Savannah, Georgia for the trip back for $87 including taxes, fees and a free breakfast. We went over our hotel budget of $200 for total vacation lodging by $40, but that’s life.

2. I planned meals to cook at the beach home. My family divided and conquered meals at the beach house for almost every meal during the week. I bought and cooked 3 big family dinners for our crowd of 10. My husband and I made Italian Salmon, baked tacos, and grilled chicken thighs. In total, we spent $250 on groceries for the week that included breakfast, lunches, and dinners. Since we cooked in so many nights, we didn’t mind splurging for one dinner on the final night.

The secret to perfect baked tacos every time

3. We researched and planned free family fun. Aside from going to the beach daily, one the most memorable adventures was to Jockey’s Ridge state park. It boasts the largest sand dunes on the east coast and it was incredible! I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. We joked that we don’t need to go to the desert anymore. The kids were even looking for camels.

save money on vacation

We also brought kites from home to fly on the top of the windy sand dunes.

save money on vacation

4. I was prepared. I can’t tell you how many times I have forgotten things during other vacations and spent $100 buying things I already owned. This trip, I remembered to bring sunscreen, bathing suits, kid goggles, flip flops, shoes, toiletries, and clothes. I didn’t have to make ANY emergency target trips. That alone saved me $100. Making a list before vacation and packing well is a major budget-saver!

Save money on vacation

Overall, we didn’t let an epic fail on night one ruin our vacation budget. We found creative ways to save on food, supplies, and entertainment and thoroughly enjoyed our special week. Thankfully, we’ll only be bringing home memories from vacation, not debt!

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