7 Tips for Getting Out of Town Without Going Broke

Travel doesn’t have to cost a million bucks.
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Travel doesn’t have to cost a million bucks.

As winter temperatures continue to drop, few things sound better than an exotic trip to a dreamy beach locale. Wouldn’t it be nice to ditch this weather, book a trip to the Caribbean, and just go?

Then there’s reality: a trip of that scope exceeds my budget by a long shot (not to mention vacation days). Simply put, it’s just not possible. So does that mean I can never get away? Are those of us with small incomes destined to stay in our own cities forever?

The good news: the answers are no and no. With a little creativity, you can get a break from the grind without breaking the bank in the process. Here are a seven tips to get started.

01. Rethink the way you give gifts.

Last Christmas, my husband and I decided not to get each other clothes, appliances, or trinkets. Instead, we teamed up and gave ourselves the ultimate gift: a weekend away. Since neither of us bought gifts for each other, we were able to pool our leftover money and put it toward trip expenses (gas, house rental, meals).

We’re fortunate to live in Portland, Oregon, a city that’s hours away from both the beach and the mountains. We chose to spend a weekend on the Oregon coast in January, when off-season prices were at their lowest. Years from now, we may forget the gadgets and gizmos gifts we've gifted each other, but this coastal trip will remain cemented in our memories. It was such a special (and affordable!) way to celebrate our relationship.

Bonus: This kind of getaway doesn't require a significant other. Gather a group of your favorite girls, rent a place a few hours out of town, split the costs, and have an unforgettable and inexpensive experience.

02. Get a home away from home.

There’s nothing wrong with hotels or resorts, but let me make a case for renting a house instead. They are often cheaper, more private, and come fully stocked. Since you’re literally staying in someone’s home, it feels cozy in ways that a hotel never will. 

Airbnb and VRBO are reliable sites for finding the perfect rental, no matter where you want to go. You can enter your exact criteria (my husband and I wanted to be on the beach with a hot tub), state your price point, view pictures, read reviews, and find an affordable place you'll love. The less extravagant your criteria, the more likely you are to find something in a lower price range—so unless it’s extremely important to you, now is not the time to look for a place with a pool and fireplace and sauna and rec room...you get the idea.

03. Make your own meals.

The other best thing about staying in a house? Most homes come with kitchen equipment and cooking essentials. That means you can swing by a grocery store (either in the town where you’re staying or on your way out of your own town—bring a cooler), pick up ingredients, and save yourself a heck of a lot of money by planning out some simple meals.

Before you get depressed about the idea of eating homemade spaghetti and tacos when you’re supposed to be on vacation, let me assure you that everything tastes better when you’re out of town—even basic spaghetti. By having most of your meals at the house and supplementing it with one or two special meals out, you’ll slash your trip costs significantly.

Since many homes come equipped with coffee makers and kettles, you can skip the pricey coffee shops, too. If you’re bringing a big group of friends, have fun divvying up the tasks of cooking and cleaning up while making communal meals. (If you’re going to drink, bring alcohol from home instead of paying more at your destination's touristy mini mart.)

04. You don’t need to go far.

A weekend isn’t a huge chunk of time, so be wise when planning. Look for destinations that are no more than a few hours away. Is there somewhere nearby that specializes in skiing, antiquing, or wine tasting? Think about what’s in your proximity.

Every place has its own charm, whether it’s the beach, desert, or cornfields of middle America. Of course it’s fun to visit a place like New York, Las Vegas or New Orleans, but it can be just as fun to visit a new place you haven't explored before. The point is to get away and spend time with people you care about. You don’t need a specific destination to make that happen. You could visit a small town that offers little more than a diner and a movie theater and still make an adventure of it.

05. Let this trip be its own thing.

Maybe some day you’ll go to Hawaii or Paris, the Caribbean or Thailand. It will be lovely and remarkable when you do. But this trip? This is something unique and different. This is the trip where you’ll make your own memories—not by attending a luau or visiting the Eiffel Tower, but by spending quality time together.

On our trip to the coast, my husband and I walked along the beach. We put together a puzzle and played cards. We visited a museum of bridges. Soaked in the hot tub. Put on music, poured wine, and danced around the kitchen while making spaghetti. We picked out movies from the home’s ancient VHS collection and watched them on a small TV screen while cuddled up with popcorn. We went to a thrift shop and bought each other something under $5. Toured a brewery, window shopped, and made egg sandwiches for breakfast. There wasn’t a single extravagant thing we did on this vacation, yet I loved every second of the experience.

06. Consider the season.

Before booking your trip, find out what’s happening that weekend. Is there a festival or convention in town? This may seem like an ideal time to go, but from a financial standpoint, it’s actually the worst. The more popular the timeframe, the higher the prices you’ll encounter. By visiting a beach in winter or a mountain cabin in summer, you'll cut on spending while avoiding a crowd.

07. Keep it simple.

You know when you go on a vacation and immediately slip into super-indulgent mode? Mimosas at breakfast. Cappuccinos instead of your usual coffee. Souvenirs you don’t need. Three-course meals. A day trip to the spa. The list goes on and on. Think of this trip as a time to challenge yourself to do the opposite of what you normally do on vacation. Seek out free and cheap activities. Resist the impulse to get dessert after every meal. Buy a stack of postcards instead of T-shirts. Remember why you’re here: to get away, relax, and rejuvenate. 

Don’t add to your stress level when you've returned home by maxing out your debit card when you're away. Keep things simple and arrive back to town on Sunday night feeling like you just had the best vacation of your life. In so many ways, you did!

Photo Credit: Manchik Photography