How to Plan a Budget Friendly Vacation

Some of the articles on Casa Diem Life may contain affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I might earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. It's just one way we keep the journey going! Find out more in my Privacy Policy.

How to Plan a Memorable Budget-Friendly Family Vacation

Reading Time: 14 minutes

Budget-friendly family vacations are the secret sauce in life that makes the mundane magical. The laughs, the misadventures, and yes, even the “Are we there yet?” from the backseat all become family lore. 

Paying attention to the budget turns this magic from a once-in-a-blue-moon affair to a regular season of joy. It’s not just about saving a few bucks; it’s about smart spending that allows these getaways to happen more often.

Now, we all have that one friend on social media, don’t we? The perpetual vacationer who seems to live in a state of eternal holiday. Every post is of them lounging on some exotic beach with a cocktail in hand, or perched atop a mountain at sunset.  

Do you wonder what exactly they do for money? Bank robbery? Secret millionaire? Professional treasure hunter? What if I told you that the secret is probably the least fun adulting word ever—budgeting? 

Find out how my family keeps the vacation vibe going year-round in my guide to taking 52 vacations a year without breaking the bank.

Don’t Have Time To Read It All?

Here are the essentials: Start by creating a standalone vacation account and plan early to snag deals on travel and accommodations. Cut costs by being flexible with destinations and eating where the locals eat. Research free local activities and avoid tourist traps. Leverage your personal skills for extra earnings.

Know Why Budgeting Matters

Chioma Ikoku for Casa Diem Life

I know what you’re saying. “Boooo, get off the stage! It’s not a vacation if I’m on a budget!” I say those words every time we get on a plane, and my husband, in his infinite wisdom, ignores me. 

I get it. Vacations are a magical time when standard rules (like bedtime for the kids) are tossed out the window, so why not throw caution to the financial winds, too, right? 

Well, you’ll need to pay that credit card bill when you return to reality. 

Budgeting for a vacation isn’t about limiting the fun; it’s the key to stress-free enjoyment. Planning your expenses ensures you spend time snorkeling instead of worrying about whether you’ll have to sell your snorkel on eBay when you get home. 

Know Your Vacation Vibes

Chioma Ikoku for Casa Diem Life

Before we discuss how to make family vacations budget-friendly, let’s consider the different types of vacations and how they might affect your budget. 


First up, the humble but mighty Staycation. This is where you become a tourist in your city or treat your home like the luxury spa it isn’t. 

Budget-wise, this is your MVP. You can splurge on local attractions or new takeout spots without the cost of hotels and flights. It’s like giving your wallet a vacation too!

For inspiration, check out my guide to a $500 staycation in my hometown of Houston.

Family Gatherings

Ah, Visiting Family. There are many who do not consider this a vacation, but some of us look forward to it every year. 

Family gatherings can be the jackpot of budget travel if those relatives don’t mind converting their homes into your personal bed-and-breakfast. 

You can save on accommodation and food, but budget a bit extra for a thank-you gift because, hey, manners.

Road Trips

You can’t beat a classic Road Trip for budget-friendly family vacations. Pack your snacks, curate that playlist, and hit the open road for camping or hotel stays.

Costs can vary based on gas prices, accommodation choices, and whether you’re a sucker for roadside attractions (giant ball of twine, anyone?).

Domestic Bliss

Domestic travel ups the ante. Depending on your destination, exploring your own country can be thrilling and budget-conscious. 

Flying to another state or city offers a balance of affordability and novelty, especially if you avoid the tourist traps and go off the beaten path.

Worldly Wanderlust

Finally, we venture into the realm of Tourism. This is where your budget dreams face a challenge. From international flights to sightseeing passes, this category can be a splurge, but it’s all about allocating your funds wisely and searching for those hidden deals.

Milestone Travel

Then there’s Milestone Travel, the “go big or go home” of the vacation world. 

Milestone travel—celebrating a big birthday, anniversary, or promotion—is where budgets come to flex their muscles (or cry for mercy). 

Start a savings account named “Trip of a Lifetime” so your wallet doesn’t have to go into witness protection afterward.

Chioma Ikoku for Casa Diem Life

Choosing Your Destination Wisely

Each vacation type offers its unique charm, but not every destination will be equally kind to your wallet. Here are some factors to consider:

  1. Seasons – Know the peak and off-peak seasons. Visiting during the less popular months can save you a fortune. Bonus: fewer photo bombers in your vacation snaps!
  2. Cost of Living – Some places naturally offer more bang for your buck due to a lower cost of living. A quick internet search can give you an average daily price for tourists. If a cup of coffee costs a small treasure, think twice.
  3. Currency Exchange Rates—Playing the currency exchange game can take time and effort. Look for destinations where your money flexes more muscle. Stronger currency equals more gelato.
  4. Transportation – How easy and cheap is getting around once you’re there? Renting a helicopter to see the sights might not be the most budget-friendly option. Consider places with good public transport or bike-friendly cities.
  5. Freebie Fun – Check out what you can do for free. Museums, parks, and historical sites can add a lot of value to your experience without draining your wallet.
  6. Local Eats vs. Tourist Traps – Eating where the locals do, rather than at places with multi-language menus often means better food for less dough.

Doing homework on these can help you pick an excellent and affordable spot to have an unforgettable experience without selling a kidney.

Know Your Numbers – Creating a Budget for Family Vacations

Before you jump into the dreamy details of where to go and what to do, a little reality check is in order. You have to know your numbers and your priorities. 

Do you have ‘Next Adventure’ as a specific line item in your budget? Do you have a dedicated savings account for travel? No? You can open one right now – it takes less than five minutes with online banks like Capital One and Ally

Look at your savings, evaluate your potential vacation funds from your incoming payments, and rework your budget to prioritize what you want. 

Read about how we manage our household budget and accounts here. 

Chioma Ikoku for Casa Diem Life

Step 1: The Money Magnifying Glass

First, prepare to play financial detective. You need to scrutinize your spending like a suspect in a game of Clue. Collect your bank statements and credit card bills for the last three months. 

Step 2: Categorically Speaking

Now, categorize your spending: groceries, utilities, zombie apocalypse preparation supplies—you know, the usual. This is where you’ll start to notice patterns. Maybe you’re splurging more on takeout than you realized, or perhaps those zombie supplies aren’t as essential as you once thought.

Step 3: The Aha! Moment

After dissecting your spending habits, it’s time for the big reveal. Where can you cut back? Maybe swap some of those restaurant meals for home-cooked masterpieces or postpone the purchase of the newest “essential” gadget. Every little bit you save can contribute to your vacation fund.

Step 4: Setting the Savings Target

Set a realistic savings target based on your spending review and where you can cut back. This is your magic number – the amount you aim to save monthly to fund that dream vacation without selling a kidney.

Step 5: Tool Time!

Leverage some nifty budgeting tools to bring your budget to life (and make it less of a snooze fest). Apps like Quicken Simplifi or You Need a Budget (YNAB) can work wonders. They connect to your accounts, categorize spending for you, and even send friendly nudges when you’re verging on splurge territory. 

A simple spreadsheet with colorful charts might do the trick for the more visually inclined. Visualizing your budget can transform those abstract numbers into a clear path toward your goal.

Step 6: The Accountability Buddy

Ask your partner, a friend, or anyone good at giving you that gently judgmental look when you’re about to make a frivolous purchase to be your accountability buddy. Share your budgeting goals and progress with them. Sometimes, knowing someone else is cheering you on (or ready with a raised eyebrow) can keep you on the straight and narrow.

Know Your Strengths: The Secret to Affordable Family Vacations

Chioma Ikoku for Casa Diem Life

It’s time to flex those frugal muscles and leverage your unique strengths to save on your next getaway. Here’s how:

  1. The Gourmet Guru: If you can make a gourmet meal out of three ingredients, you can save on eating out by booking accommodations with a kitchen. 
  2. The Bargain Hunter: Do you have a sixth sense for sales? Use those eagle eyes to snag off-season travel deals or last-minute offers. Apps and websites are teeming with bargains for savvy shoppers. 
  3. The Nature Nut: If the call of the wild is music to your ears, why pay for pricey hotels when campsites offer the symphony of nature for a fraction of the cost? 
  4. The Points Collector: Are you the person who signs up for every rewards program known to man? Time to cash in those points for discounted or free flights and accommodation. 
  5. The DIY Diva/Divo: If you can handcraft anything from a stylish hat to a sturdy tent, your crafty skills can save you from splurging on overpriced vacation gear.

Remember, every unique skill or hobby you have can be a secret weapon in the quest for a budget-friendly vacation. 

Genius Ways to Save for That Big-Ticket Item

Chioma Ikoku for Casa Diem Life

Affording a family vacation isn’t all about saving, though. Sometimes, you just have to earn a little more. These are some of my favorite low-effort, low-commitment ways to put extra cash in my pocket. 

Seasonal Work – It’s Not Just for Elves

Sure, seasonal work might sound about as exciting as watching paint dry, but hear me out. 

The beauty of it is its temporary nature, meaning you can make some extra cash without the long-term commitment. Plus, holiday seasons are usually ripe with opportunities, whether you fancy helping out in retail (hello, employee discounts!) or becoming a part-time gift wrapper (an invaluable life skill). 

Sinking Funds – Because ‘Surprise, It’s Christmas!’ Said No One Ever

Sinking funds are your financial BFFs when saving for big expenses. Essentially, you’re playing an intelligent game of ‘I know this is coming’ by setting aside some monthly money into specific categories. 

 The beauty of this method is that it feels like you’re treating your future self to a really well-thought-out gift, minus the financial hangover. 

Sell Stuff You No Longer Need – The Marie Kondo Method of Saving

Okay, this one might be emotional, but selling things you no longer need (or, let’s be honest, things you didn’t know you had) can boost your savings. 

Prowl through your belongings and see what sparks joy…for someone else. 

Is that vintage lamp collecting dust? Are you still hanging on to those clothes you swear will fit someday? Say thank you and goodbye, and hello to some extra cash. Plus, decluttering is pretty therapeutic. 

Cashback Apps & Sites – The Modern-Day Treasure Hunt

Use cashback apps and websites for regular purchases as the adult equivalent of finding money in the couch cushions. 

It’s free money back into your pocket for buying things you would buy anyway. Over time, these small amounts add up, and you can stash that extra cash into your big expense fund. 

Automate Savings – Set It and Forget It

If you’re not already doing this, stop reading this article, open your banking app, and set up automatic recurring savings right now

Choose a fixed amount to automatically transfer to your savings account after each paycheck. It’s like you never had that money to begin with. I can guarantee you won’t miss it each month, but it will grow steadily in your savings account. 

This method requires minimal effort but yields maximum results over time.

Know Your Schedule: The Key to Budget-Friendly Vacations

All our friends know they need to plan social events with us months ahead. Our travel calendar is usually booked 18 months in advance because that’s how we keep our travel costs down. 

I know, I know… What average person even knows what they’re doing next week, right? Trust me, that early diligence can mean the difference between snagging a deal and paying through the nose.

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

Here’s where patience pays off. Booking in advance can significantly save on flights, accommodation, and activities. For example, airlines often have sales up to a year in advance, so keep an eye out for those deals. 

Timing is Everything

When booking flights, timing isn’t just a factor—it’s the whole show! For domestic travel, the sweet spot for booking is generally 1 to 3 months in advance. 

On the other hand, international travel is a longer game. Start eyeing those tickets about 6 to 8 months before your departure. For peak travel times like Christmas or Thanksgiving, you should start planning 9 to 12 months in advance. 

In both cases, look for deals, set fare alerts, and consider traveling on less popular days, like good old Tuesdays.  

Be Flexible with Dates and Destinations

If patience isn’t one of your heavenly gifts and you’re not bound by specific dates or destinations, you can still snag some amazing last-minute travel deals. 

Websites like Skyscanner and TravelZoo offer great options for spontaneous travelers. Plus, it’s always exciting to see where you end up going! 

Know When to Splurge and When to Save 

Resort Lobby interior design concept by Casa Diem Life

The four pillars of travel are transportation, accommodation, food, and activities. It’s important to prioritize which areas you want to splurge on and where you can save some bucks. 


If you’re not picky about where you stay, consider booking accommodations outside the main tourist areas. Not only will it be more affordable, but you’ll also experience what life is like for locals living in those neighborhoods. Plus, you might stumble upon hidden gems off the beaten path. 

Want to take it a step further? Consider staying in an Airbnb or other vacation rental. You’ll save money on lodging and have access to a kitchen where you can cook some of your meals and feel like a local for a few days. 

If you’re planning a trip to an exotic location like Bali, consider saving on accommodation by opting for a budget-friendly Airbnb with amazing views. Use those savings to splurge on activities like snorkeling or a cooking class. 

On the other hand, if you’re planning a city break in Paris, it might be worth it to splurge on a centrally-located hotel to save time and money on transportation. Plus, who doesn’t want to wake up with a view of the Eiffel Tower? 


Mixing touristy must-sees with local faves is an art form. 

First, pivot away from those flashy brochures and head straight for cafés, bars, and local markets. Strike up a conversation with someone who doesn’t look like they’re about to sell you a city tour. Ask them where THEY go on the weekend. You’ll be surprised how many hidden gems are just a chat away.

For introverts, social media and local blogs are your crystal ball. Hunt down hashtags, local influencers, or Facebook groups centered around the place you’re visiting. They’re treasure troves for events, pop-up markets, or local concerts in off-the-path locations. 

Here’s a pro tip: Combine one paid tourist attraction with a free local activity. For example, hit that famous museum in the morning (bonus points if you snag a day with reduced entry fees) and then visit some food trucks at the community’s kite festival. 

This type of blending adds authenticity to your trip. Plus, you get to go home with stories about that underground jazz club or the sunrise yoga class by the beach, not just the long lines at the Louvre. 


Eating out thrice a day can quickly become a guillotine to your budget, but you don’t have to cook your own meals to save money on dining. 

Instead of dining at every fancy restaurant on that review site, hit up the local market for delicious and affordable food. 

You’ll not only get to taste the local flavors, but you’ll also be supporting small and local businesses. 

Look for small food markets for snacks, treats, and refreshments. This is a perfect opportunity to people-watch and soak in the vibrant atmosphere of the place you’re visiting. 

And don’t forget to ask for recommendations from locals—they know best where to find the tastiest dishes at affordable prices. You might even get a chance to try some secret family recipes! 


Ditch the idea that Uber and private cars are the only ways to scoot between cities. 

Apps like BlaBlaCar are like Airbnb for road trips. You share a ride with someone going in the same direction, it’s cheaper, and you might make a new pal. 

Companies like Megabus and FlixBus are redefining bus travel with Wi-Fi, comfy seats, and prices so low you’ll double-check you’re not seeing things. Bus travel lets you catch up on your reading or those z’s you missed while exploring. 

For the ultimate in scenery and relaxation, remember trains! There’s nothing like watching the countryside roll by from your window seat. Plus, train stations are usually in the heart of the city, saving you even more on last-mile transportation costs.

Know What You Don’t Know: Hidden Budget Traps While Traveling

Chioma Ikoku for Casa Diem Life

The first and sneakiest of the bunch is international rate exchange fees—it’s like your vacation is saying, “Nice budget you got there; shame if something were to happen to it.” 

Avoid this trap by comparing rates or using credit cards that pride themselves on no foreign transaction fees.

Then, there’s the tipping culture. Each country has its own guidelines. Fail to tip in the U.S., and you might get the stink-eye. Over-tip elsewhere, and you’re the wealthy foreigner throwing money around. 

To avoid this wallet-draining expense, research the tipping culture at your destination and keep cash on hand. 

In my humble opinion, baggage fees are the most aggravating of all. Airline allowances seem to be always changing. So, make sure you double-check the rules of your airline 48 hours before showing up at the baggage drop-off line. 

We’ve all been guilty of overpacking but splurging on sunscreens at tourist-panicked shops because we forgot the basics. It’s time to break that habit. Read my best tips for packing smart and light here. 

Lastly, the ultimate budget drain: tourist traps. These are the overpriced, overcrowded attractions that you feel obligated to visit because “when in Rome,” right? Well, not really. 

Stay away from the hype; do your research. There are often cheaper (and less crowded) alternatives nearby. Plus, it’s always more fun to stumble upon hidden gems and create unique experiences.

6 Things You Absolutely Don’t Need to Spend Money on Before a Family Vacation

Okay, back to our Instagram friend who is on that eternal vacation. Notice how every outfit perfectly matches each venue? Notice how the crystals sparkle in her manicure as she tips her cocktail towards the sunset? 

Yeah, none of that is necessary. 

Don’t feel pressured to spend money on fancy outfits or expensive activities just to capture the perfect vacation photo. Those may be the things you show off, but they won’t be what you remember. 

Here’s a list of things you can skip doing before your budget-friendly family vacation:

  1. Buying Matching Outfits for the Family:  Sure, it makes for an easy headcount, but you could just as quickly pull similar shades from the clothing you already own. 
  2. Getting Everyone’s Nails Done: If a nail chips in the forest and no one is around to see it, did it even happen? Hardly anyone will notice your holiday-themed nails when you’re all covered in beach sand or hiking up a mountain.  
  3. Buying New Gadgets and Games: Your kid doesn’t need the latest tablet for a two-hour flight. I promise they will survive. Remember when we were kids and had to entertain ourselves with a seatbelt and our imaginations?
  4. Packing Travel-Sized Items: Listen, I get it—you don’t want to lug around a huge bottle of shampoo. But those travel-sized items can really add up in cost. Bring reusable containers or try using the hotel’s complimentary toiletries.
  5. Color-Coding Your Suitcases: Matching your suitcases, passport covers, packing cubes, and fanny packs will not make your vacation more enjoyable. It may look aesthetically pleasing on Instagram, but it’s not worth the extra time and money spent trying to coordinate everything.
  6. Getting a Pre-Vacation Tan: By day two, you’ll get tanned for free. Remember the sunscreen!

The real magic happens when you’re laughing and making memories with your loved ones, so focus on that, and you’re guaranteed an unforgettable trip!

What’s your favorite budget-friendly family vacation memory or tip? Share your stories and tips below to inspire someone’s next adventure!

Feeling inspired? Pin it for later!


Hi, I'm Chioma Ikoku, a spirited explorer and a peace-loving homebody. I founded Casa Diem Life to help you combine the excitement of travel with the comfort of home, because I believe that adventure begins at home.

Receive the latest posts, exclusive content, and special offers right in your inbox.

Please enter your name.
Please enter a valid email address.
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

Explore the ways we can work together on the resources page