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Tips for Making Last-Minute Travel Plans on a Budget

Four young people backpacking on a budget

Spring is here and summer is speeding toward us. If you haven’t planned your vacation and don’t have a lot of money to pay for expensive last-minute options, don’t assume it’s too late for a low-cost getaway. Since I’m facing that exact issue right now, I figured I’d do the research and share what I found to help save you money. Here are the tips I’ve collected and some links to get you to the sites you need to find an exciting vacation, even if you’re working with a shoestring budget.  



It needs to be said that this may take some time, so I suggest you lean into it. You don’t want to rush the process and find yourself settling for a ho-hum vacation in a place that has no energy for you. Get yourself a cup of tea or a glass of wine, breathe deeply, smile, and enjoy the search for an adventure that makes your heart flutter.



You can’t keep to a budget if you don’t have one. What are you working with? There are a lot of lines you can wander out of on vacation, but your budget shouldn’t be one of them. What is your spending limit? Put it down on paper so you can seek out deals that will keep you from overspending. Don’t just consider the obvious travel, lodging, and food. Think about what you’ll want to buy when you’re there. For instance, do you need travel insurance? Are there any sights you absolutely cannot miss? Do you have a short list of people you want to buy gifts for?

Include everything you can think of and put a spending limit on it. As you consider what you will spend, remember to factor in how much things will cost when you get to your destination as well: for example, islands can be pricey while camping usually is not. If you’re traveling to a foreign country with a different currency, you’ll want to consider the exchange rate to truly understand your expenses.



Once you know how much you want to spend for each line item of your vacation, consider where you want to splurge and where you can stand to cut costs. For example, I’m not a foodie so eating out isn’t something I want to spend a lot of money on. I want experiences. For that reason, I always find a place with a full kitchen or, at the very least, a kitchenette with a stove. That way, I can spend money on sights and activities.


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The vacation you have in mind may not be possible on short notice, so keep your mind open to alternative options. Explore countries you’ve never considered before (even if you feel anxious about it), see what effect a shift in dates can have on pricing, or consider group options instead of traveling solo.

In fact, you can let Google’s Explore feature do some of the work for you. With this tool, you can select a weekend, one-week, or two-week trip within the next month, and you’ll get search results for different locations, dates, and the accompanying prices.

You may need to compromise on location or time, but as often happens when we step outside of the box, you could very well end up on a better vacation than you’d have dreamed up on your own.



Do you have a set idea about what travel should look like? Are cruises your go-to, for example? Or do you always go to the Hamptons? Whatever you usually do, breaking the mold may be the best way to find your happy place. Get creative in your planning and look around at options you’ve never considered before. There are so many possibilities out there. Some to consider include vacation rentals, home exchanges, campgrounds, Airbnb, or cruises. Or maybe go glamping! If you’ve never gone the all-inclusive route, that can be a money-saver as well. If you’re looking to stay at a hotel, Hotel Tonight is a website and app that lets you search for hotel deals at the eleventh hour.



There are a lot of sites offering last-minute flight deals, including Hotwire, GoLastMinute, Skyscanner, and CheapOair. If you’re looking for a package deal (mentioned above), Travelocity offers some great last-minute bargains. If you’re using credit card miles, check to see whether you’re saving more money by using the miles or by cashing them out.



If you have friends who travel often, hit them up for ideas. Some of my least wealthy friends love to travel. They do it often and they do it in style, so they have been an important part of my search for a low-cost, last-minute oasis.

Bon voyage!


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About Heidi White

Heidi White is a content writer with eight years of experience in the credit union industry. She is passionate about creating timely and useful content that inspires people to take daily, conscious steps toward more joyful lives. Heidi lives in Barre, Vermont.

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