Big Dreams Small Budget: How to Have a Fantastic Vacation

Big Dreams Small Budget How to Have a Fantastic Vacation

“Travel more” is one of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions. It is also typically the first one to get moved to a back burner. Why? Because traveling is expensive! Getting somewhere, staying somewhere, funding your life (meals, getting around, etc) while you’re there–all of it costs money. Most of us don’t feel like we have that much money to spare. But here’s the thing: a vacation doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, some of the country’s most popular vacation destinations offer extremely affordable options for visitors. Here are some of our favorites:

San Diego

The San Diego Zoo is a place everybody should experience at least once in their lives. Lego Land is tons of fun. And Sea World is even better! There’s enough to keep everybody happy and entertained for days on end. Or, if your idea of a perfect vacation involves chilling poolside or playing golf, Welk Resorts is one of the most affordable San Diego resorts. It’s like a land-based cruise ship: everything you want is right there and there’s no need to leave!


Everybody wants to go to New York…except the people who live there. Real New Yorkers dream of moving to Portland. So–if you want to have a great vacation without needing a New York sized budget, give Portland a go! Even when it’s gloomy, Portland is a treasure trove of (affordable) culture. Their food truck scene is unparalleled. The OMSI is a fantastic hands-on family attraction. Book lovers will want to move into Powell’s City of Books. Best of all, the city is extremely affordable. They have dozens of fantastic and affordable places to stay, food is super cheap and there are so many breweries you can often try a brand new drink that was brewed right there on site!


Near the southern border of Texas, Austin is a fantastic way to get the authentic Southwest experience without having to deal with all of the stereotypes and politics that can make the rest of Texas difficult to deal with. Head into town for the SXSW festival or pick any week of the year and book a suite! Austin has awesome music, amazing food and it’s within driving distance of San Antonio!


Architecture lovers, rejoice! Chicago is a fantastic affordable vacation destination that, like the others we’ve mentioned here, is fun for your whole family. If you’re hoping to lounge on the beach all day, head over in summer and join your fellow sun worshipers on the shores of Lake Michigan. Fans of history will love the tours of places that played large roles during prohibition. You can also check out the Sears Tower (now called the Willis Tower but not by locals), take in a Cubs game, visit the Giant Bean, walk the Miracle Mile, head out to the Navy Pier or pay a visit to the Art Institute!

The point is: it’s possible to have grand and wonderful vacations without having to spend your entire savings in the process. Even if you’d rather go to some of the more standard stops: New York City, Hollywood, Orlando, Washington DC–there are ways to reduce the cost of your trip. Here are some of our favorites:

AirBnB: rent a fully livable space for less than you’d spend on a hotel room and save money by cooking some of your own meals “at home.”  If you’re traveling solo, check out sites like CouchSurfing.

Public Transit: most major cities will have some form of public transit and taking it around town is a great way to feel like a local. It’s also way cheaper than renting a car. If you must drive, look for programs like Zipcar, Smart Car, etc where you can rent the car for only as long as you need it. Or if you live within a day’s drive, drive there!

Choose Souvenirs Carefully: don’t buy all of the gaudy baubles you find. Instead, take a lot of pictures and go for small and cheap keepsakes like flattened pennies or postcards. These travel easily and cost way less than t-shirts, hats, bobbleheads, etc.

Eat Local: Every city has at least one or two “must try’s” where the food is super expensive because the chefs know they can get away with it. Pick one or two to try and the rest of the time stick to local holes in the walls that are at least a few blocks away from popular tourist spots. Local eateries cost less than those built for tourists–even chain restaurants are cheaper in local neighborhoods than they are in tourist stops!

The point is this: don’t give up on your travel resolution so easily! Instead, get creative and go somewhere new this year. You’ll be glad you did!

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