The Ultimate guide to Planning a Vacation on a Budget

in Travel - 7 min read

Planning a trip can be daunting, now imagine doing that on a budget too – devastating! At least that’s how it feels without any help or guidance. Well, that’s why you are here today – we are going to talk about how to plan a trip on a fairly tight budget and still make the most out of it!

I am a cheapskate who also likes nice things, so planning budget-friendly trips is pretty fun and exciting for me. Don’t get me wrong, it takes a lot of research and circling back but it all comes together at the end, so let’s get into it…

What is the budget?

Before planning any kind of trip, the first thing that should come to mind is, “how much am I willing to spend?” That alone sets the mood and vibe of the trip – a $2000 budget in New York and a $500 one will not be same. So let us start there, for this step you will have to do some research – look up flights, accommodation/stays … Despite where I go, I typically give myself a budget of $300-$450, including flights and accommodation, just like my recent trip to Miami. Let’s continue to find out more about how I manage to do this…

Finding flights

There are literally thousands of websites and apps where you can search for flights which are apparently cheap but the only app I have and use all the time is Skyscanner. Now, if you are on a budget, you have to have an open mind. With that said, don’t limit yourself to a weekend trip, be open to going any day – leaving on Tuesday and coming back on Thursday, random but if it works for your pockets, I don’t see why not.

I am going to share with you my simple trick that made it possible for me to get a roundtrip flight for a 5-day trip to Miami for only $42:

~ Open the Skyscanner app, on the top left corner there is a button with the world icon that says, ‘Explore Everywhere’ – click that.

~ Click on roundtrip, enter the location you will be flying from (I don’t put in a specific airport just location. So, since I live in Washington D.C., I fill that in and they will pick from the cheapest airport to fly from).

~ Enter the location you are flying to (with this, I would recommend you find an airport that is closest to downtown of whichever city you are going to. Only because it’s most likely a foreign area for you so it might be a hassle to navigate your way around).

~ Under ‘Date of Travel’ select the month you want to travel in, click on ‘select whole month’

~ Now this is the coolest part, Skyscanner will scan the top deals for you and get to pick and choose which dates work for you

Not only is Skyscanner great for finding all the deals for you but it also takes you straight to the airline’s website to make your booking, meaning that they don’t take any money from you, all they do is just guide you.

Where to stay?

This part is really a test to see how picky you are. Lol. Don’t we all love luxurious 5-star hotels? Hell, we’ll even take a 3-star hotel, right? Okay well you don’t have to answer that because no, we are not staying in a hotel.

In the beginning, Airbnb was my go-to, I mean I still check but rates have become so ridiculous that I might as well get a 5-star hotel. So what I do is look for hostels and I am well aware that some people would rather stay away from hostels because you are literally sleeping in the same room as a bunch of strangers (which alone can be terrifying if you have watched enough horror movies) and you are concerned about the safety and security of your possessions.

Honestly, if you have a pin lock suitcase, you should be good and typically, hostels have lockers and all you have to bring is your personal lock. When looking for hostels, I suggest using the app Hostelworld and read reviews on all the places you are interested in. Hostels definitely have a bad rap but if you choose wisely like me, you could find a place like these gems I found in The Bahamas and Mexico, read about them below:

BahaSea Backpackers in The Bahamas, where I stayed for 4 nights for only $180

Che Tulum in Mexico, where I stayed for 5 nights for only $121

What to do?

Finding activities is my favorite part of the whole planning process. This is also the longest and hardest part of it all. I use a number of resources to find things to do – Instagram and Tiktok (by searching the hashtags. Eg, #thingstodoinmiami #miamivacation), searching the location on Pinterest and reading the blogs which are always so insightful, Tripadvisor, Expedia and the PAO app.

Make a list of all the places you found interesting and open Google Maps – create a list and name it ‘[Location] Itinerary’. Next, search all those places individually and save them on your list. By doing so, you are able to zoom out of the map when you are done to see which places are closer to each other. If you find one distant spot that’s just lingering alone like 10 miles away from the rest, you might have to reconsider going there.

Mapping all these places out will help you figure out which places to go to each day. If there are 2 or 3 areas that have a bunch of saved places, that’s good because you can now sort them out as ‘Day 1, Day 2…’

Now when it comes to tickets, it’s best to purchase them ahead of time – don’t wait until you go on the trip, book the tickets before to avoid disappointment of having them sold out. Also, look on Groupon for discounted activities to do.

How to get around?

When it comes to getting around, I always depend on Google Maps – it has never failed me. I personally hardly ever Uber anywhere, if I have to Uber then it’s too far. The only exception is when I have to Uber from and to the airport. But other than that, I rely on public transportation and walking.

Google Maps is helpful because all you have to do is key in where you are coming from and where you are going then click on the train icon. Here, you will find all the possible methods of public transportation and typically you only have to pay $2 for the ride as opposed to $35 for an Uber.

Taking public transportation requires you to be very observant and you might have to transfer here and there but the experience is all worth it. Like I said, I also love walking, so long as the walk is 30 minutes or shorter. This gives me a chance to look around and stop at any store that looks interesting and this is when I get some photos too.

From Miami airport to the hostel I was staying in (Freehand Miami – super popular hostel which is also right across the beach), the bus fare was only $3!

What to eat?

Before we get into this, what I am going to say first is this – look at the menu from the restaurant’s website first, don’t just rock up there with hopes and dreams. Remember, budget friendly trip! Lol. Okay, so I don’t know how and why but every time I am on vacation, I don’t get hungry in the morning. I just really cannot eat until like noon.

However, if you are not like me and prefer getting all your 3 meals of the day in then this is what we are going to do: don’t spend more than $15 on your breakfast, get something for lunch that you can save for later as dinner. You can also get dinner that you can have for breakfast the next day.

And there you have it, all the tricks I use to save myself money on vacation. I recently started creating a theme or intention for a trip – for Miami the intention was ‘art & aesthetics admiration’ and if you go through all my Miami content, that’s all you will see. This was helpful for me because it helped me focus on having a wholesome vacation without trying to do all the random things TikTok suggested.

Next time you are planning either a solo trip or a trip with your friends, just refer to all these tips and set an intention for yourself personally, even if it’s just to have a short mindful walk every day because you want to destress. That’s something! Just because you are on a budget doesn’t mean your trip will be any bit short of fun, just go for it!

p.s ~ my Instagram ‘miami 2.0’ highlights and recent feed posts show you all the fun I had on my $450 solo trip to Miami, enjoy!

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About Me

Hi! I am Mbalenhle Khuzwayo, but everyone calls me Mbali for short. I am a lifestyle blogger who focuses on mental wellness, travel and social media marketing. Sign up to the monthly newsletter for insights on the personal side of my life and exclusive tips Read More

Mbalenhle K.

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