If you follow my Instagram feed (@nurturecultivatecreate) you may have noticed that I recently returned from a dream vacation. I went to Glacier National Park in Montana and Banff National Park in Alberta Canada. A trip of a lifetime that we spent less than $600 on. So I wanted to share everything with you!
Sometimes we think that because we are on a budget we can’t do fun things, especially things like vacations. I’m going to spend the next couple of days breaking down our trip so you can plan a trip too and show you how affordable it was, but also how incredible of an adventure it was! I know when I was planning it would have been so nice to have an all inclusive guide for guidance. I’m going to take on the role of trip adviser and help you start planning your mountain vacation while on a budget!
Now a dream vacation is something that takes your breath away and grabs a hold of your heart strings begging you to come back again and again. I’ve been some really neat places in my life (Mexico, Paris, Disneyland, Disney World, NYC, the Redwoods, Yellowstone, and a bunch of other National Parks) but this trip to Glacier National Park and Banff National Park was right up there as one of my favorites. It grabbed a hold and kept a piece of me up there.
If you’ve read this blog much you may have caught on to a few patterns by now. One of which is I am incredibly cheap. Incredibly. So know that when planning a vacation I do it on the cheap side. If you prefer someone bringing you drinks by the pool or 5 star hotels this may not be for you. But, if you are up for an affordable vacation where you take on new adventures, live out of your car and a tent and want an experience of a lifetime, then keep reading.
A few months ago I was having a patch of the blues. I needed something to look forward to so I began planning a few vacations just to get my mind on something else. I planned two trips 1. Glacier & Banff National Parks, 2. Muir Woods & San Francisco.
I figured out how many miles it would take to get there, how many hours in the car, how much we would spend on gas, things to do in each place, and options of how many days we could spend at each place. Needless to say all of this planning and hypothetical thinking got me really excited over a trip that wasn’t even real. So I began pondering how we could really make one of them happen. I just needed to figure out how we would afford the trip and I knew I could get Mr M’s buy into going on vacation.
So let me introduce to you a few simple ways to go on vacation even when you feel like you can’t afford one (like us). Every one deserves to get out and experience life. It’s tempting to say “oh we’ll go after……(insert your situation here)” or “once we have enough money for …..(insert your situation here) we can go on vacation”. In saving for a house, having just had a baby, living on one income we wondered if it was possible. But we did it and you can do it too!
Now what I’m not saying is go blow your entire savings on a Mediterranean Cruise, because yeah we all want to do that, what I’m saying is be realistic and adventure can be in your future too!
Take a look at my tips below to see just how easy it is! A vacation is in your future! (Does that sound much like a fortune cookie to you?)
TIP #1: Plan a Realistic Vacation
We all would love to go somewhere exotic to an all inclusive resort and spend 6 weeks laying on the beach. But in reality that isn’t going to happen for me. We simply don’t have the money to even do a somewhat exotic vacation. But we could do a very realistic vacation.
I knew that if we purchased airplane tickets that would boost our expenses way way way out of our price range. So I looked into planning a vacation where we could drive. That is why I decided either San Francisco / Muir Woods or Glacier / Banff. They were both a bit of a distance to travel to but still doable in a car. With a little planning I estimated we would spend $225 in gas, which is way cheaper than we could get flights to anywhere. A very realistic vacation.
TIP #2: Sell. Sell. Sell.
I told you above that there was two steps to convincing Frugal Mr M we could go on vacation in the midst of all of our saving. 1. I had to have a plan and cool place to go. 2. I had to show him we could afford it. So how do you find the money to go on vacation? Step 1 sell things you already own!
In trying to finance this vacation I put my old textbooks on Amazon. Then I got looking around and have we have a box of electronics we aren’t using anymore (old phones, cameras, etc.) and my iPod Classic and my iPod Nano. Now I had no idea that the going rate would be so good for those iPods, they were in great condition so I wiped them clean and sold them. Between selling those and a few books I raised $300 towards our vacation in just 3 weeks. Mr M and I couldn’t believe it and we began right then to plan our trip.
TIP #3: Find Ways to Save on Costs
In planning for this vacation I tried to think of as many ways as I could to save on costs and expenses. Here are a few ideas for you. I know we are incredibly cheap so maybe some of these don’t sound like they would work for you, but choose the ones that will.
One of the biggest ways we saved on money was of course driving there. We had our car checked before our trip and the tires rotated to ensure we’d be safe driving that far. We put 2500 miles on our car in this one week but at 33mpg we came out only spending about $235 on gas. What a deal, right!?! And gas is supposed to continue to drop in price so you could go even cheaper.
The next savings came from camping rather than staying in a hotel. Now if camping is not your thing you may need to save up a little longer but I would recommend camping when going to these parks. It was incredible. There is something about camping next to 50ft pines that makes you feel connected with nature. Our campsites were $23 a night. I was able to reserve them in advance using recreation.gov for Glacier and Reservation Parks Canada for Banff. I did a little planning and found campsites that had showers, flush toilets, fire pits, and water. So really we didn’t feel the pains of camping for an entire week. With the prices of the campsites, fire pit fees and all we were only out $140. We were clean and well taken care of for a price way cheaper than a hotel.
The last bit of advice takes a small amount of planning but it saved us money yet again. We planned and prepared our meals ourselves rather than eating out. During our trip we only ate at Wendys one night and Subway one night. The rest of our food we prepared ourselves. We are after all the cheapest people you probably know. Now I won’t lie to you, we ate a lot of PB&J’s but when you are in the middle of a hike next to a beautiful lake there isn’t a restaurant to stop at anyway. PB&J’s were perfect, and if you can believe it we aren’t even sick of them yet. It was perfect because we stopped to eat at some pretty places and we could eat right when we were hungry rather than trying to find the next restaurant. Half way through the trip we stopped at a grocery store and reloaded up on supplies and perishable foods. We also stopped once a day to get ice for the cooler. But when you account for all of the food I bought before we left and the stops along the way we still probably spent less than $100 including snacks and everything. I’ll follow up with a post about meals to eat while camping and food for the long car rides!
In the weeks leading up to our vacation we found ways to save money too. We tried to save a little on our gas budget. I was more selective about what I bought from the grocery store so we would have money to buy treats and things for the car. I think with all of our saving ahead of time we only had $150 of un-budgeted expenses. That is doable for a vacation!
The last way we saved a bit of money is by traveling cheaply. We aren’t into buying a lot of souvenirs, instead I collect rocks and pictures. My grandpa started years ago collecting rocks and I have followed in his foot steps. At each place we go I pick up a small rock. When we get home I write the date and location on each rock and store them in a jar. I love this tradition and as you can imagine, its free! Hooray for cheap souvenirs!
- $235 – Gas for 2500 miles
- $140 – Camping for $23 a night & fire pit fees
- $25 – Glacier entrance fee (Good for an entire week)
- $60 – Banff entrance fee ($20 per day)
- $100 – Buying food & treats for the road
For a total of less than $600!!! Then remember how I sold things we weren’t using for $300 and then $150 came out of our monthly budget. This vacation became really affordable really quick!
I hope these tips help inspire you to take a much needed vacation. Driving to and camping in the parks was an experience I wouldn’t trade! 7 days, 2500 miles, 4 National Parks, a lot of beautiful mountainous country, and more adventures than we can share in a life time all for less than $600. We may be those people you wouldn’t want to travel with because we are so cheap, but we have a good time. I never once have felt deprived on vacation, rather I feel fortunate that because we travel cheaply we seem to be able to travel more often! I’m already looking to sell a few more items to start financing our next vacation!