Pretty much anyone can have an amazing vacation if they have unlimited funds to spend, but what’s the fun in that? It is possible to have a perfectly splendid time on a tight budget; I’ve done it for years. Below you’ll find some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way. But first, the most important tip of all: the one thing you absolutely cannot scrimp on is your attitude. You can be miserable in a luxury resort or happy in a hostel—and vice versa. Decide you’re going to enjoy yourself and you probably will. The reverse is also true. So let’s decide to have a good time and start saving money.

Getting There

How do you plan to get from Point A to Point B? If you opt to fly, there are multiple travel sites that will check for low fares (Hint: Airlines often cut prices on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so you may save just by booking on those days). If your schedule allows, you may be able to take advantage of last-minute deals and save even more. Sometimes (but not always) bundling airfare and hotel will save you money. Check out transport options from the airport to your ultimate destination; trains, buses, and shared shuttles may take longer than a taxi, but will probably cost less.

Even with gas prices at their current level, travel by car may be the easiest, most economical option. If driving, get your oil changed, make sure your tires are properly inflated, and see that your vehicle is roadworthy. Years ago my then-car left me stranded all alone on the side of the road three times on the same trip, so believe me when I tell you this is worth the effort. You don’t necessarily have to take your car, either—you may find a good rate on a rental car that will get better gas mileage and have fewer issues than your beloved buggy. 

Lodging for Less

Are you the type of person who is only in their room to sleep, spending every waking moment out seeing the sights? Then you don’t really need fancy-schmancy sleeping quarters, do you? Alternatively, do you prefer spend long, luxurious hours lounging by the pool, working out in the on-site fitness center, and enjoying the amenities? Then you probably want to plump for some place a little more plush and economize elsewhere. 

One alternative to spendy hotels is to rent a room or apartment or someone’s home. Bed and breakfasts are fun, but U.S. versions tend to be pricey and geared to couples rather than singles or friend groups. However, there are several online services (I’ve used both airbnb.com and homeaway.com) that offer a variety of places for a variety of prices. My friends and I shared a roomy apartment on a tree-lined street in New York’s Upper West Side for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room and found a tiny-but-functional spot just down the street from the Old North Church in Boston for less per night than we paid for dinner. Hostels, college dorms (often available when school is out), campground cabins, or even actual camping may be options for you, too.

If you’re an able-bodied, adventurous type who doesn’t mind physical labor, consider WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). The organization can put you in touch with farmers who will trade x number hours of work per day for room and board. You’ll get to meet people and become part of the community in a way traditional travelers never will.

Then there’s the cheapest option of all: free. Do you have friends or family who would lend you a bed or couch? You might even be able to do them a favor and house sit while they go off on their own vacation. (Would they like to stay at your place while you’re at theirs?) 

Dining for (Fewer) Dollars

On one early-morning flight, as fellow travelers whipped out their credit cards for airline snacks, my little group unpacked breakfast bags we brought with us from home. It beat the airline’s offerings all to pieces and cost significantly less. Pack snacks and food you can prepare in your room or visit a local shop once you arrive. If you’re in foreign parts—even other areas of the country—visiting their version of a grocery store can be highly entertaining and give you a look at how the locals live.