What to Do If You Need a Vacation -- but Can't Afford One

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Vacations cost money, but here's how to compensate when you don't have much of it.

Vacations cost money, but here's how to compensate when you don't have much of it. 

Taking a vacation isn't just about seeing new sights or adding stamps to your passport -- it's about learning exciting things, dabbling in different cultures, and getting a true break from the daily grind. 

But what if you're lacking in funds to take your dream trip? If you don't have a savings account to tap, you may be out of luck -- especially because racking up credit card debt for travel purposes is a truly bad idea. But don't despair -- there are ways you can squeeze in a fabulous trip without spending a fortune or hurting your finances in the process. 

1. Cash in your credit card rewards

If you have a bunch of credit card rewards or air miles you've been accumulating on a travel card, now may be the time to cash them in. The same holds true for hotel points you've been racking up. As long as you manage to avoid blackout dates, you could use them to cover the bulk of your trip. And, by virtue of not having to pay for transit and lodging, you'll only have to pick up the cost of meals and entertainment. That's a huge amount of savings right there. 

2. Visit a friend or family member who lives elsewhere

Although your idea of a vacation may not involve bunking on somebody else's couch, snagging free lodging at your destination can be a good way to explore new places if you're short on funds. Staying with a friend or family member can be helpful in many regards -- in addition to saving money on a hotel, you can also cut back on food costs by purchasing groceries and using your host's kitchen to prepare meals. You may even, depending on the circumstances, be able to borrow that person's car, thereby avoiding the need for a rental. 

Of course, if you're going to crash with someone you know for a number of days, you'll need to do something to express your gratitude, and that could mean springing for a nice meal at one point during your stay. But if money is really tight, you can always say thank you by cleaning that person's apartment, or fixing something in it that you've noticed is broken. 

3. Travel at truly off-peak times

If you're eager to visit a specific destination but don't have the money to swing your ideal trip, you may need to get on board with the idea of traveling really off-peak -- for example, going to Alaska in January instead of the summer, or hitting the Caribbean between August and October (albeit with travel insurance in your pocket, as there is a risk of hurricanes). If you travel at times that aren't considered particularly great for your destination, you stand to save a lot of money. And although you may not get the traditional tourist experience, you'll still get the benefit of seeing a new place and taking in different surroundings. 

It's natural to reach the point where you feel like you need to get away. If that's the scenario you're in and funds are limited, tap your credit card rewards, take advantage of free lodging, and travel during the off-season to wherever it is you'd like to go. 

At the same time, open a savings account dedicated to travel, and cut back on spending in other areas to boost it. Or get a second job on top of your main one, and earmark your earnings from it for upcoming trips. That way, the next time you find yourself itching to take a vacation, you won't need to compromise quite as heavily due to a lack of money.

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