How to Plan a Trip on a $1,000 Budget

by Dana George | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on June 17, 2021

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Two parents and three children carrying towels and walking to the beach.

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Want to get away without spending too much? Here's how to make it happen.

I never made it to Disneyland as a child, but I've been on some fantastic trips, thanks to my parent's curious natures and the amount of effort they put into planning our adventures. If you're aching to get back out there after a year of lockdown but don't want to break the bank, here's how to plan a trip with a budget of $1,000.

Focus on what you enjoy

This sounds super basic, but the truth is, taking a trip to a place you won't enjoy is a waste of money (and worse yet, time). Where you want to go depends on who's traveling with you. If you'll be alone, the answer is easy. If you're traveling with a partner and kids, you need to consider what they're into as well.

Growing up, my family was into history. My parents and all four of their children were wild about stepping into the past. Knowing that, it makes sense that we traveled to places with Civil War forts, Native American burial grounds, history museums, and Old West towns.

Years later, as my husband and I planned low-cost trips for our family, we held on to historical sites (our kids are also into history) but added all things sports. Our boys loved checking out ballparks and arenas around the country, and though they're not race fans, per se, they thoroughly enjoyed a trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

If you and your travel companions had only one day to spend doing something you all enjoy, what would it be? Once you home in on that, you have the nucleus around which to build your trip. For example...

If you're into dinosaurs

You might want to spend your days traveling across Montana to visit any of the 14 dinosaur-related attractions, including museums and interactive educational sites. Entry fees into many of the attractions located along the Montana Dinosaur Trail run from free to $5.

If you want to relax on a beach

Perhaps what you dream of is lying on a beach somewhere, reading a book, and sipping something cold and frothy. Luckily, you have a drivable option from pretty much anywhere in the U.S. Take a look at:

  • Ocean City, Maryland
  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
  • Gulf Shores, Alabama
  • Carlsbad, California

Each location features budget-friendly hotels for less than $100 per night, though you may want to check those rates before traveling as the post-pandemic rush into the sunlight gets underway.

If you enjoy hiking (and all things outdoorsy)

A trip to the Badlands in the western Dakotas offers it all:

  • Outdoor trails
  • Thriving bison herds
  • Iconic landmarks (Mount Rushmore and the not-quite-complete Crazy Horse Memorial)
  • The world's longest cave system
  • Super-inexpensive places to sleep at night

If you don't want to bring your own camper or tent, a local hotel room can be booked for less than $100 per night. And for a fraction of that price, you can reserve a rustic cabin for your stay.

In other words, no matter your personal finances, there's an inexpensive destination for every passion. Once you decide what your travel group is most interested in, it's just a matter of researching the places in the U.S. that provide the opportunity to explore those interests. And once you've decided what you want to do, these five tips can help you make the most of a $1,000 budget.

1. Plan early

The earlier you begin to plan your trip, the more likely you are to snag low-cost rooms, purchase tickets for the attractions you want to visit, and if you're flying, to begin collecting airline miles using a travel rewards credit card.

2. Take advantage of any rewards cards

Say you have a cash back rewards credit card that offers cash back instead of airline miles. That's great! Save the cash back earned in the months leading up to your trip and use the funds to keep your out-of-pocket expenses low.

3. Forget 5-star hotels

Chances are, you'll only be in your hotel room long enough to shower and sleep. When you're vacationing on a budget, the easiest place to save money is on hotel accommodations. All you need is a safe location, clean room, and comfortable bed. Years from now, when you look back on this trip, it's unlikely that you will care how luxurious your hotel room was.

Quick tip: If you find yourself traveling to a less-traveled area, you may be able to upgrade your hotel room for free. Don't be shy about asking at check-in.

4. Save on eating out

Decide in advance how often you plan to eat out. For example, you may decide to bring breakfast foods along and save money on that meal. Or, you can visit a nearby grocery store and pick up everything you need for picnic lunches and splurge a bit on dinner.

5. Set a souvenir budget

If you have kids with you, their budget is whatever you decide. Letting children know how much they have to spend (and then sticking to that amount) is a good way to avoid emotional impulse buying.

Having been on both high-cost luxury vacations and budget vacations, I can vouch for the fact that spending more does not guarantee you either a great trip or sweeter memories. To this day, when anyone says the word "vacation," I think of Old Abilene Town in Central Kansas. It's not Bali (or London, or Paris) but it was fun -- and cheap. And when you're hoping to get away on a budget, fun and cheap are all you're looking for.

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