One of the best ways to enjoy a vacation affordably is with friends. It's cheaper per-person to travel in a group than to travel alone, and group travel allows you to plan ahead and take advantage of all sorts of cost-saving adventures. You can book lodgings, travel, and plan cool activities together. You can take group tours, and even take turns cooking in a suite or rented house.
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However, getting multiple people to coordinate a low-budget vacation takes some coordination and careful planning. You can all have a wonderful time, but bringing together everyone's schedules, budgets, expectations, and vacation to-do lists will take some organization from everyone. Whether you are the delegated leader or trying to do your part, here’s a practical guide for how to plan a low-budget vacation with two or more friends.
1) Collaborate on Budget: Get on the Same Page
The first step is to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to budget standards. A low-budget vacation may mean different things to each person. One may be thinking of walking tours and eating only grocery store foods, while another may be thinking of rented cars and low-cost restaurants. If you have different expectations for spending, this can throw off your all-together good time or push someone to spend more than they want to.
Instead, simply get together and discuss how you're going to spend and what you can afford. Talk about pooling resources for specific expenses and how to keep things fair and/or affordable for everyone while doing things together. Remember, you can also split up sometimes, which can allow for one or two friends to fulfill a pricier item on their wishlist without burdening the others.
2) Choose a Destination with Affordable Adventures
When it comes to low-budget vacations, destination matters. For example, staying downtown in an older city may offer free (or under $10) tickets to all sorts of local museums and community attractions, wilderness vacations may offer a variety of free or affordable outdoor activities, and international locations can yield affordable tours to things you've never seen before.
Choose a destination that has affordable opportunities that everyone is interested in, either to do together or separately.
3) Book the Best Lodgings to Share
Talk about lodgings. Everyone has different expectations for vacation lodgings and this can make the difference in whether you have a good time and/or feel that you have truly had the experience you were hoping for. Your friend group may want to book a suite with multiple beds, connected hotel rooms, or rent a vacation house to share. There are so many options, with opportunities and prices that depend on your destination.
Couples (and many singles) will prefer to have a private room, and no one should assume "the big room" unless everyone is comfortable with this ahead of time. Look for affordable options and invite everyone to do research to see what comes up. We also strongly recommend finding lodgings with a kitchen to help you save on food, even if it's just packed sandwiches for the whole trip instead of relying on fast food and restaurants.
4) Buy Your Plane Tickets Together
If you want to sit together on the plane - or even to catch the same flight - book your plane tickets at the same time. Depending on the airline, you might want to book them all under one order (paying back the cardholder), or you can book in the same few minutes, then log in to reserve connected seats. This ensures that the first flight booked doesn't fill up before everyone gets their tickets and seats reserved.
If you can, also take this opportunity to reserve the luggage you will need, arrange for early security approval, and sign up for early boarding if anyone in your party is disabled.
5) Plan Things Together and Separately
Now for the fun part: Plan your activities. There are all sorts of things that friend groups can do together, and often more affordable than doing alone. Going on tours, camping, rafting, booking a shuttle, booking a boat, visiting museums and amusement parks, or touring historical sites are all great experiences and you may have a lot of overlapping interests to share.
But don't forget that it's also OK to split up. If two friends want to go parasailing and two want to get a massage - you can spend your time and money separately as well. This is especially true for activities that are charged by the person instead of by the group. You can also connect with other groups at your destination to form different combinations of people who want to do different things. Then come back together for dinner and evening events.
6) Make Plans to Eat Affordably
Eating at restaurants for every meal gets pretty pricey no matter where you travel, and is one of the few expenses not made more affordable by traveling in groups. Except for your chance to book a kitchen. Fortunately, groups also have a better reason to book a larger suite or guest house that is likely to have its own kitchen.
Take advantage of that. Make sure you have a decent-sized fridge and possibly a full kitchen setup . Then hit the grocery store for supplies and take turns cooking for each other. Sandwiches and large-portion simple meals are great, especially if you pack lunch box gear so that your only restaurant meals are planned and truly enjoyed.
7) Buy Group Supplies in Bulk
Groups of friends can also benefit from an "economy of scale" when packing for the trip. If you need to buy supplies for the party, buy in bulk. For example, it's usually cheaper to buy a pack of multi-colored reusable water bottles or a large bottle of sunscreen instead of stocking up individually. If you are sharing a one-bathroom guest house, one normal-sized (non travel sized) set of toiletries picked up on-location may be cheaper to share.
Buy a multi-pack of beach towels, sun hats, or a pack of matching cheap sunglasses. Matching items make the trip more fun as a group, while multi-color packs are great for splitting up based on your traditional favorite colors for easily color-coded supplies. Take turns shopping or, like the plane tickets, simply refund the person who makes the group purchase - who may have the best bulk shopping member discount.
8) Best Friends and Couples: Pack to Share
One really great way to save on luggage and make your trip more efficient is to share what you pack. You've likely heard of the trick in packing outfit items that go together so you can mix-and-match on the trip. But close-knit groups of friends can take this one step further by packing to share. Couples and best friends may be able to pack outfit pieces that one another can wear or use - and often do this without even thinking.
For example, a stack of overshirts and bandanas can be used by everyone whenever they are needed. Best friends near the same size may bring shirts and pants that can be swapped whenever, especially in emergencies. Couples often wear each other's roomy shirts and have an easier time sharing things like toiletries.
9) Long Trips Plan for Laundry
If you are staying for a week or longer, make plans for laundry. Whether you go through your adventure clothes faster than expected or want to pack for only a few days and then wash, it's best to have a plan. Your guest house or hotel might have available laundry machines, but you might need to make sure there's a sack of quarters and detergent available. Just having access to a clothes dryer can make it easier to refresh swimsuits and towels, for example.
10) Decide How You Will Travel and Who Will Drive
How will you get around? Your group may have different expectations, associated with different costs. Taxis and Ubers, in most places, are likely to be the most costly option. Downtown adventures could be almost 100% walking tours, which is fun for some but not for others. You might be really looking forward to taking the train, but remember to check train pass prices. These are awesomely affordable in some cities but not others.
If you plan to rent a car, make sure everyone knows and is comfortable with who will be the driver and make plans for covering gas/charging costs.
11) Take Time to Relax In Your Rooms or Shared House
Don't forget: one of the most affordable things to do on your vacation is to relax. If you booked nice lodgings - or lodgings with lounge chairs near a nice view - just enjoy it. It's OK to plan one afternoon (or on longer vacations, an entire day) just to chill back and unwind. Make yourself a drink, slide your matching shades down, and soak up the sun. Or bundle into a cozy blanket in your guest house and share a movie night with a homemade meal instead of going to an expensive restaurant.
You can stay in together or take turns staying in while other members of your group do something only they want to do. Vacations are about relaxing as much as they are about adventures, and you don't have to spend money on blissfully doing nothing at all.
Enjoy Your Travels!
Wherever you go, remember to let your bank know you are going. At MPH Bank, we know how important travel and relaxation can be, and we are also dedicated to keeping your finances safe when you travel. Let us know you are planning a vacation and we'll make sure your funds are both available and protected during your trip. Contact us today for more smart financial tips and ideas for affordable travel experiences.
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