How to Take a Last Minute Vacation on a Budget

Taking a last minute vacation and concerned about your budget? Here are 5 ways to go on a last minute trip, save money and have a blast.

Recently, my family and I took a much needed vacation to Wisconsin for a few days. Coincidentally, a few of our friends were in the same area at the time we were but I could tell it was a very last minute vacation, seeing as they invited us to join them there just a day or two prior.

That got me thinking about how our trip would have been different if we didn’t plan ahead and budget for it all summer. I know the sudden feeling of just wanting to get away for the weekend or wanting to take advantage of a flash sale on plane tickets. Summer is not over yet and actually doesn’t officially end until September 21 this year.

Kids will be going back to school in just a few weeks but you still have time for a fun and relaxing last minute vacation. Here are a few ways to plan one and still stay on budget without sacrificing on the fun.

Choose an Affordable Destination


Your destination is everything when trying to keep your vacation within your budget. You must be realistic when deciding where you should go and realize that you probably won’t be flying internationally unless you have a travel fund set up already.

Nearby states make great last minute vacation destinations because you can drive there and avoid the often expensive price of flying. If you have family in a nearby state, it might be a good idea to see if you can visit them and stay in their guest room if your abrupt travel plans aren’t interrupting their schedule. If you do want to include flying or renting a car in your last minute vacation ideas, be sure to check out online travel discount sites like Expedia, as they can help you save money on your spur of the moment plans.

Invite Friends to Join You


This is something our group of friends did that I really liked. Even though we couldn’t join them because we already had our own plans and hotel reservation, I liked how at least five of them carpooled together and shared several expenses for the trip. It really reminded me how inviting a few friends to join you on a road trip, can help cut down your overall expenses.

Traveling with friends and loved ones can be fun and it can ease the financial pressure you would feel if you had to pay for every travel expense on your own. The trick is just finding friends who are free and willing to join you on short notice but it’s worth it to ask.

Cash in Credit Card Reward Points


If you use credit cards regularly for points and rewards like me, you might want to see if you have any reward points or cash back to cash in for your last minute vacation plans. I only have a select number of credit cards and use them to pay for regular monthly expenses like groceries, gas, etc. then I pay the bill off in full each month.

I don’t go out of my way to earn more points (though I should eventually) but I know I am slowly racking up points that I would prefer to use for travel. My husband has a cash back credit card so I know he earns money on it here and there. It brings me a little relief to know that if need to cut down on travel expenses, we can rely on some of our credit card rewards to help us save.

John and his family actually travel for free or for an extremely discounted price since he takes advantage of credit card rewards, sign up bonuses and airlines miles and this is great strategy to use if you are good with credit cards seeing as it can help you plan a fun and cheap trip on a whim. If you’d like to earn rewards points you can use for travel, here are some of the best cards to do so.

Only Stay Overnight


If you can’t afford to stay for several nights on your last minute vacation, don’t. Staying overnight or just for a weekend can help you stay on budget and make the most of the time you have. If you are staying overnight, you may want to choose a hotel with a later checkout time so you can have more time to enjoy your stay without having to rush out the next morning. Try to leave out early for your trip and arrive an hour or two before check-in. Odds are your room may be ready early.

Going back to credit card rewards and points, if you have any cards like the IHG® Rewards Club card with Chase, you may be able to use points to book a room with any of their partner hotels and resorts or redeem your one free night they offer annually for your cardholder anniversary.

VRBO is a great alternative if you don’t want to stay in a hotel or can’t afford it. Depending on where you’re headed, renting a house with VRBO may be much cheaper than any nightly hotel rate. Plus, you can split the price of the room or home with others and save even more money by bringing food that you can prepare instead of having to dine out for each meal.

Taking a last minute vacation and concerned about your budget? Here are 5 ways to go on a last minute trip, save money and have a blast.

Find Free or Frugal Things To Do


You’ve probably mined all the free and frugal entertainment opportunities in your area, but when you travel, you get to explore new opportunities. When planning your last minute vacation itinerary, see if there are any free zoos or museums you can visit. Some attractions may be included in your hotel stay or if you are near any state parks, you can go on a refreshing hike.

You can also search for coupons and deals online to save on activities and attractions you are interested. Be sure to ask locals about the best and most affordable places to go.

While planning and budgeting for your vacation ahead of time is the best way to enjoy summer travel, you can also plan a spontaneous last minute summer trip that allows you to stick to your budget as well.


Have you ever taken a last minute vacation? What did you do to save money on traveling? Do you have any other travel plans for the remainder of the summer?

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Chonce is a freelance writer who’s obsessed with frugality and passionate about helping others increase their savings rate, eliminate debt, and work toward financial stability. She chronicles her journey with balancing motherhood, work, and finances on her blog, MyDebt

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  • I’m pretty sure I have never taken a last minute trip. I like the planning stage too much!

    • Chonce says:

      Oddly enough I like the planning aspect too. But I must admit, I get a little jelly when I look at people who seem like they can just get up and go (granted they aren’t getting into debt to do it) without having to deal with the stress that comes along with planning a trip for several months. If you’re going to be a little spontaneous with travel, you might as well save some money here and there.

  • I’m not super spontaneous but I have taken last-minute trips to go stay at my friend’s in Atlanta. It’s a 5-hour trip, so not a ton of planning required. And then I can stay at her place for free, so it’s super affordable. Great tips!

  • With my wife in grad school and both of us working full-time, there really is no such thing as a “last minute” trip for us. Even on four weeks notice I couldn’t make going up to her aunt and uncle’s cabin for a weekend work (too many side hustle obligations). So everything is planned in advance, which actually has worked out quite well with credit card rewards.

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