How to Afford the Last-Minute Budget Vacation of Your Dreams

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My family and I just got back from a Thanksgiving / birthday holiday vacation in the Caribbean.


It was an impromptu trip that we booked in October for November.

Last-minute much?

Honestly, the urge to vacation can come out of nowhere.

You don’t realize it’s time to get away until you feel anxious or exhausted and compelled to get the heck out of dodge.

That’s how I felt in September and October.

Fortunately, my husband and I had (most) of our ducks in a row to make our dream budget vacation happen last-minute.

Here’s the scoop on how you can keep yourself prepared to accommodate a last-minute urge to travel:


Be Stingy with Your Paid Days Off

Before we touch on money, we have to talk about vacation time, ya’ll.

If you work a 9 to 5 job, you need to be stingy with your paid time off. For self-employed people, you should also plan to have enough work lined up before and after vacation to keep you afloat.

Why am I even mentioning this?

Experiencing a gap in pay can make vacationing unaffordable. 

If you’re like me where you get inspiration to skip town just a few weeks in advance, this means you need to be conserving your time throughout the year.

Saving up paid time off isn’t easy for everyone.

Take my husband for example, he has a habit of using one-off paid days throughout the year for random things. I tried to persuade nag him into saving his days just in case we decided to go away at the end of this year.

It partially worked.

He had to take one unpaid day during our vacation, so this duck wasn’t completely in a row.

If your job gives vacation time, a last-minute budget vacation is truly epic (and affordable) when you get paid the entire trip.

Be greedy with your days, fam.


Put Your Creative Thinking Cap On

My husband and family are from Jamaica.

Marc (husband) hasn’t been “back a yaad” a.k.a back home in about 3 years.

For his 30th birthday in November, we toyed around with the idea of a Jamaica trip so he could visit the Mother Land.

We didn’t start putting this idea into motion until late September or early October which meant flights to Jamaica were crazy pants.

Almost $500 per flight from Atlanta.

That’s not even including other expenses of accommodation and travel in the country.

The dream almost fizzled out. 

But, we put our thinking caps on and tried to think about another way to get there that could fit into our budget.

That’s when we decided to see how much a last-minute cruise including that destination would cost.

We ended up landing a deal that was a little less than $900 for two with Royal Caribbean. Of course, cruises include food, accommodation, and all that jazz.

The trip was 7 days to Bahamas, Jamaica, and Grand Cayman leaving from Miami. We drove to Miami to cut the flight costs as well.

The cruise accommodations, food, entertainment, and driving to the port altogether cost us about $1,200 for two!

What does this mean for you?

Think of what your dream vacation is and aspects of that vacation that are important to you. Then, figure out how you can make aspects of that dream vacation come true affordably.

For us, the dream was Jamaica.

We made it there in a different way with the only drawback being we had to make the most of the port in one day.


Is your dream to go somewhere that’s warm with tons of sun this winter?

If international beach travel is out of the question, check out some of the sunniest states in the good ol’ U.S. during the winter here.

Do you simply want to enjoy a place with rich history?

No need to “cross the pond”, check out historic places in the U.S. here.

Do you want to swim and enjoy nature?

How about a road trip to hot springs in Colorado? (Side note: This is my next trip!)

The point is, you can get your last-minute dream vacation or aspects of your last-minute dream vacation in many places if you’re flexible.


Dig into the Procrastinator’s Deal Section of Travel Websites

There are three main ways to get deals on travel.

  • Book super early.
  • Keep your destination and vacation dates open-ended so you can choose the cheapest vacation deal for the cheapest dates. (Another reason why you want flexibility in your paid time off.)
  • Book super late.

There are often deals to specific destinations last-minute because service providers are trying to fill up occupancy.

Almost all travel deal sites have a last-minute travel and specials section including Expedia, Orbtiz, and Priceline.

These sites also happen to offer a percentage cash back on certain bookings if you shop through Ebates.

You can sign up for Ebates here.


Collect Pennies, Nickels, Dimes, like it’s Your Job

Now, how are you going to pay for all of this…

Saving up for travel is the challenging part. It doesn’t have to be terribly hard though.

The secret is if you always stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.

You’ll often hear me talking about collecting change.

It’s because it works.

(Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you take change from the “take a penny, leave a penny” jar at Dunkin’ Donuts. I’m talkin’ about collecting your family’s change and other change you may happen to come across without looking like a creep.)

We made a point to pay for the vacation in cash.

Half of the cash came from change and money we both saved from our Digit accounts.

Last year for Christmas, I got my husband a change counter jar. Boy, was it a good purchase.

He collects change like crazy, so I figured it would make sense to keep it organized. The jar counts each piece of change that you put inside on top.

Here’s the change in action.

We collected over $100 in that jar alone.

Perfect for vacation spending money. (You can get your own change counter here.)

My other savings strategy was the Digit app that I signed up for in July.

I’ve been chronicling my savings from the app in a few posts (here and here) and mentioned I was saving for travel. When that travel was happening I had no idea initially.

I was saving just in case I wanted to go somewhere.

The Digit app automatically scans your account to see how much cash you have extra that’s not needed for bills. It transfers up to $50 from your checking to the savings.

My transfers are usually around $10. Transfers usually happen every few days.

From, July to October, I saved a little over $680 in the Digit account and withdrew it to pay for about 3/4 of the cruise. My husband started with the app a little later than me, but still managed to save about $100 in it.


(Update: The Digit app used to be free. Now, they’re rolling out a $2.99 per month membership fee to use the app after a 100-day free trial. I’m reviewing another free savings automation app as an alternative. So, hold tight!)

If you want to save a little more aggressively for travel, you can also create a separate “get away” savings account.

Transfer maybe $20 dollars into that account per week.

By the end of the year, you will have over $1,000 in the account for an impromptu trip!


Onwards and Upwards

Not going to lie. Since returning from that trip, I’m already planning another.

I realized how fabulous it feels to get away, disconnect, and enjoy a complete change in pace.

What about you? How do you save for travel? Where’s your dream vacation?

This post may contain affiliate links. Don’t worry, I only recommend products and services that I truly believe in.

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Taylor K. Gordon is a writer and money blogger. She writes on how to live your best life without going broke.

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