How to Have An Epic Vacation Without Breaking the Bank

MichaelEducation, Family, How to, Misc, Saving Money30 Comments

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With the summer months upon us, many of you may be headed out-of-town with your family and friends and hoping for an EPIC vacation.  Awesome!  It’s so important to unplug from work and reconnect with loved ones.

I’m someone who believes more in spending money on experiences over “things”.  A “thing” will just make you happy temporarily, but an experience can help you live in the moment, and create memories for a lifetime.

Vacation on a Budget

Since taking an early retirement 3 years ago, cash flow has definitely been thinner.  So, although I’m willing to spend money on travel, I’d prefer not to, or at least not every year.  Thankfully, you can still plan and have an EPIC vacation without breaking the bank!


In fact, I just came back from a family vacation up in Mammoth Lakes.  Mammoth is best known as a winter destination, but there are tons of active and fun summer activities available too.  We went with another family and had an EPIC time, but we didn’t break the bank.

Here’s how I did it and you can too!


calendar-152139_640I can’t begin to stress how important this first step is!  Pre-planning can really control the majority of costs from the beginning.  In my case, I started planning this a few months ago.  This gave me plenty of time to clear schedules, figure out cost-effective lodging, and deal with any contingencies.

This meant inviting all the friends we wanted to potentially spend time with and then waiting to hear back.  As the coordinator, you’ll want to set clear dates and a deadline on RSVPs, while still maintaining a little flexibility.  Once you hit those deadlines, it’s my green light to move forward.  (Don’t be tempted to hear back definitively from everyone before making plans.)

Determine your method of travel.  In our case, we chose to drive since Mammoth only has a small airport and it’s much easier and cost-effective.  From San Diego to Mammoth we were looking at a 350-mile drive.  So, I knew that our travel costs would be equal to 2.5 tanks of gas and normal wear-n-tear on the car – approximately $130.

Use Connections

This one may not always be possible, but if you can use it, you should!  Do you know anyone with a family vacation condo or cabin?

Luckily I did.  My aunt and uncle own a condo up in Mammoth which we are able to use occasionally.  Since we only had one other family confirmed traveling with us, I was able to secure this condo for 4 nights at the rate of $0/day!  There is a small cleaning fee of ~$100 that I need to reimburse my relatives for, and we intend on giving them a little thank you gift on top of that.

*Had there been more families that were able to come with us, I would have secured a vacation rental through or  These are awesome ways to find great deals on homes to rent for your vacation.  It’s a lot cheaper than a hotel typically and a great way to share space with other families or friends.

Select Great Company

I alluded to this early but plan your company in advanced.  Most of us have a few different sets of friends and families that could be potential travel buddies.  So, it’s your job to figure out who you’ll want to spend your time with.  It’s probably not a good idea to blast an invitation to everyone you know, rather select a handful of friends who you know will mesh well with together.

IMG_2798In our case, we are incredibly lucky to have some close neighbor friends with similar aged kids.  So it was pretty easy to invite a few different families all at once knowing they could all get along.  We had been talking about this idea casually over a half-year ago, so I already knew there was some interest.

Getting a chance to travel with another family or friends really lets you connect with them at a deeper level.  If you have kids that are close in age, they will easily entertain themselves for hours and their experience will be magical.

Pack Efficiently

Packing is a super important part of creating an EPIC vacation!  I will usually create a checklist in Evernote a couple of months in advance and keep adding to it over time.  Be prepared to bring ample clothing for your trip, but try not to overpack.  It’s okay to reuse some pieces of clothing throughout your trip if you can.

You’ll also want to bring games and activities for the kids.  Board games are always fun with other kids and/or something you can play with the entire family.  I would suggest avoiding bringing single player video games since it can make some kids anti-social.  Do bring lots of books for long car rides!  And, don’t forget sunshades for the windows if you’ll be driving during the day.

It’s all about balance.  Bring only what you think you’ll need.  (Yes, easier said than done I know!)  Don’t own something you’ll need?  Borrow it!

Prepare Easy Meals

IMG_5843cFood can be a major cost of any vacation, so if you’re traveling with your family or multiples, community meals are like gold!  They can be hot, delicious, and budget effective.

Our neighbors helped to bring a cooler with frozen ground beef, sausage, and assorted foods.  We brought up pasta, seasonings, cereal, sweet rolls, etc.  We also went to the market when we arrived for any miscellaneous items we needed.  Since there was a kitchen, we ate most meals at the condo… things like – spaghetti and meat sauce, chicken katsu, and fresh caught trout!

Finally, I definitely have a sweet tooth, so I splurged a little and got 4 cartons of ice cream while I was at the market!  It was a bit overkill, but only cost $10 with my Vons card.  This handled dessert for 4 days straight.  🙂

Total grocery costs – $200

Participate in Low Cost/High Fun Activities

Mammoth is a great destination to do some fishing.  Since I already had my fishing license, there was no additional cost for me.  My neighbor had to purchase one for himself, but it was free for his 4 other kids!  Sounds like a deal to me.  🙂


Other than fishing, we had a great time going out hiking and sightseeing.  These activities are completely FREE but get the kids active and burning lots of energy with their friends.  If you have a park nearby your accommodations, don’t forget to bring balls, kites, jump ropes, etc.  Traveling can actually be really good for your health!

For evening entertainment, remember to bring some DVDs.  We had a couple of movie nights for the kids (Aladdin, Little Mermaid, Frozen, etc.), and even once for the adults after the little ones finally went to bed.  Cost – $0.

Make a Vacation Movie

My final suggestion to making an EPIC vacation is to create a custom vacation movie.  If you’re like me, you’ll be snapping away taking tons of pictures and video throughout your vacation on your iPhone (or DROID).  When you’re done, find an app like QUIK (from GoPro) which helps to automatically build a movie from your media against music and special effects.  Highly suggested!  If you’re got a DROID, they have a version for you too.

There’s just something about watching a video montage that will burn in those great memories for a long long time to come!  Cost – $0.


So there you have it.  Money is NOT the primary factor towards creating an EPIC vacation.  With a little preparation and imagination, you can create a vacation experience of a lifetime.  Live long and travel well!

Readers, what/where will you travel this summer?  What money-saving tips and tricks that you use?


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Hi, I have been blessed to take an early retirement in my mid-30's so I can focus on becoming a better father, blogger, and investor.

My goal is to help you find your personal path to financial freedom, and to enjoy the entire journey.

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30 Comments on “How to Have An Epic Vacation Without Breaking the Bank”

  1. Great tips Michael! We just decided that in August we want to get away to Chicago for a few days. We just secured a nice Airbnb rental so now we can give our daughter a separate room so she can sleep better (and it was cheaper than a hotel!). We have already scoped out a lot of different cheap/free options and plan to make at least 1-2 meals per day at the rental.

    Cheaper vacations are possible – but like you said, you need to take some time to plan them and make them happen!

  2. Sounds like a fun vacation and very cost effective! Kudos to you for planning such a successful trip. I really like the tip on making a vacation video. It is great finding free technology and apps that allow you to look back on those memories in neat ways. Curious if you had any trouble arranging activities that everyone would like? I know it can be hard to plan activities that everyone in my family would enjoy let alone a larger group.

    1. GS, the video tech is incredible these days. I can’t believe what I could create straight from my phone… amazing.

      As far as activities, I took a survey in the pre-planning phase. This gave me a general group direction and moved me along the right path (it’s impossible to satisfy everyone, but I think I got pretty close this time!). Luckily, we like fishing and the other family hadn’t ever been (except the Dad). So, our goal was to get all 6 kids hooked up on at least one fish during the trip. I’m happy to report it was a success! However, more important is that the kids are having fun in whatever manner made them happy. We also tried to leave a half day gap open most days to allow some flex time and R&R.

  3. Sounds like a great vacation! The fishing looks amazing. We are heading to CA to visit family. We are saving on cost by staying with them during our trip and we used reward points to book air travel and save a ton too.

    1. Brian, you make a couple of great points. Use family in other cities to save $$ on lodging and reward points for misc travel expenses. Have fun in CA! 🙂

  4. It sounds like you guys had a great trip and you were probably thrilled to stretch your dollar. Sometimes these cheaper trips just fall into place well. We tend to alternate between cheap and expensive vacations. I am trying to get better at planning cost effective vacations though.

    1. JL, yes it was great to get in an EPIC vacation this year at such a low cost. I’m sure we’ll more of these in the future, but I’m gonna have to sneak in a trip to Hawaii too. 😉

  5. That trip sounds wonderful! My husband and I took a great weekend trip to Chattanooga a few months ago for our anniversary, and it was very cost effective. Lots of great places to walk to and enjoy the riverfront scenery!

    I haven’t stayed anywhere with AirBnB yet, but I’m looking forward to trying it!

    1. Pia, glad to hear you had a wonderful trip to Chattanooga! Airbnb is awesome for larger group vacations, but I’d probably stick to a hotel off if it were just me and my wife traveling.

  6. Great stuff. Sounds like it was a lot of fun and well planned. Totally agree that there has to be some structure. Not everything costs money and kudos to you for keeping the cost down. I think it will be a memorable holiday for all concerned. Thanks for sharing g

  7. Hey Michael those pics look amazing! My next EPIC vacation will be my honeymoon in costa rica in september. Im not planning on holding back on that one but do agree with you that once cash flow starts getting slimmer, its best to at least try and save. We all dont have money trees after all!! 🙂

    1. Ooohh.. Costa Rica sounds incredible, Alexander! I completely agree that there’s a time to hold back and a time to splurge…hehe. 😉

  8. I love the low cost / high fun idea. Never thought to see it like that. The lake at Mammoth in your pictures look absolutely gorgeous, too. Makes me want to take a vacation too!

    I’ve recently completed a trip to Louisiana and definitely took lots of pictures for timeless memories 🙂 but no more vacations for me once I start work soon at least until I finish a year’s worth of work!

  9. Great tips, and kudos to you on finding the $0 lodging option; what a great win!

    When my wife and I vacation, the two largest expenses are always lodging/hotels and food, in that order. I’ll admit that I like to vacation primarily because of the opportunity to try new foods, so this doesn’t bother me too much. However, cooking at the cabin or condo is a wise way to minimize costs and avoid wasting money on drive thru meals.

    1. Thanks, FS! Yeah, I’m like you. If there’s something new to try, I’ll usually splurge a bit. In Mammoth though, it was standard American cuisine. So, I didn’t feel like I was missing much.

  10. Traveling with other families sounds like an excellent way to bridge any difficulties that may arise.

    Not much by way of travel coming up. My girlfriend is in charge of planning a trip down to a farm in a local state for me. I hope that is soon. I can’t wait to meet the animals!

  11. Awesome tips Michael. Seems like preparation is key! I’ve found this is especially key when traveling via airplane. It takes time to secure good ticket prices, save up miles, find cheap rental cars etc. Those who don’t plan ahead usually end up paying a premium for everything!

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