Let me tell you about our most recent budget holiday

In April last year, G and I spent 8 days in Hawaii for $2995.31 – all in. Oh did I mention that’s 2995.31 CANADIAN dollars – So more like $2000.00 (at the time) American? I love love love making travel happen cheap. For me, a big part of living with intention is taking the time to enjoy life, but also being aware that I can’t blow all our savings on one trip. This is where the budget holiday comes in!

I thought today I would share my 5 easy rules for booking a holiday on the cheap, and show you how I applied them to our Hawaii vacation. Read on to see how we did Hawaii for less than $3000.00 – with no miles or points of any kind… it was good planning, pure and simple.


1 ) The thing that is absolutely imperative to how cheap your trip can be is how FLEXIBLE you can be.

We never approach a holiday with a destination or set departure date in mind. We approach it with a budget. Be flexible on destination, and as flexible as possible on dates. We settled on Hawaii last year because it was (surprisingly) the destination that COULD offer us a budget holiday. If the flights and accommodation to Mexico or Belize had worked out cheaper, then we would have gone there instead.

Finding the dirt cheapest flight is key – whatever you don’t spend on flights you can spend on your holiday! I use ITA Matrix and Skyscanner to narrow down the cheapest fights. For the most part, if you are unfamiliar with these amazing tools… you won’t believe the savings you can find here vs traditional search engines. Skyscanner might be a little easier to use. I’ll write a post on how to use ITA Matrix to find the cheapest flights in the future (← done, go read it)!

ITA Matrix found us return fights to Oahu for $389.00 return per person on April 14th. (I’ve just checked and that price is back again for this coming April – so those prices were NOT a fluke!) We booked our holiday for the 14th, because that was the cheapest day to go to the cheapest destination.

(P.S. – go ahead and find your prices online, and then book your travel through a reputable travel agency that offers price matching. Never book directly online through one of the big discount travel search engines… you want a REAL human advocate in your corner when something goes wrong on your trip. By booking through an agency that price matches, you can have the best of both worlds! I recommend Get Away Today – they have awesome customer service!)

2 ) Watch every penny!

These flights didn’t include checked bags (at that price – who cares?! ) and they definitely didn’t include food! Because we know the destination itself would be expensive (especially with the nasty Canadian dollar), we couldn’t spare anything for bags or food.

We traveled carry on and took protein bars & empty water bottles (to fill after security). It might sound like we had pretty lame travel days, but we have free airport lounge membership with our World Elite MasterCard so we didn’t suffer. We had to buy sunscreen, shampoo and a disposable razor once we got to Hawaii, but these things cost way less than a checked bag. Always do your math!

We wanted to visit Pearl Harbor, so we bought passes to the Aviation Museum through Groupon before we left, and got entry at 50% off! And actually, I used Ebates to access Groupon, and I saved another $1.50 that way.

There were plenty of day trips/snorkel trips ect that we could have bought from Groupon for significant savings, but we decided to go uber cheap and pack our own snorkels / find our own snorkel spots since we would have a car.

If you aren’t a very adventurous swimmer, or if you won’t have a car then Groupon is an awesome way to keep costs down, do NOT underestimate the power of saving a little here and a little there!

If you are renting a car, realize that every day a car sits in the rental shop it isn’t making money. Car rental places NEED to rent out those cars, so especially in places with lots of competition, the prices fluctuate constantly. Book your car when you book your trip, but book it on a site with free cancellation.

Check the price again EVERY DAY and re-book it again and again at the lower price. I booked our car 4 times over the course of 2.5 months and the price came down over $120.00 in that time. Seriously. (I recommend discounthawaiicarrental.com for Hawaii.)

Also, check your own insurance policy to see if it covers rental cars & make sure you take the policy with you. Rental places make a killing off you on insurance policies and you might already have coverage! We do – so we sure didn’t need to buy it again.

Also, I dunno If I have to say it, but as far as souvenirs/shopping goes…I take pictures; they’re free. And on this trip I bought one beautiful turtle key-chain, because I love turtles and I use key-chains.

3 ) Be willing to make some sacrifices!

Finding affordable (meaning “wouldn’t eat up ALL the rest of our budget”) accommodation was the hardest thing.

There is no way we could afford 5 star accommodation in Waikiki on our budget holiday…but I DIDN’T want to stay in a hostel or a gross moldy old hotel (this was a romantic holiday after all, not a weekend exploration of some city). We also knew we needed a kitchen, to keep our food costs down.

After some (ok, a freaking ton) of research, we found a vacation rental on the far west coast of Oahu, in the dreaded residential area. I have to admit… some of the reviews of the area made it sound pretty out of the way / downright scary. But it was a newly renovated place, 5 minutes from the beach, for 148.50 CAN dollars per night, so all we felt like we were sacrificing was location.

(And actually, the location ended up being one of the highlights of our trip. No crazy Waikiki crowds, totally abandoned alcoves where the turtles weren’t overwhelmed by tourists, and take-out restaurants where the prices weren’t over inflated.)

Other sacrifices we made for this trip included cooking more than I would have liked, drinking a little less than we could have, and like I mentioned, packing (very) light and forgoing organized tours.

4 ) Be a little… cunning.

Figure out how you can schedule your holiday to get the most bang for your buck. If you can fly in really early or fly out very late, you can get a full day in destination that doesn’t require you to pay for a bed. We flew out at midnight, and got to enjoy an entire extra day on the beach vs if we had taken an earlier flight out.

(We didn’t want to fly all hot and sweaty so we bought 4$ towels from target and showered at the beach!)

5 ) Be intentionally grateful for what you get.

While we were in Hawaii, there were about a thousand ways we could have blown the budget. It’s so easy to get caught up in believing we have earned this and we should splurge because it’s a holiday. I sometimes had to remind myself that cooking breakfast was not a chore, it was a blessing!

I was in Hawaii and I was cooking breakfast – and then not going to work, not cleaning the house, but sitting on the beach! And maybe I wasn’t going scuba diving, but I DID get to snorkel some amazing spots – FOR FREE and in my own time, without a crowd. After all, every day is what you make it, and when you’re making it a cheap day on vacation – that’s freaking awesome.

So there you go… these 5 rules have helped me travel cheap all over the world, and I can’t wait till I get the chance to put them into practice again! Anyone out there planning a budget holiday as we speak? I’d love to know what you’d add to this list to keep on keeping costs down.

how to book a cheap vacation