My Best Tips for Weekend Getaways on a Small Budget

+J.M.J.+

Last week I shared my best tips for traveling with kids in this post here, and today I wanted to share how we plan little weekend getaways on a small budget.

Consider the Location

We tend to make trips in a 2 – 3.5 hour range away for weekends. This is close enough that Ethan doesn’t need to take extra days off work, saving in vacation days used, extra hotel nights, or more gas to travel to our destination.


Also, don’t discount a town because it isn’t “glamorous.” You don’t need to road trip to a famous place to have a good time! While a unique state or national park or famous city is sure to be memorable, we’ve made amazing memories in everyday towns. We have had great times in Omaha Nebraska, Youngstown and Wooster Ohio, and more places you would never think of as a destination!

Check AirBnB

These home and room rentals used to be considerably less expensive than hotels for trips in years past, although their popularity has resulted in prices being less competitive these days. We have still been able to find some incredible deals even in recent years. These are great for finding an option with a full kitchen, a real living room etc., and to me they often feel cleaner than even nicer hotels.

This was one of my favorite budget AirBnb’s. It was a super clean split level
basement apartment with a private entrance in a great neighborhood for $60 a night!


We use AirBnBs about 50% of the time while traveling.  If you want to try AirBnB with my referral link found here, you will get $20 off your first reservation!

Consider Your Itinerary Before Booking

Sometimes on a weekend trip we budget more for the hotel because we’re planning on that being a main part of the experience.

Once when Philomena was a toddler we spent considerably more for a night at a gorgeous golf resort than the local Best Western would have cost – but that’s because they had a super nice pool, live music in the lounge, and a massive breakfast unlike anything I’d ever seen at a hotel before. For the rest of that trip we were doing free activities – the hotel *was* the main experience of the getaway, so we could spend more on it. Sometimes indoor waterparks connected to a hotel will have great deals during the off season for a room that includes entrance to the waterpark making for very affordable fun.

Other times we plan a trip and the hotel is like a crash pad. We’re going to be out doing things for most of our time, and the room just needs to be there for a shower and sleep at the end of the day. In this case, we choose something safe, but super basic and no-frills. It’s not worth the money to us to pay 25% – 100% more for fancy amenities and a nicer atmosphere when we will barely even be awake there.

Find the Cheap Gems

If you know of people in the area you’re going to be visiting, ask if they have recommendations for affordable things to do.

Some other ideas are:

  1. See what the city’s tourism or Chamber of Commerce website lists going on like local festivals, fairs, and more.
  2. During summer and fall, research any farms or pumpkin patches to visit which usually have inexpensive entry.

3. Look up Groupon and Living Social in that location for deals on things to do like tickets to the zoo, children’s museum, historic home tours, etc. We once went on a great hour-long boat tour of Pittsburgh for something like $7/person with a Groupon deal!

4. Check with the local Parks and Recreation department for inexpensive outdoor opportunities. We did this for a little road trip recently and found kayak and paddleboat rentals on a lake for $8/hr. This made for an incredibly affordable, memorable kayaking excursion that our girls will talk about for a long time to come.

Find the Free

There are more free things in a city than you might think of for a family to enjoy. We love looking for these types of places when we take a weekend getaway:

  1. Old pretty churches and shrines to walk around and pray at.
This is Our Lady of Victory Shrine and Basilica in New York.
We visited twice on Niagara Falls trips while living in Cleveland.

2. Outdoor gardens/arboretums to walk around

3. Libraries – They often have great creative play areas for kids

Philomena played with these silly puppets forever years ago on a library visit on a road trip

4. Art museums (these are usually free) to see classic works and there are often children’s areas with little creative exhibits.

5. Hiking or walking trails in a state park

This was Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio, where we went on a weekend while living in Cleveland

6. Farmers markets often times have live music, interesting things to see, and if you are so inclined you can buy an in-season treat like fresh berries for a great price.

7. Beaches along a local lake

Pack Your Food

Eating out is expensive. Even if you were just getting cheap junk fast food, it is still going to add up. (You’re not going to feel great on your trip loading up on that kind of “food” anyway!). We usually budget for one nice meal out at a local restaurant, and pack the rest.

Things that we think travels well that can be made homemade or purchased with decent quality include:

Breakfast burritos

Hard boiled eggs

Green smoothies

Sausage links

Sandwiches on a sturdy bread

Meat, cheese, and crackers

Bell peppers or carrot sticks and hummus

Most fruit 

Chicken or tuna salad

Quesadillas

Cold pasta salad with veggies

Roasted carrots

Veggie loaded pizza

Popcorn with grass-fed butter and salt

Beef sticks (We love Chomps brand)

Lara bars

Cheese sticks

Cottage cheese or yogurt cups

Real Life Budget

Here is a breakdown of a recent weekend trip we took 2.5 hours away:

Gas – $35
Hotel – $72 (This was a cheapie hotel as we has such a packed schedule we barely saw it!)
Entertainment – $16 (This was kayaking on the lake)
Food – $25 (We ate almost all homemade food pictured below for this trip, which just was part of our regular grocery budget. Ethan treated me to a coffee which was $5, and the other $20 covers some “treat” things we purchased to go with the homemade packed food like yogurt cups, Chomps sticks, cheese sticks, and granola bars.

Not pictured are some homemade sandwiches. My sourdough
bread wasn’t cooled yet when I took this photo!

Everything else we did in the area was free during this little trip, so our grand total for getting away was $132. That’s not bad for a family of four!

One day I look forward to slightly more elaborate getaways, but we are working hard towards a down payment on a home right now, so these affordable little trips are what we will stick with for the time being.

I hope this helps you in planning your own affordable getaway, and please do share any tips you have for me in the comments!

2 thoughts on “My Best Tips for Weekend Getaways on a Small Budget

  1. These are such fantastic tips! We always plan ahead when going away, either it’s for a long weekend or a whole week. Packaging lunches and snacks is so important as eating out is expensive in Ireland too. The night before, we always bake healthy treats for the road, this way we don’t have to make any stops along the way. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 😀 Aiva

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