5 Tips For Planning an Affordable & Fun Beach Vacation

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Can’t beat a family sunset photo taken by a stranger walking by.

Confession: I love the beach! The mountains are meh, but the beach is my happy place. When I’m there my mind is at ease and I soak in all the sun, sand, and saltwater I can. Nothing says “escape from reality” more to me than sitting on a sandy towel with the ocean waves swooshing in the background while building a sandcastle with my daughter.   

I’m a mid-westerner who had never seen the ocean until I was older than I’d like to admit, and I really enjoy how close we are to the beach here in Columbia. We’ve lived here since the summer of 2014 and have made it a point to explore all of the beaches we can within driving distance. We usually go for 4-6 days and I think I’ve figured out some good tips for making it affordable and fun along the way.

1. Pick Your Date Wisely

We recently went to St. Augustine Beach, Florida for six days. We stayed a Sunday through Thursday and booked a small beach house in early May. We saved almost $400 on the whole cost just by staying during the week and before the big summer rush. Most hotels and even private rentals charge more for Friday and Saturday nights.

Almost every beach house or hotel also charges more between memorial day and labor day. So, if you can adjust your schedules to stay away from those peak times, you can save a lot of money. Bonus: It’s also not as hot outside of those dates.

2. Choose Either Space or Location for Your Rental

You have to choose one, because you can’t have both when it comes to beach rentals. If you can stand being in close quarters and someone sleeping on a couch or the floor, then go for that direct ocean front cottage with one bedroom and a tiny bathroom. You can’t beat a great location and view.  When I’m at the beach, the rental space is merely for eating, bathing, and sleeping, so location is prime. 

If having a larger space is important, be willing to walk a bit to the beach or drive if necessary. There are some great spacious houses available for the same price as those tiny ocean front ones. So, choose what’s most important or where you might spend the most time. 

3. Get a Rental With a Kitchen

This is the biggest money saver for us. You don’t even need a large kitchen. We make a stop before we get to our final destination and pick out groceries for the week. You can still eat out a few times at those popular places you just have to try, but try not to eat every meal out. 

We actually like hitting up the breakfast or brunch places – or coffee, always gotta try the coffee – as our splurge and then make dinner ourselves. It’s also a tradition to buy a gallon of ice cream and we each put a scoop in a coffee mug and walk around the beach in the evening looking for treasures and eating ice cream. Easy and super budget friendly.

4. Research the Local Attractions and Choose Your Budget Before You Go

It’s easy to want to do everything when you visit a new place, but it isn’t always financially possible. Every activity has a price, so decide what everyone wants to do ahead of time to plan for it moneywise. You also might need a reservation, so plan accordingly. We personally really enjoy the nature preserves, kayaking, and up close animal encounters.

We rented poles and fished off the pier. It was cheap and tons of fun to catch a baby shark! He went back safely into the ocean.

As always with beach vacations, prepare to adjust your schedule for the weather. We had an unusually rainy day this year and all of our scheduled activities were outdoors, so we all went into town and saw a movie. It was our daughter’s first time at the theater, so even though we can see movies at home, it’s fun that her first movie was on vacation.

5. Be Flexible

This is key to any vacation, but especially the beach. As mentioned earlier, the weather can change on a dime, so be willing to adjust if necessary.

Is that restaurant you wanted to go to super busy and more expensive than you thought? Pick up some sandwiches, grab a towel, and just eat on the beach.

Are those souvenirs you wanted to buy not quite what you were looking for or willing to pay? Take pictures around the area with landmarks you will remember, print them when you get home, put them in a pretty frame and voila – you have a souvenir! 

Did you arrive only to realize you are tired and want to just do nothing? Then do nothing! Sit and relax, it’s vacation after all. Life is too short to just do stuff to do stuff. Do what makes you happy! Sometimes those happy things are even free!

I hope you enjoyed my tips. Hope you have a carefree budget friendly beach vacation! What would you add to the list?

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Lisa is a transplant from the Midwest. She was born and raised in Kansas (yes, she has seen a tornado) and spent a few years in Ohio before moving to South Carolina in 2014. She holds a degree in Biology and works as a research assistant at the USC School of Medicine. Her career in science spans 11 years and she can't imagine a job anywhere else. She has also been married to her college sweetheart for 11 years. He is a professor at USC, so they are Gamecock fans by default. They are proud parents to a spunky 2.5 year old girl who keeps them on their toes. As a family, they enjoy being outside in the wonderful southern sun, gardening, playing tennis, and going to the beach. They also are parents to 2 fur babies who still aren't sure about their little sister.

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