12 Tricks to Easily Plan a Vacation for Under $1,000, According to a Retiree

Unleash your wanderlust without draining your savings using these budget-savvy vacation strategies.
Updated Feb. 7, 2024
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An older couple on vacation

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You may have dreamed of traveling nonstop during your retirement. But now that you’re living on a fixed income, you’re finding it hard to bring those dreams to life.

If that describes your situation, don’t give up: Traveling with a tight budget might feel intimidating, but it’s doable.

Not sure how to start planning an affordable vacation? Take a look at the 12 tips below. We cover tactics from using the best travel credit cards to senior discounts at hotels and tourist destinations, which can help maximize your post-retirement travel budget.

Book flights far in advance

Prostock-studio/Adobe senior tourists holding boarding passes

The nearer you get to your preferred travel date, the more expensive airfare becomes.

Whenever possible, reserve domestic flights at least two months in advance and international flights at least four months in advance.

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Book hotels early — but pay attention to cancellation fees

fizkes/Adobe mature couple using smartphone

To ensure you have a place to stay on the dates you want to travel, it’s wise to book your hotel as soon as you know when and where you want to go.

Make sure you read the fine print, though: Many places will give you a full refund if you cancel by a specific date, but not all. The last thing you want to do is lose some of your hard-earned travel money to a sneaky cancellation policy.

Be smart about Airbnb

K Seisa/peopleimages.com/Adobe A senior couple diligently conducts a budget review while working together on a laptop and examining various documents.

Airbnb offers fantastic opportunities to experience a place like a local, but booking an Airbnb can come with more risks than booking a hotel.

For instance, unlike hotel chains, which typically have standard cancellation policies, Airbnb hosts set their own terms. If an unexpected event causes you to cancel travel plans, you might not be able to get a full refund, depending on the host.

Plus, some common Airbnb scams can take a chunk of your travel budget. Make sure you’re aware of the most popular schemes so you can steer clear.

Consider senior memberships

NDABCREATIVITY/Adobe mature couple using digital tablet

Groups like the AARP sell yearly memberships, including discounts on everything from restaurants and movie theaters to airfare and car rentals.

Even better, membership in senior-specific groups is usually pretty cheap. For instance, AARP charges new members $1 a month for their first year. With a price that low, you’ll recoup the cost of your membership in savings as soon as you book your first trip.

Get a National Parks Pass

Jesse B/peopleimages.com/Adobe senior friends hiking

International travel can be wonderful for all sorts of reasons, but you don’t have to leave the United States to see some of the world's most beautiful sites.

If you enjoy spending time in the great outdoors, consider investing in a National Parks Pass. While the regular public pays an annual fee, you can purchase a Senior Pass (available to everyone age 62 and up) for a one-time fee of $80.

Decide what you do and don’t want to spend money on

Prostock-studio/Adobe calculating family budget

Whether you collect souvenirs or travel to a place known for its shopping districts, like New York City or London, consider making a list of items you want to spend money on well before your trip.

Spur-of-the-moment purchases can tip your stretched vacation budget past the point of no return, and knowing what you do want to buy can keep you from throwing money away on things you don’t want or won’t enjoy,

Use travel credit card reward points

Krakenimages.com/Adobe grey-haired man using smartphone

If vacationing is your favorite activity, you might consider looking into a top travel credit card offering specific rewards points for travel.

Of course, taking on debt can be a risky venture, especially if you’re on a fixed income. You’ll get the most out of your travel cards and their rewards if you can pay off your balance every month.

Travel during the off-season

Lazy_Bear/Adobe elderly couple in airport terminal

Apart from major ski towns, most U.S. destinations consider summertime the on-season for travel, which makes winter the off-season when prices are lower.

If you’re put off by the high cost of hotel rooms during your desired travel dates, try plugging in winter dates instead. The cost difference could be hundreds of dollars, depending on where you travel.

Traveling during the “shoulder season” (spring or fall) can also give you reduced rates, and the crowds will likely be smaller.

Leave the beaten path

Rawpixel.com/Adobe senior couple riding a scooter

Even if you travel during the off-season, a popular destination like Disney World or Cabo San Lucas will almost always cost exponentially more than vacationing in a lesser-known location.

An adventure off the beaten path can save you money while treating you to incredible, once-in-a-lifetime sights that tourists who stick to better-known locales can only dream of.

Book a travel package

Roman/Adobe travel agent giving tickets

Instead of reserving your plane tickets, hotel rooms, ground transportation, and destination activities separately, consider saving time and money by booking a travel package through a travel company like Costco.

Along with saving money, you’ll be saving yourself the hassle of hammering out the most tedious travel details on your own.

Take advantage of senior deals

ArtSys/Adobe senior woman holding a credit card

Now that you’ve retired, plenty of places will go out of their way to help you save. 

For instance, the Marriott hotel chain lets all guests over age 62 reserve rooms at a discounted price. Groups like the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens help seniors access expensive Broadway tickets for under $100.

Before you finalize travel plans, check if the amenities and services you schedule offer senior discounts. You could be surprised by how much you’ll save.

Avoid holiday travel at all costs

Viacheslav Yakobchuk/Adobe freelancer typing on his notebook

While a cozy getaway to the Florida Keys over the winter holidays might sound wonderful, its price tag is anything but. No matter where you’re traveling, transportation and lodging prices will almost certainly skyrocket during the holidays.

If you can enjoy the holidays at home and save traveling for a less hectic time of year, your travel budget will go much further.

Bottom line

Kostiantyn/Adobe senior couple relaxing on a sailboat

Whether you’re planning to retire early or work until you’re 70, it pays to start budgeting for travel as soon as possible.

After all, living on a fixed income shouldn’t have to mean staying put at home or living a life without fun. Use the 12 tips above to continue making memories you’ll treasure well into your golden years.

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Author Details

Michelle Smith Michelle Smith has spent a decade writing for and about small businesses. She specializes in all things finance and has written for publications like G2 and SmallBizDaily. When she's not writing for work at her desk, you can usually find her writing for pleasure near large bodies of water.

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