5 Romantic and Frugal Vacation Ideas

The following guest post is by Nolan Hoffman. Nolan is the lead writer for onlinebanks.com and also blogs about his financial ups and downs at debtkid.com.

Some vacations are no brainers. Rome, a cruise, Las Vegas… all romantic as they get. And, expensive.

Other vacations are as cheap as you want to make them. And if your idea of romance is pitching a tent in a public park ten miles from town, then go for it, you can cover both bases.

But if both objectives drive your vacation planning, then be prepared to invest a little research time, creative thought and personal paradigm busting. They’re out there, but they’re not always obvious.

Here are five ideas that, depending on your budget and tastes, may allow you to check off both boxes. But remember, cost is relative, and romance is in the eye of the beholder and your partner. If digging clams in the rain isn’t her thing, the best ocean view on the planet won’t get you out of the romantic doghouse if that’s the lead attraction.

The Stay-cation

There’s nothing cheaper than staying at home. And, without a plan, nothing less romantic. The key to a successful stay-cation – one in which you actually set aside the real world and engage in fun and relaxation activities that are outside of your normal choices – is the degree to which you are willing to get outside your little comfortable box and try new things, especially when it’s just on the other side of town.

Plan each day of your stay-cation. Go to museums. Dig up attractions. Visit something historical in your area. Shop in unusual places. Eat out. Get massages and facials. Breakfast in bed. Go on a hike. Rent some movies, bring in theater popcorn. Send the kids away and hide the phone.

The best rule: no work, no household chores, nothing normal. And, the more you add your personal frosting of things romantic to the setting and activities, the more it’ll seem like you’re in Maui for a second honeymoon. Make a commitment that this is special time.

If you can fill each day or your stay-cation with something unexpected and deliciously self-serving for the two you, romance will naturally ensue. And you’ll save a bundle on gas, air, hotels and, if you pick some little out-of-the-way places, even food.

Consider a Last Minute Cruise

One of the few benefits of these tough times is the desperation of businesses who sell fun. Cruise ships are setting sail half-empty lately, which means the lines are offering last minute deals for as little as 25 cents on the dollar.

Yes, you can grab a Mexican or Carribean cruise for week on a great ship for as low as $300 to $400. Of course you have to get there, but overall a cruise has never been this affordable if you can manage to do it with a last-minute booking through an online source.

And of course, the romance onboard is as warm and fuzzy as it ever was.

The Thematic Vacation

Assuming you can leverage the times to snare some cheap travel and lodging, consider building your trip around a theme.

Go to Disneyland or one of the other major amusement parks with resorts. Rent a small camper/trailer and stay in their mobile park for a fraction of the cost of their hotel, or one nearby.

Drive to the next big town and go discount shopping. Hit all the factory outlets, eat and chain restaurants, pretend you’re on a reality show.

Visit relatives. Lodging is free, the food pretty good, and only you know the price of your pride or patience in this equation. As for romance, hold hand in the car and have some sizzling “quiet time” in the guest bedroom. They’ll never know.

Consider Camping

Seriously. Tents, sleeping bags, a cooler and a bag of sandwiches from Subway and you’re good to go. Drive far, drive near, bring marshmallows, hiking shoes and stuff to build a fire.

The romance part, that’s up to you. But it’s quiet out here, and nobody will know you.

Go Online

With the exception of gas, virtually every element of a trip you can think of is available online at a steep discount. From the occasional airfare to rental cars, hotels, meals and attractions, if you begin your planning early and are willing to dig through the search engines for deals, you’ll be surprised how far you can go on how little.

The romance part… well, like any aspect of romance, this is composed of choices you make and what you make of the moments that ensue from them. When you composite a vacation full of online discounts, the romance resides in the adventure and the unexpected, and the compensation thought that, if you get there and the place isn’t what you expect, at least you have each other.


  1. We love camping. It’s quiet and private and we have a lot of fun exploring new areas, cooking over the fire and more. We’ve had great trips with gorgeous weather and sunsets on the beach with no one else in sight and a bottle of wine to share.

    Shared misery can also be a great bonding experience if something goes wrong. Some of our best memories of vacations include camping trips in the freezing, pouring rain where we forgot one person’s sleeping bag. It’s hilarious in hind sight.

  2. I don’t know how romantic it is going to be after a few days of sleeping on an unmade bed in funky sheets. SOMEBODY has to pick up the to-go and delivery food containers…and logically take the trash out. And somebody has to clean the cat box, and feed the dog.

    • Before the staycation begins, you need to clean the house (or pay to have the house cleaned- about as much as a night in a hotel) put fresh linens on the bed, and take care of any arrands that you’ll need.

  3. Ugh, thank you! Desperately needing a vacation but last minute and very little budget and two very different schedules make it difficult… to say the least. Thank you for the great ideas!

  4. I like the staycation idea. The key is in the planning. Also, when we did this, we ate out a lot as staying home and cooking and cleaning was not really something we were looking forward to. It is a great opp to try some new restaurants in your area!

  5. If you choose a staycation, use some of the money to hire a cleaning service to come the day before your vacation begins and the day after it ends. It will probably be $200 to do both, you have to tip in a hotel anyway, why not get a clean house. Tell the company you are having a staycation and you want a clean house on first day and clean up on last day.

    Take it a step further and hire someone to walk your dog and clean up his messes in the yard (my son has his own service like this and it would probably be about $50 for the week, so look for a teen.)

    Then spend your days doing free stuff in your area. I know I could find at least 5 free events to do in one week in my area.

    I am dreaming of a staycation with no kids. Not going to happen as I am a single mom who runs a daycare out of my home, but I can dream.

  6. My girlfriend and I really wanted to do a short vacation this year but we are saving money for our wedding. We usually don’t spend much on vacation, usually no more than €300 for a room in a hostel and train tickets. This year we don’t even have money to do that, perhaps we could lend some camping gear and stay somewhere in a tent near the IJsselmeer for a couple of days. I’m afraid in the summer it’s going to be very expensive though!

  7. Great ideas here. Camping has a natural draw to me (unless it’s hot out), but the stay-cation also looks quite enviable. Love the no cleaning or cooking part!

  8. Find a hotel downtown and stay in the thick of the action..And if your city is a CityPASS city well then youve got it made!.Take one of our favorites Houston Texas. While Houston has never been known as a vacation destination were surprised to find that even many locals dont seem to know what theyve got top-tier family attractions fascinating museums terrific restaurants safe and friendly nightlife and entertainment districts shopping the list goes on!..Plan your perfect Houston Stay-cation with the value-packed Houston CityPASS as your guide.

  9. Staycation is code for catching up on all the odd jobs you’ve been putting off forever acound the home. I’m up for camping they you don’t have to worry about cleaning up the forrest

    • “you don’t have to worry about cleaning up the forrest”

      This probably wasn’t what you were try to say, but this phrase could be read as “go ahead and litter!” The rest of us who use the forest appreciate it when people don’t litter.

  10. A high school play can make for a nice, cheap date night and if you enjoy theatre it’s a great substitute for a pricey professional show. We have seen some high school plays that were more enjoyable to us than Broadway shows.

  11. A little off topic, but still vacation… We are looking for ideas for a family reunion for 19 people (9 adults and 10 kids). The kids range in age from 4 months – 13 years old. Unfortunately the family is broken up by distance 9 in the west and 10 in the east. What would be a good place/ideas of where is the best place to hold it? We are all on a budget and can’t afford anything too extravagant, but willing to spend a little money. It is too far to drive to either places (more than 36 hours).

    Sorry if this is too far off topic.

    • See if there’s a city in the middle you all might fly to for cheap. Sometimes flights to an airline’s hub can be inexpensive. I’ve generally found that just about any city has plenty of fun things to do if you look. Plus the focus here would be on spending time together.

    • I’d probably look for something in either Las Vegas or Chicago. I think the air fare to those two places will be cheaper. You just need to find a cheap place to stay. You might get lucky and be able to rent very cheaply a really large home with a pool.

  12. I love the idea of camping, but whenever I mention it, my wife says “I think that a Holiday Inn is camping, which one shall I reserve?”

    Has anyone ever successfully introduced camping in this kind of situation?

    And, yes, I’ve pointed out that camping out is more pleasant than some of the low-end hotel rooms I’ve stayed in….

    • Keep in mind that camping is definitely not for everyone. It takes a huge amount of tolerance patience for all things nature- dirt, no showers, no fine dining… If your partner already expresses some hesitation to it, consider renting a cabin for your first time together. You can find really affordable stays at airbnb.com or vrbo.com. Hope this helps!

  13. Camping is usually more fun for the male half of a union because they are camping, and enjoying the great outdoors…while their other half is trying to cook without the stove they are used to, and cleaning up without the dishwasher they are used to, and trying to keep clean, bug free beds for everyone to sleep in…rollng them up, storing them somewhere. No washer, no dryer, no tub to pop the kids into. Even if you eat ‘out’ every day…who worries about decent, dry clothes to wear and supervising the kiddies (if any) regarding getting clean and changed then picking up the wet bathing suits, and muddy sneakers?

    Camping is not fun for the little woman…it is no vacation for her. It is just the same routine only doing it without the benefit of labor saving devices when every little task takes three times longer. I’d guess that any woman with an IQ over 70 is going to be a hard sell for the camping thing especially if they are being newly ‘introduced’ to it.

    Even renting one of those half-million dollar big rigs is just taking the housework with you….five thousand for a week and you still have to make the bed and do the dishes. That is not a vacation. Everyone sitting around the campfire making smores is TV. Who is making sure the kids are sprayed for mosquitoes, looked over for ticks so they won’t get Lyme Disease, who is putting SP 30 on them?

    Not to mention it is probably some guy’s idea that the dog will enjoy all this outdoors too so you might as well take it along and save the fifteen or twenty bucks a day for doggie storage.

    Not to mention bears, or rattlesnakes. I’d suggest that camping as a vacation be considered only if it is the wife that suggests it.

  14. Camping doesn’t have to be like that. Lightweight hiking/camping is quite different from car-camping and RVing, which do sound like what you’re talking about (assuming that the “male half of a union” is the kind of slacker who doesn’t help out with the housework, ever).

    With the lightweight approach, you carry just a little bit of gear in a backpack and spend most of the day walking places and seeing things. Then you set up a quick little tent and go to sleep. While it doesn’t work well with young children, I was able to do my part when I was 10. You pack out your litter, and do the laundry when you get home. It should be fun to do as a couple, provided you go somewhere interesting and plan ahead just a little bit (but not too much).

    The word “camping” seems to seriously scare some people, my wife included, and I can’t figure out why. Just the word makes her hackles go up.

    • I agree camping doesn’t need to be like that..even car camping. With kids I am sure it is different and more extras need to be brought but still if you are car camping you can do that…my husband and I love camping and hiking and we bring the dog everytime lol we have gone backpacking too and that was the best one. Good tip I found was that the instant potatoes they sell at the grocery store filled us up just as well as any backpacking food would have. The thing is that when you are camping and backpacking you have to let go of some control over dirt and bugs…and zip the tent when you leave it…

  15. Great tips. Another idea is to take a trip to a local winery or brewery. This is a cheap way to drink and relax. Tours by me go for about 8$ a person for all you can drink and you get to keep the wine glass! Definitely a blast, we love sitting by the vineyard with our wine and chilling out.

  16. Great tips! I have always been able to find afforable vacation homes in Florida during the winter. While it may not be the warmest, it is a great place to go to escape the daily stressors!