camping · finances · vacation

How We (pay for) Vacation

A few weeks ago, Keith and I began talking about this year’s vacation plans. Well, we had to submit his vacation date requests to his job back in December, so we’ve had a loose plan in place since then, but we sat down and made decisions a few weeks ago.

Keith said that as a child, he never went on a family vacation. They tried, one time, but made it about eight hours toward their destination of the coast when they got the phone call that his grandfather had fallen ill. They turned around, headed home, and he spent the rest of his childhood taking care of his grandfather (who, it turns out, had ALS).

We want to give our son good family vacations; we want him to have good memories of his childhood. We also value time spent together as a family over almost everything else. So those things drive a lot of our decision making when it comes to vacation planning. Couple that with a lack of credit cards and willingness to go into debt, and you get…

Extended camping vacations 🙂

This year, once again, we are headed to Gatlinburg. We asked Little Man what he wanted to do for vacation, and he said, “I want to hike in the mountains every morning and play mini golf every afternoon.”


He has recently discovered “the mouse,” and he understands that’s there’s this magical place where “the mouse” lives, but he’d still rather hike, play in streams, look for bears, drive go-carts, and play m min-golf. We will take advantage of that for as long as we can.

So…here’s how we afford it.

First, we camp. Now, we do own a pop-up camper. I do actually love camping, for a number of reasons. I love sleeping in my own bed at night, having my own space, and I really do love cooking most of our own meals (plus, hello, it saves us a ton of money).

Second, we plan. I will be honest and give credit to Joy at Small Town Joy. I wanted to link to her posts on this, but she revamped her blog, and I can’t find them. But a lot of my vacation planning inspiration came from her. (she does still have some things on Pinterest, though)

Step by step, here’s what we do:

1. We decide where we want to go (this year, it’s Gatlinburg in May, and a family reunion near Geneva-on-the-Lake in NE Ohio in July for a week).

2. We make reservations at the campground (we always choose sites with water and electricity. We also like campgrounds with swimming pools, laundry facilities, playgrounds and nice bathrooms. We are super partial to Jellystone Campgrounds).

3. We each choose one “big” thing we want to do at our destination (go-carts, Keith wants to go to the WonderWorks museum in Gatlinburg, etc.). Then I begin to research tickets, prices, any and all discounts, etc.

4. I draw up our calendar. I list out our days, our meals, and break down what special activities we could possibly do each day (note: we are very flexible once we get there, unless we’ve purchased timed entry tickets). But this helps me plan out how busy we will be; we don’t like to be “busy” on vacation.

5. I draw up our budget, down to the last penny (although I always round up). For example, we will be in Gatlinburg Sunday – Monday (eight nights). So we need gas, on the road eating money, money for the campground pay-off, money for ice & firewood each day, snacks each day, money for all of the activities we want to do, money for any eating out, etc.

6. Then I take each budget activity/ category and break it down into how much and what type of cash we will need. Example: Hillbilly golf is $32 for the three of us (and they are cash only). We need a $20, a $10 and two $1. So I write out in my planner $20/$10/ $1/$1/. I do this for every single meal we will eat away from camp and every single activity we plan to do (including shopping).

7. I make an envelope for each meal and activity. I use manila coin envelopes that we bought in bulk years ago when we started the Dave Ramsey system. I label each envelope for a separate meal/activity/daily allotment (snacks, ice & firewood, etc.). As I have cash, I start to fill those envelopes according to what I’ve laid out in my planner. I budget money from our budget each week, and I use “leftover” money from groceries, etc.

8. I have a coupon carrier that I bought two years ago. I have it labeled according to the days of the week we will be gone. The manila coin envelopes go into the proper day of the week. That way, by the time we leave for vacation, our envelopes are full and organized, and we just pull out what we need for each day.

Last year, we had money left when we got home. It was lovely. Oh, I also budget money for pizza the night we get home. I never want to cook after being in the car all day, and last year, it took us TEN HOURS to get home from Gatlinburg (it’s a six hour drive). That pizza money bought us a nice sit down dinner somewhere in the middle of Kentucky when we just had to get out of the car.

Okay. So this is much longer than I thought 🙂  I will continue more later. Let me know if you have questions! I’m happy to share this system. I love it, and so does Keith! We love going and not having a care in the world about money while on vacation!!!

2 thoughts on “How We (pay for) Vacation

  1. So very helpful to me right now. We kind of winged it on purpose with our recent trip. Wasn't a great idea but other then renting the car it was a cheap trip until we got stuck doing in door activities all the time.

    How far in advance do you make reservations and stuff?


  2. Thanks for sharing this! I've had several people ask me to post my vacation information back to the blog, so I'll try and do that today. I took down a good bit of posts due for privacy for our adoption. 🙂 It was easier to take them all down than to pick and choose. I can add them back in easier. Hope you have a great trip!


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