How to Have a No-Spend Day on Your Next Vacation

published Jun 13, 2023
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Toddler having fun and jumping into her mother's arms in the swimming pool in summer.
Credit: d3sign / Getty Images

Whether you’re embarking on a road trip or taking to the skies, we have ideas for making your vacation as stress-free as possible. This content is presented in partnership with Hampton by Hilton; it was created independently by our editorial team.

I treasure taking trips with my family, where we create memories and explore different parts of the world together. But vacations can get expensive. From flights to lodging to meals and everything in between, you can easily shell out more money than you anticipated. Enter: the no-spend vacation day. 

I’ve found it’s easier than you think to spend little to no money on a designated day during your trip. It simply requires some cleverness and a bit of planning. Not only do no-spend days take less of a toll on your wallet, but they can also offer you a chance to slow down and truly enjoy a (nearly) responsibility-free day.

To inspire you on your , here are some ideas and hacks for a no-spend vacation day. 

Credit: JGalione / Getty Images

For a Staying-in No-Spend Day

When my family takes a theme park vacation, we go full throttle from open to close, which leaves us feeling like we’ve run a marathon by day’s end. For any trip with a booked itinerary, schedule a chill day in the middle of your holiday. Your crew will get to unwind and enjoy each other with no demands on your time. 

If you’ve got access to a pool, designate it as family’s personal paradise. When we stay at a hotel, my kids inevitably end up making friends with other kids who are also swimming (free entertainment!), and I pack their goggles and a set of dive toys to keep things fresh. Some hotels offer free dive-in movie nights to extend the pool fun into the evening. At a rental, blast some music and bust out some floats and other pool games.

Enjoy dry land, too! At a hotel, check if there’s an area to play cornhole or other outdoor games. Hotels with golf courses often host free events such as glow-in-the-dark golf after sundown. Don’t forget about the game room or activity center to keep busy with ping-pong or arcade games. And in a vacation home, use a low-key day to explore everything directly outside your door — especially if you’re somewhere surrounded by nature. Spend time in the backyard or on the patio, and bring instruments for playing music, cards for playing games, and binoculars for nighttime stargazing.

Credit: Daniel Kim Photography / Stocksy

For a Touristy No-Spend Day 

Want to head out and explore your vacation spot gratis? A little pre-trip research can go a long way. 

Avoid gas and car rental costs by booking centralized lodging that’s to areas of interest. If you’re road-tripping to your destination and your kids are older, you can pack bikes or scooters, as well. (And while not necessarily totally free, public transportation is also your best friend — and an activity in and of itself. What kid doesn’t love riding a train or trolley?) 

Most cities offer a wealth of free activities, especially in the summer (think: outdoor movie nights, free museum days, and street festivals). My family especially enjoyed a Beatles tribute band that played at a free outdoor concert on one of our trips. Depending on where you travel, you could also head to a splash pad, stroll through a farmers market, find a library with children’s activities, or take a beautiful hike. 

And don’t forget to create your own free fun: Keep everyone in the family entertained with a daylong contest to see who can take the best photograph to capture the essence of the place you’re visiting. Or, get silly and snap selfies in front of colorful murals and public art.

How to Spend Less Money on Vacation Food

Obviously, food is the elephant in the hotel room here. It’s tricky to not spend a dime when you need to eat, but you can try to keep food costs lower. 

If you’re at a hotel, take advantage of the complimentary breakfast or snacks (and don’t forget to fill reusable water bottles you brought from home). Additionally, look for restaurants with “kids eat free” promotions. Or order in; my family loves researching restaurants voted to have the “best” pizza in every city we visit. We get to judge for ourselves whether that particular pie really deserves the title.

As long as you know you’ll need to plan a small food allowance, you can still enjoy the perks of the day — and spend less than you would by dining out for every meal.
In the end, kids will remember all the great memories made during a vacation, not how much money you spent, so keep that in mind when planning your next getaway.