Labor Day Vacations on a Budget

Want to get away this Labor Day weekend without breaking the bank? Here are some tips and trip ideas to help you plan the perfect weekend.

Two people sit in a hammock next to a lake. The hammock is set up between two conifers. The sun filters through the foliage.

Photo by Esther Tuttle

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Labor Day weekend is one of the busiest times to be outside. From barbecues and picnics to backpacking your new favorite trail, Labor Day comes at the perfect time for a mini-vacation. But with everyone trying to get away, these vacations can get expensive quickly. Plane tickets, train tickets, even gas prices will surge. Want to still get away this Labor Day weekend without spending an entire paycheck? Here are some tips, tricks, and ideas to help you plan your perfect weekend.

General Tips for Vacationing Under Budget

  1. Stay local: This may be obvious but staying closer to home helps you avoid the cost of expensive flight/bus/train tickets or spending tons on gas if you are driving a long distance. If you are driving, I recommend not driving anywhere beyond a 5-hour radius to avoid getting gas more than once.
  2. Try backpacking/bikepacking: Walking and biking don’t require any gas and will give you a closer connection to your immediate surroundings. When you drive or fly, you often miss the beauty right around you. Walking and biking are wonderful ways to use your bodies and explore the land that we are so fortunate to access!
  3. Seek public transportation: If you are traveling a longer distance, buses and trains will always be cheaper than flights. Public ground transportation is your friend! Although it may be a pain to bring everything you want on a bus or train, you will save a bunch of money without paying for gas!
  4. Use what you already have: You don’t need to go buy fancy, new gear for every trip. Use what you already have, borrow from friends, or even rent gear from your local sports store.
  5. Cook your own food: Going to a new city and want to try their cuisine? Sure. You don’t need to eat out every meal though. Try bringing your own snacks and meals to offset the cost of eating out. Or, go to a grocery store in the new city and try your own hand at making the region’s traditional dishes.
  6. Book far in advance: Plan Labor Day weekend months ahead of time to save money and grab that perfect campsite/Airbnb/hotel you want.

For more tips on camping on the budget, check out this article written by yours truly.

A tent illuminated at night next to a lake. The stars are visible in the dark blue sky above.

Photo by Josh Hild

Trip Suggestions

Staycation

Ever heard of a staycation? Use this weekend as the perfect time to prepare your young children or new pets for camping and set up camp in the backyard. Some pets will be nervous with new gear such as tents and sleeping bags. Giving them an opportunity at home to test everything out will help ensure that when you do leave for the trail, they will be ready. Test out what it will be like changing diapers while camping (if your kids still use them) and what bringing all your child’s gear will be like for them and for yourself. What added comfort items do you need to bring? Pack it all in your car or backpack and take the short walk to your backyard (or a friend’s) and feel it out.

Some other staycation ideas at home include: slip n’ slides, turning your backyard into a movie theatre, hosting a backyard games tournament, having a neighborhood picnic, tackling a house project, making some ice cream, and having a cooking competition or smores party—to just name a few!

Beach Camping

A white and yellow tent set up on a sand dune. There are sandals outside of the tent.

Photo by Sarah Cottle

Go beach camping, duh!! For many places, this is one of the last warm weekends of the season, so why not go enjoy the beach one last time? Waking up and falling asleep to the crash of the waves on the shore, bonfires (if allowed) at night, and the ability to jump in the water whenever you want? Who could ask for more??

If this seems like it might be too crowded for you, check out some of these private campsites. Stay at Buckridge Grove amongst the redwoods in Northern California, a short distance to cliffs overlooking the ocean. For something a bit more elegant, check out this private beach farm near Santa Barbara, California with fresh veggies and fruits, plants galore, and private access to a gorgeous beach.

Wine Tasting

Want to hike around a vineyard in between wine tastings? Head to Hipcamp or Airbnb, search for the closest vineyards, and pick the one that screams your name! Do you want to bring your own tent, car camp, or stay at an aesthetically appealing shelter? There are so many options out there to fit your budget and plan.

Check out Sugarloaf, CA near Big Bear City and Baldwin Lake. There are numerous vineyards in the area including Chateau St. Jean, Kenwoods Vineyard, and Francis Winery. Make sure you make a tasting reservation ahead of time! The Matern Farms Campsite is a short bike ride or drive away and right next to the Pacific Crest Trail. Hike around Mount San Jacinto Wilderness Area and enjoy some wine!

Swimming Hole

Two people sit in a hammock next to a lake. The hammock is set up between two conifers. The sun filters through the foliage.

Photo by Esther Tuttle

Too hot for intense hiking in your area? Head down to your local watering hole/river/stream/lake, and camp for the weekend. Enjoy the cool breeze off the water and the many water sport options that come with waterside camping. Fishing, kayaking, swimming, etc. are great ways to stay cool when you spend time outside.

Hollow Horn Farm, situated between Telluride and Aspen, CO is a 22-acre farm that is in process of becoming a winery and has great access to float, swim, and relax at a lake nearby. For more trip ideas with great swimming spots, check out this article on the Top 10 Outdoor Adventure Ideas for Labor Day.

Day Trip

Day trip anyone? Instead of going away for an entire weekend to one place, take different day trips to local trails, vineyards, mountains, etc. You will avoid paying for places to stay or camp and you will see a variety of ecosystems and try different activities. Day trips are everything you need to unwind from the week and get rejuvenated for the week ahead.

If you’re searching for places to stay and see that traditional campsites are all booked up, Hipcamp is a wonderful resource for those interested in camping or glamping. These sites are often quieter than public campsites to ensure that you have as much privacy as you would like. They may be farther away from state or national parks, but there is so much more to explore than those park systems.

Take Labor Day weekend to explore a place you wouldn’t normally go to, try new food, research new cultures, but whatever you do, make sure to get outside! If you have any questions about planning the perfect getaway or need to find gear for your next excursion, reach out to a Camping & Hiking expert here on Curated.

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Written By
Although I've been hiking for most of my life, I didn't start backpacking and camping until college when I joined the University Outdoors Club at my school. My first backpacking trip was ambitious, the Batona Trail in the Pinelands in New Jersey done in two days. To do that, we had to walk a maratho...

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