Sometimes it may feel like planning a vacation on a budget in paradise is hard. Or maybe even impossible. Even just airfare alone these days seems to be at an all-time high. BUT, there are times when you really just need that break, even if that little voice is saying you probably shouldn’t be spending the money right now. But I’m here to tell you that you should take that break you deserve! There are great tips and tricks to planning an amazing vacation on a budget that WORK. I promise you it is not impossible.

Last winter, I had my big two-week vacation of the year planned for May to head off to Istanbul and Greece. So, I thought looking forward to that adventure would be enough to get me through. What I didn’t bank on was week-long streaks of negative temperatures, pounds of snow and battling the flu. It drove me crazy and I decided I had to escape. And, I wanted to do it on a budget to save for my really big trip in the spring.

When you first set out to plan your budget escape, first log what’s really important to you so you can hit the mark where it matters most. In my case, all I truly cared about was escaping the bitter cold, getting into the sunshine, 80-degree weather and a beautiful beach. I could concede on things like posh amenities, fancy dining and exotic excursions. All I needed was the weather and some tropical beauty to rejuvenate me.

Palm tree and Caribbean Sea in Riviera Maya Mexico

Typically, the closer you fly, the less expensive it will be (not a hard and fast rule, but something to consider). So, I didn’t look far. I zeroed in on Florida and Mexico to start. Another trip, I may have included Jamaica, Aruba, Dominican, Virgin Islands, etc. but since those locales will likely be more expensive and require connecting flights, I just kept them out to keep it simple this time. Then, I narrowed in on what area would have the best beaches. I was craving that beautiful turquoise blue of the Caribbean or Gulf, so I settled on two choices, Florida or Riviera Maya.

Lastly, I set filters for my top budget amount and ran the numbers. Florida was ruled out right away as being the more expensive of the two. Mexico had 4 interesting choices for all-inclusive resorts with direct fights. Taking my search to TripAdvisor, I narrowed further on the one with the highest marks and found that it was in an area close to Playa Del Carmen, Maroma Beach. I actually knew that Maroma Beach has a reputation for being beautiful, but a little bit of Googling would have landed me on that conclusion as well.

Turquoise waters in Maroma Beach Mexico Riviera Maya
Maroma Beach

The resort I found for roughly $180/night all-inclusive happened to be (literally) right next to a resort that runs $800+/night. What does that tell you? That beach must be pretty great if a resort can demand prices like that. Sure, the resort itself is probably top-notch, but we are going to be looking at the same sand, water and sunsets.

TIP:  When heading to a beach, check out the other hotel properties in the area. If there are multiple 4 and 5 Star properties, guess what: It is probably a good location. You may not have the same amenities as the pricey neighbor next door, but you will have the same view.

Two beach beds on Maroma Beach in Riviera Maya Mexico

And, so we headed to Catalonia Privileged Maroma. And we were not disappointed.

I went in with the following must-haves:

  • Easy flight and airport transfer
  • 80 degree+ weather
  • Beautiful beach
  • Clean, comfortable room
  • Ability to easily grab a Pina Colada or Corona whenever I wanted
  • Plenty of decent food to keep me full and happy

I went in with the following nice-to-haves:

  • Beautiful grounds
  • Great food
  • Top-shelf bar

I’d say I did pretty well. This resort met all my must-haves and I was satisfied with my nice-to-haves. It was definitely worth the money I paid and I absolutely hit my goal for my escape. For more information on this hotel, see my TripAdvisor review.

So, the next time you are looking to vacation on a budget, consider the following:

  • What are your must-haves? Write them down. Then, write down you’re nice-to-haves to help you narrow on the final choice.
  • Determine the closest locales that will hit your must-haves.
  • Search for the properties that hit your budget mark and narrow down to a manageable number.
  • Research each on TripAdvisor. Look for high marks and read through the detailed reviews to see how the properties score on your must-haves and nice-to-have lists.
  • Compare the traveller photos on TripAdvisor with the hotel professional photos. Remember, the professional photos will always look better so see what real-life photos look like.
  • Check out the other properties in the area. How are they rated and what do they cost? Usually, the nicer the hotels, the nicer the area will be!

Marissa is a travel consultant and digital marketing professional from Chicago, USA. Her business, Sips & Sojourn, specializes in helping busy people with full-time jobs travel more and travel better. Travel is Marissa's absolute passion but she believes you can hold down a successful career AND travel the globe. Marissa enjoys unique destinations, design hotels, sampling a culture's food and drink and meeting local guides focused on small, immersive experiences.

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