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How to have a long weekend on a short budget

Long weekend getaway ideas - have a great short break on a budget with these creative, low-cost ideas.

Shannon Barker

Are the Christmas holidays a distant memory already, but your travel budget’s blown?

You can still have a long weekend getaway without putting a hole in the wallet.

Here are a few ideas for getting out of town (no matter how much you love to live in the city, sometimes you've just got to get away) and having a great time on a shoestring budget, even if camping is not your cup of (billy) tea.

1: Pack your own food (& don’t forget the forks)

Pre-packing your food and some basic utensils is a great way to control the cost of any weekend getaway – not just for camping.

You don’t need a stylish picnic set. Just put together a few basic picnic things,  like:

  • a sharp knife
  • cutlery
  • plates
  • cups
  • a tea towel
  • a small chopping board; and
  • a beach towel or picnic rug;

and you’re set for a few low-cost meals from fresh local produce at a scenic spot.

If you have (or can borrow) an Eski, you can pack cheese, fruit, drinks, pre-cut vegetables, something to BBQ, or other goodies from home.

2: Cook outdoors or self-cater

Depending on where camp cooking rates on your Fun-o-Metre, you could cook on outdoor BBQs in parks or camping grounds or pack a gas-fueled camp stove for quick dinners in a park (mind the fire bans).

With a little preparation, you can eat really well outdoors – check out these top ten camping food ideas for inspiration.

Self-catering accommodation makes cooking easy – pack small bottles of basics like oil, salad dressing, soy sauce and other condiments so that you can make something more interesting than pasta-in-a-pouch.

3: Look for Alternatives to a Hotel

Camping is the most obvious low-cost holiday accommodation option. There are a heap of low-or no-cost campsites within a few hours of our capital cities. Some good places to look are national park websites.

But setting yourself up with camping gear can be pricey (and addictive). Can you borrow gear from friends and family, or rent it?

The Equipment Library in Melbourne’s Northcote will set a family of four up for a camping weekend for $175. In Sydney, Sydney Camping Hire in Wahroonga or Life’s an Adventure in North Narrabeen both have a big range.

But if camping’s not your idea of a holiday, don’t give up.

Stay at someone’s place: know anyone who lives someplace nice? Crashing on their lounge room floor may not be an option, but they might be interested in house-swapping with you for the weekend – so the town mouse gets some time in the country, and vice versa. This idea might even fly with your parents if they’ve retired down the coast!

Check Airbnb to see whether there are any rooms or homes available in the place you’re planning to visit. It’s usually cheaper than a hotel, and will generally mean that you have cooking facilities. If you’re the couchsurfing type, you might find a place to lay your head for free (and some good company to boot).

WWOOFING (working on an organic farm in exchange for food and accommodation) can be a great break from city life. You’ll need to plan and contact your host well in advance, be willing to work for 4 to 6 hours a day, and stay for a minimum two days.

If you’re organised enough (and not allergic to pets), you may be able to find a place that needs housesitting. Just google for sites where you can search for assignments. Youu generally need to become a member and provide references, though, and weekend assignments are on the rare side.

4: Search for Location-Specific Coupons and Discounts

Before you leave, check social buying sites such as Groupon and Living Social or the good ol’ Shopadocket for local discount coupons for restaurants, massages, attractions and more.

Don’t get carried away, though – if you wouldn’t otherwise have bought it, it may not be such a bargain.

Pre-booking at some attractions via their websites can be cheaper than just rocking up.

5: Find cheap car rental

Renting a car from a traditional car rental place will blow your budget pretty fast.

Local independent car hire firms can have great deals, but tend to book out well in advance for popular times such as long weekends.

If you’re in striking distance of a Uber Carshare vehicle (check this map to see the growing fleet), you can rent from a real person and save up to 40% compared with traditional car rental or car share costs. You’ll also be keeping your dollars in your own community.

With any kind of car hire, make sure you check the distance you’re planning to drive.

Factor in all of the costs, like excess reduction fees, per-kilometre charges, tolls and fuel costs into your estimate of the cost of the trip, so that you don’t end up surprised by the final bill.

If you’re driving your own car, calculate the actual cost of the trip based on the kilometres you’re going to drive. It feels free – but it ain’t! You can estimate the per-kilometre costs of your trip using these running cost guides from the RACQ.

6: Check for car-free alternatives

Is there a train or bus that can take you there? If you have a bike (and panniers), you could put it on the train for a cycling weekend away.

This option means that you’ll need to be a bit more organised and less spontaneous, as you’ll need to stick to timetables and maybe book in advance. Your transport options may be limited when you get to your destination, particularly if you’re travelling to a small town or remote area. Check out our list of transport apps to give you some transport ideas you may not have thought of.

If you’re planning a car-free weekend away, you could offset the costs of your holiday by renting your car out while you’re not using it.

7: Leave your worries on the doorstep

Well, what are you waiting for? Get cracking and plan a three-day weekend getaway that’s long on fun and short on expense.

The make-or-break factor is something money can’t buy: a good travelling companion (even if it’s just your own self), and a positive outlook.  You can have a great time in a tent, and find misery in a five-star hotel (or vice versa!). Don’t let little stuff spoil your weekend.

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