Travel hacks from a local so you’ll be able to enjoy a vacation to the Florida Keys on a budget. Please note that this post contains affiliate links.
When we moved to the Florida Keys, it was like a dream come true. The islands are stunning, the colour of the water the bluest I’ve ever seen. We were never bored, always finding something exciting to do, whether it was an afternoon dive or a cocktail in a tiki bar, our life really was one long vacation. I did notice that not unlike other islands and holiday destinations, the Keys could be quite expensive. But I also realised that there were so many ways you could save money if you knew how.
We locals had many tricks to living a Keys life without breaking the bank. In this post I’m sharing my hacks with you for travelling to the Florida Keys on a budget. Don’t tell everyone!
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Time it wisely
Plan your trip to the Florida Keys for the off-season. Despite it being hurricane season from June to October, the weather during the summer is often the most beautiful. Plus you’ll get a hotel room a lot cheaper! Forget December to April altogether unless you want to spend lots, as this is the time of year the so called ‘snow birds’ are in town, meaning everything is more expensive.
Time your dining and sipping around “Happy Hour” for cheaper food and drink. You’ll find most eateries and bars in the Keys offer some kind of Happy Hour’- usually multiple hours, where you’ll get 2-4-1 drinks and food specials. For instance, Castaways in Marathon, middle keys, do an all-day Happy Hour from 11am until 6pm, and offer draft beers for half price from 3-5pm, along with $10 or less sushi plates. Come evening, you’ll be paying $7 for a craft beer and around $15 for sushi rolls, so see how much you can save just by heading there early doors.
Research what is going on
The Keys folk love a festival, so you’ll find so many special events going on all year round. The Underwater Music Festival, Zombie Fest, Mini Lobster Season… As fun as they sound, hotel prices will hike up during these times, and you’ll spend a fortune just to stay there. Research what is going on before you go to avoid disappointment, and if you do decide to go, try and plan it in advance. Last minute always means spending more.
Be smart about where you stay
Did you know there are actually a couple of hostels in Key West? As well as this, you’ll find budget resorts, such as Not Your Average Hotel, which offer great rates (note: it is adult only). The Seashell motel and hostel is in the best location and has really low rates, especially in the off-season. We also really liked our experience at the Southwinds Motel, a clean, attractive, and comfortable motel just a block off Duval street and two blocks from the beach.
Stay on a boat
Where better to stay in Key West than on the water? We stayed on a boat on our very first trip to the Keys and it was a really fun experience. You’ll find lots of cheap boat options on Airbnb. Some are in the port, and others might be out on anchor in the harbor, where you’ll be taken to and from the boat via tender. Pay a little more and you will find boats that include water sport equipment too, like kayaks and paddle boards, saving you money on rentals.
Extra money saving hack: Never used Airbnb before? Take £25/$40 off your first stay by using my link!
Invite your friends
Hotels like the Southernmost Inn have large suites which have pull-out sofa beds and living rooms which double as bedrooms, meaning they are just as suitable for four people as they are for two. Invite your friends and halve the cost of your accommodation. It is adult only, and has a great bar and pool area too. We loved our stay at this hotel with our friends!
Make the most of free activities & chat to locals
The Keys is full of unique and interesting characters. From friendly servers at locals restaurants in Marathon, to real life Pirates in Key West, you’ll always find someone to chat to. My favourite thing to do is hang out at Captain Tony’s Saloon and talking to locals about the history of the bar (there are so many interesting and spooky things to learn… including the story of the skeleton behind the bar!).
There are also so many free ways to spend your time in Key West that don’t include pirates! These include the infamous sunset celebration that happens daily at Mallory Square. You’ll be entertained by street performers whilst watching the spectacular southermost sunset. Taking a picture with the southernmost point marker is a must (and free!) as is a bike ride around town and to Fort Zachary Taylor state park. Beaches are obviously a free day time activity, too!
Buy a drink, use the pool
Find a hotel where you are able to use their pool for free if you are drinking at the bar. So many hotels offer this, despite it not being common knowledge. This means you can save when booking your own hotel as you can skip ones with pools that might cost more. My favourite is the Southernmost House Hotel, which has a lovely bar and stunning pool overlooking the ocean. My other favourite is the Lighthouse Court Hotel, opposite the Hemingway House. They also do a good happy hour!
Read about my babymoon at the Southermost House Hotel here.
Pick up a coupon book
All around Key West old town, you’ll see newspaper boxes where you can pick up free coupon books/maps. You usually might not look twice at these, but they actually have really good coupons inside with money off vouchers and 2-4-1 entree deals at lots of restaurants. They also include coupons for activities and restaurants all the way up the Keys, such as money off attractions like the Aquarium in Marathon – a good place to stop with kids.
Key west attraction pass
If you are thinking of doing a few of the many tourist activities during your time in Key West, an attraction pass could be a good deal for you. With the Sightseeing Pass, you’ll have a tailor-made pass which covers all sorts of activities, including sail excursions, trolley rides, paddle boarding, the conch train tour, museums and the aquarium. It also includes money off drinking and dining. A two-activity pass costs $48.
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Have you been to the Florida Keys on a budget? Let us know if you found a favourite happy hour!
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