Cheap Summer Vacations
In this article I’m going to share 23 of the best tips for how you can plan awesome but cheap summer vacations.
Taking summer vacations can be a wonderful way to spend quality time together as a family and strengthen family relationships. And you don’t have to spend a ton of money to do it! You can save money on your summer vacation by spending less money and finding deals on the travel, the accommodations, the food, the entertainment and activities, and more! Read how to have fun but cheap summer vacations!
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23 Tips to Plan Fun and Cheap Summer Vacations
Some of my happiest memories as a child were the fun summer vacations that we took as a family. My dad loves to find great deals (that’s one of many traits that I likely inherited from him :)), and he loved to travel and take vacations, so we did a fair amount of vacationing while I was growing up. We have a large family, so most of the traveling was within the U.S., but it was still awesome! But you can bet that we found ways to save money on food, lodging, and the attractions that we visited. And so can you! By following these 23 tips, you can plan fun and cheap summer vacations that your children will remember for a lifetime!
Top Tip: We are big fans of Airbnb to save money on family vacations! To receive $40 off your first Airbnb stay, sign up here!
1. Make a plan and set a budget.
The best way to enjoy cheap summer vacations is to make a plan and set a budget based on what you can afford. If you will plan for your summer vacation in advance, then you can save up for it, and you won’t have the memories of a fun summer vacation tainted by the credit card bills that follow you home. 🙁 Instead, plan a debt-free, fret-free summer vacation! 🙂
You don’t have to plan out every single detail to enjoy cheap summer vacations (unless you love doing that kind of thing, of course—if you do, then by all means, have at it!—but do plan especially for the big-ticket items you know that you want to do or that you know you will have to pay for so that you can find the best deals possible.
Read this article to find 5 easy ways to save $500 fast. And read this article to learn how you can do a no-spend challenge to potentially save even more money than that in a month or less! Save as much as $1,000 (or even more!) fast!
Remember as you make your cheap summer vacation plans to also be flexible if possible. If you can be flexible in the dates of your travel, for example, you can save a lot of money on airfare and hotels.
2. Plan a staycation as a way to have a cheap summer vacation.
One of the very best ways to have cheap summer vacations is to stay close to home. By planning a staycation, you save the biggest expenses of travel and accommodations. You can also eat many (or even all!) of your meals at home, as well, so you can save a ton of money on food too!
There are undoubtedly tons of things that tourists comes to see in your city or state, and many of those you probably haven
You can find 57 awesome ideas for your family staycation here!
3. Choose a location you can drive to (take a road trip).
Another way to plan cheap summer vacations, if you don’t want to plan a staycation, is to choose a summer vacation destination that you can drive to.
Especially if you have a few kiddos like we do, you will save a lot of money by staying somewhere close enough that you don’t have to fly to it. Even if you choose a place a little farther away where you have to stay somewhere overnight (or to save even more money you could alternate drivers and drive through the night if you can do so safely), you will generally spend less than you would flying everyone to your destination. Not to mention, you will likely save money on your transportation (and a little bit of hassle) because you won’t have to rent a car.
4. Stay with family or friends.
A third way that you can enjoy a super cheap summer vacation but still go someplace fun is to stay with family, friends, or acquaintances. If you have family or friends (or friends of those family or friends) that live in a place it would be fun to visit, then talk to them about staying with them for all or at least part of your stay. Have a cousin in Florida? Grandparents in San Diego? An aunt and uncle in New York? Take advantage! And if they have kids the same age as yours, all the better!
In exchange for their hospitality, you could offer to buy pizza or takeout or watch their kids for a night or something like that. And who knows? They might even be willing to watch your own sweet cherubs for a night so that you could enjoy an evening just with your spouse.
Also look at sharing the price of a rental with friends or family.
If you have family members or friends that you would enjoy traveling with, then why not suggest staying somewhere together and splitting the cost? You will have more people to do things with that might make less expensive activities even more enjoyable, and you might be able to swap babysitting so that you can take turns enjoying a kids-free evening on the town.
5. Price compare to find the best deals for cheap summer vacations.
This may go without saying, but as with everything you do that costs money. be sure to price compare to save! Price compare on your lodgings, your airfare, car rentals, theme parks and similar attractions, souvenirs, and other significant expenses. Even check the relative prices of the restaurants that you are thinking of eating at if you can so that you won’t get sticker shock at the end of your meal.
Another thing to price compare is the airports you fly into. When we took a big family trip and flew to Florida some years ago, my dad booked some of my siblings to fly into an airport in a nearby city in order to save about a hundred dollars round trip.
So if you are renting a car anyway or can get around comfortably using public transportation, look not only at the best prices for the airport in the city (or closest to the city) you are staying but at the surrounding airports, as well.
Similarly, when planning cheap summer vacations, don’t just go and rent a car from the most convenient agency at the airport. Rather, compare all of the car rental agencies in the vicinity of the airport. Most of the car rental agencies will have a courtesy shuttle to and from the airport, and we were able to save money last time we needed to rent a car by renting through an agency that was a few miles away from the airport and just using the complimentary shuttle to get to and from the car rental office.
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6. Stay at places through services like Airbnb, Booking.com, and VRBO.
To save money on your vacation lodging, check out places like Airbnb, Booking.com, VRBO, and HomeAway. We have been staying at Airbnb locations for the last four or five years, and it has been great! If you haven’t tried Airbnb yet, you should give them a try. I talk about some of the awesome benefits of vacations with Airbnb in my Airbnb review here. To sign up to receive $40 off your first Airbnb stay, sign up here!
At the last Airbnb place we stayed, we were in a nice three-bedroom home in a gated community with a pool, hot tub, small playground, and other amenities, and we spent less than we would have if we had stayed in an inexpensive three-star hotel. It was a nice area of town where we felt safe, and our host as well as the neighbors in the community were friendly and kind.
By staying at places through Airbnb and services like them, not only can you save money on the accommodations themselves, but because you generally have a kitchen available, you can save a bunch of money by not having to eat out as much. (Or at all, if you choose—on this most recent trip we ate all of our meals at the home where we stayed or as picnics at the parks we visited.) You can also save money if you fly by packing fewer clothes and bringing carry-on luggage if your place has a washer and dryer, as many Airbnb rentals do.
Note: To receive $40 off your first Airbnb rental, sign up here!
7. Go to less popular destinations.
Another way that you can enjoy cheap summer vacations is to travel to destinations that are not as popular. So, if you want to go on a beach vacation, go to a nice but lesser-known beach. Go to a nice state park instead of a national park. Go to a lesser-known tropical island. Go to smaller or less popular theme parks and other paid attractions.
Not only will you save money by going to less popular destinations, but you will avoid the big crowds, as well. And you will get to see new places and things. Triple win!
8. Visit places where it is the shoulder or off-peak season.
In addition to traveling to less popular destinations, another way to save money on summer vacations is to travel to places where it is the shoulder or even the off season.
So, even though it is often very warm, you could look at going someplace south during the summer, like Florida or even Phoenix. Depending on where you choose to go, you may be able to save a lot of money that way and also avoid many of the crowds that are there during the peak tourist season for the area.
9. Stay at hotels and eat at restaurants that are a little removed from the center of your vacation destination.
Similarly, you can also save money by staying and eating in a less popular part of town or even the next town over. Instead of staying right on the beach, even though that would be super cool, stay a few blocks or even a few miles away to save big. Instead of eating at the popular tourist trap restaurants, find less popular restaurants a few blocks away from all the action.
10. Look into bundling your deals through sites like Kayak, Expedia, and Priceline.
If you do decide to fly to your summer vacation destination, compare prices when you bundle airfare, lodging, and even car rentals. Check out websites like Kayak, Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Priceline, and Booking.com. And call travel agents and find out what kind of deals they can get, as well. Also call major airlines and see what deals they offer; sometimes they will have even better deals than the major travel booking websites. And if you are traveling with a large group, see what kinds of group discounts might be available through travel agencies and other providers.
So first search online and even call places and get individual quotes, and then check sites like those above to see if you can save money by purchasing a package deal, check with a few travel agents in your area, and then call the airlines as a final possibility. This will take a little time, but if you can save a few hundred bucks, it is time well spent.
11. Stay at places that have a kitchenette or at least a microwave and fridge. (Or buy a $20 hot plate.)
Paying for food while traveling can be a huge expense, especially if you feel compelled to eat out much or all of the time because you don’t have a place to prepare and cook meals. At all of the Airbnb locations we have stayed at, there has been a way to prepare food (even if it was only a little kitchenette in one of them), and so we have not had to go out to eat for our meals.
Instead, we have either taken most of the food with us that we would eat (which works only if you have enough room in your vehicle to do that, I know—but you would be amazed at how much you can pack in a car when you are motivated! :)) or gone to the local (inexpensive) grocery store to buy food that we could prepare for simple meals.
In fact, come to think of it, we haven’t gone out to eat for a full meal while staying at any of them; we have just gone out for dessert or Slurpees or things like that. 🙂 This has got to have saved us at least another $100 on food for each of our trips (and of course the potential savings is much more; that’s the amount we would have saved if we had eaten at really inexpensive restaurants) by not having to eat out for our meals!
We love Airbnb because they really are a great way to save money and we have had such great experiences at the places we have stayed and have also really enjoyed the hosts. If you haven’t used Airbnb yet, give them a try! To receive $40 off your first Airbnb stay, sign up here!
Another thing that we have done to save money on food while traveling was to buy a hot plate so that we could use it to cook if we needed to, even if we didn’t have a kitchen or microwave. We haven’t actually needed to use it yet, but the $10 (on sale; normal price was less than $20) that we spent for an inexpensive hot plate (with good reviews) will be well worth the money once we do need to use it. 🙂
12. When you do buy food at restaurants, get carryout or eat fast food to save money.
I know fast food isn’t perhaps quite as good as the food at a dine-in restaurant, but you sure will save a ton of money! By purchasing food that you carry out or by eating at a fast food restaurant, you can save a good chunk of change by not having to pay a tip. If you buy carryout, you can of course eat at the place you are staying, or go to a local park or similar place and eat there.
Also save money by skipping the soda drinks and desserts. Instead, drink water (it’s so much better for you, anyway!) and buy ice cream, cookies, candy bars, or similar treats at the grocery store or even have favorite snacks that you bring with you from home, if you can.
13. Go camping to enjoy awesome and cheap summer vacations.
Another tip for planning cheap summer vacations is to go camping! My husband and I are both big fans of outdoor activities, so we do a fair amount of camping and other outdoor activities. (We don’t do quite as much of it as we did before we had young kiddos, though; but when they are older I’m sure we’ll get back to doing more of it. :))
Though it costs a fair amount to get good camping gear if you don’t have any, once you have the equipment and supplies, camping can be cheap or even virtually free, except for a little gas money. There are many places you can camp for free, but you can also tent camp at many nice campgrounds with bathrooms and showers for around $20 or $30 a night.
14. Set up price alerts.
For many of the major travel websites such as Kayak, Hotels.com, and Airfare Watchdog, you can set up price alerts. That way, when an amazing deal comes along on airfare, hotels, car rentals, or the like or when an offer on one of those things is within your price range, you can snag it.
15. Pack light.
As I mentioned above, especially if you are flying as part of your summer vacation plans, pack light. That way you won’t have to pay the cost of additional carry-on luggage. If you can stay at a place that has an on-site washer and dryer so you can pack only enough clothes for half your stay and wash them once during your trip, all the better.
16. Look at flying during the week rather than on weekends.
You can often save money on airfare by planning to either depart or return during the week rather than on a weekend—and you can likely save even more if you can do both! Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be less expensive than other days of the week, so if you can fly on those days, you could get a great deal.
17. Avoid flying on holidays.
Airfare and lodging can be much more expensive on holidays and during holiday weekends (like Memorial Day and Labor Day), so plan to avoid traveling during those times if you can in order to save money.
18. Consider cruising.
Cruising can be a great way to enjoy a cheap summer vacation! Depending on your destination, you may even be crusing during the off season (since many people go on cruises to escape the cold)Because everything is covered in one price (food, accommodations, and on-boat entertainment), and because of the many cruises that are available, you can get a steal of a deal to certain locations and at certain times of the year. For a short cruise of three or four days you can sometimes find deals for around $200. Pretty amazing! Check out sites like Priceline, VacationsToGo.com, and Expedia. Also check with travel agents and with the major cruiselines themselves to price compare and find the best offers.
If you can drive to the departure location, you will save eve more by not having to fly. And if you are traveling with family members or friends, of course carpool if you can. 🙂 If you have to drive quite a ways, trade off drivers if you can do so safely so that you don’t have to spend money on a place to stay for the night (and you might end up needing to take off less time from work that way, too).
19. Enjoy free and cheap entertainment.
Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you can’t have a great time on activities that are free or cheap. Theme parks are fun, but so are hiking, biking, swimming in lakes, jumping ocean waves, hunting for seashells, and doing many, many other things that you can enjoy for little or no money.
If you love being in the water, pick up a couple of inflatable kayaks or an inflatable paddle board off Craigslist or your local online classifieds, and take them with you to enjoy some time on the lake. Or if you have room in your vehicle, take your bikes and enjoy biking around the city you visit. Or rent bikes there. Look into renting canoes or paddle boats. Or if you love to just enjoy being in the outdoors, go on walking tours of your chosen destinations.
If you know that there are theme parks and other paid attractions that you want to visit, then look for discount tickets, coupons, and so forth online before you go and at local discount joints when you get to your travel destination.
20. Take the bus or train or even rent bikes instead of renting a car or taking taxis.
If you are flying or taking a train or doing something similar to reach your destination, then look into saving money by using public transportation such as buses and trains once you arrive to get around the city or area you are visiting. In many cities, renting bikes and getting around that way is also another great option. It can be a wonderful way to enjoy the unique flavor of a particular city.
21. Look into services like Uber and Lyft.
Another way to save money getting around in your destination city is to use car-rental services like Uber and Lyft instead of taxis. They are more convenient than public transportation but will still save you money. And if you can use them occasionally instead of renting a car for the whole time of your stay, you can save a good amount of money that way, as well.
22. Take a shorter vacation.
If you don’t have a ton of money this year to spend on a vacation (such as if you are working to pay off debt as quickly as possible and get it out of your life), another way to plan cheap summer vacations is to take shorter ones. Instead of doing a week-long trip, just do a three- or four-day summer vacation this year. You will have tons of time (and tons of money, if you follow the suggestions on this website :)) to plan longer, awesome, debt-free vacations in future years.
23. Hunt for last-minute deals.
Finally, you can sometimes find awesome cheap summer vacation deals by booking last-minute. Hotels, cruise ships, and airlines don’t make any money on a room or a seat if it’s empty, so they may sharply discount rates as dates get closer.
VacationsToGo.com, for example, has a 90-day ticker where you can find deals on cruises that are scheduled within the next three months. Groupon Getaways and Living Social Escapes can also be great resources for finding last-minute deals. Hotel Tonight is an app that offers deals on last-minute hotel bookings.
Final Tip: Are you ready to start saving money on your lodgings for your family vacations? Sign up with Airbnb to receive $40 off your first Airbnb stay!
With these top travel tips you can plan amazing but cheap summer vacations! Remember to price compare, and to look for deals on every aspect of your vacation, from the travel itself to accommodations to food and entertainment and more. Whatever your destination and whatever your plans, you can find tons of ways to save money by hunting around online and keeping your eyes and ears open for cheap summer vacation deals.
How do you find ways to plan cheap summer vacations? What are your favorite destinations for cheap summer vacations? Leave a comment below and let me know! I would love to hear your tips!
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