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How to Plan an Amazing Cheap Summer Vacation
This blog post was updated December 15, 2019.
Dreaming of affordable summer vacations? You’re not alone.
AAA estimates that 100 million people in the United States
will embark on family vacation destinations in 2019, and of that group, more than half plan to travel in the summer. After months of hard work and hustle, a summer vacation is the perfect opportunity to rest and restore.
But vacationer beware: summer is a peak travel time, so your annual trip to the beach may come with an inflated price tag. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to save money without missing out on all the fun.
Here are a few ideas to help you get started:
1. Prioritize free or cheap activities
As you kick off your planning process
, try to build your itinerary around activities that are both fun and affordable. Regardless of your interests, hobbies, or personal preferences, chances are, there’s a low-cost option for you.
If you’re someone who loves the outdoors, see if you can find an affordable state park to visit, and enjoy a day on the trails for the price of admission. Or if you’re craving a trip to the beach, plan your vacation around free activities like reading, sunbathing, and swimming.
If you’d rather explore an urban hub, take a trip to a city with lots of free museums, public attractions, and street fairs. For inspiration, check out the free events and offerings in places like DC, Los Angeles, or Chicago. While these cities tend to have a high cost of living, their amazing amenities are definitely worth a look!
2. Bargain-hunt boldly
Don’t get discouraged if you have your heart set on an experience that’s more expensive. There are plenty of creative ways to keep costs down. If you take a few minutes to visit an attraction’s official website, you can often find insider details and special discounts. Certain venues offer free admission during non-peak hours, like Tuesday mornings or Sunday evenings.
You may also find that certain groups — like kids, students, or seniors — can get discounted tickets or special perks. As an additional measure, make sure to check websites like Groupon or tools like Honey to find promotions and discount codes on a variety of travel purchases.
3. Mind your timing
We all know that summer is a popular travel time, but peak timing will vary by destination
. Depending on where you’ll travel, factors like climate, local events, and holidays can play a huge role in the price you can expect to pay.
Before booking, research the most popular times to visit your destination, and try to book just outside of that window. For many summer vacationers, this can mean traveling as early as May or as late as September.
4. Set a hard spending limit
Budgeting doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but it’s essential to understand how much travel you can afford. Before booking anything, take a hard look at your checking and savings accounts. With a little arithmetic, you can determine the amount that you can comfortably put toward a vacation.
Start with that number as your total travel budget, and from there, subtract the expected costs for your transportation, accommodations, activities, and meals. Anything that’s left over can be used as “treat yourself” money that you can spend on day-to-day purchases once you’re officially on vacation.
5. Know your “nice-to-haves” versus “need-to-haves”
Every traveler has different priorities, and understanding what matters most to you
will ensure that your trip lives up to your expectations. One trick I use is making a list of the travel experiences that I value the most: my main priorities are at the top, while my non-essentials are toward the bottom.
Mine usually looks something like this:
1. Quality time with others
2. Great local food
3. Unique attractions
4. Clean, comfortable accommodations
5. Strong arts scene
6. Options for outdoor recreation
8. Vibrant nightlife
9. High-end dining options
10. “Luxury” amenities
This simple exercise makes it much easier to choose what to splurge on versus where to scale back. In my case, I might choose to spend a little extra on a group outing, but cut costs by booking a basic economy plane ticket. Understanding my travel priorities helps me feel less guilty about saying “no” to certain opportunities for the sake of my budget.
6. Pick your travel companions wisely
Aligning a trip with your personal budget is one thing, but trying to get someone else on board is a different challenge all together. Whether you’re traveling with friends, family, or a significant other, be up-front about your budget for the trip.
If possible, seek out travel companions who have similar priorities as you – that way, you won’t feel pressured to spend on experiences that don’t align well with your budget. Saying “no thanks” to your loved ones can be tough, but perspective matters. After all, if someone makes you feel bad about taking an affordable summer vacation, are they really a good travel companion?
7. Keep track of your costs
You’ve created your budget, booked your tickets, found a great travel group, and created an itinerary that won’t break the bank. Now, you can just kick back and enjoy, right? Think again.
It’s easy to plan a cheap summer vacation on paper, but when you’re on the road, those itinerary items are likely to change. The same can be true with your travel budget.
Rather than trying to stick to a daily spending plan, simply keep an eye on where your money goes. If you end up indulging a little more one day, try to keep it simple the next day. After all, a good travel budget should be a balancing act, not a rule-book.
No matter your vacation budget or travel goals, your safety should always come first. Your safety should always come first, and it’s worth spending a little extra for a sense of security (especially if you’re far from home).
If you’re traveling internationally, or for a long period of time, consider purchasing trip insurance
. A good insurance plan can help cover the costs of an unexpected emergency, and purchasing insurance is often more affordable than you might think.
For as much as we talk about travel, it’s important to remember that vacations are a luxury. It isn’t always possible to say “yes” to every adventure, and that’s okay! By understanding your budget and planning accordingly, you’ll be able to maximize your summer vacation for a healthier wallet and a happier you
About the Author
Grace Lower has a love for all things writing and travel. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.