Summer vacation: time to nap in the sun, relax on the beach, and enjoy the feel of an...empty wallet?
Everyone loves the idea of travel, but those costs can add up. Ending the summer with an unexpected bill is like watching an ice cream cone go splat on the ground: messy and disappointing, but also preventable—with a little planning ahead.
Check out these ten tips for saving money on a summer vacation.
- Look off the beaten path
Location is everything. Anywhere that hosts waves of tourists during its on-season will have higher mark-ups and deals will go fast, so you’ll save money by getting creative.
Consider mountain locales with gorgeous scenery like Colorado, Maine, or the Canadian Rockies, where the end of the ski season means prices plummet. For sand and sun, check out smaller beach towns near more famous shores, or deserts and tropics at the height of July and August, when the heat will deter other visitors.
- Save on airfare
In 2019, domestic flights cost over $300 a ticket before factoring in peak times and add-ons, so be smart about when you buy. The best flight deals are usually at the very start and end of summer, early June and late August. For domestic travel, it’s cheaper to fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.
Also, cut down on hidden costs when you fly by using luggage organizers to pack lighter and dodge extra luggage fees.
- Use reward points from credit cards
Build them up all year long, then use reward points earned on purchases to partially or fully cover the costs of your flights, hotel, rental car, and more.
Look for travel rewards credit cards, which can be general-purpose or partnered with specific hotel chains and airlines. Consider annual fees, sign-up bonuses, and the type of rewards offered when choosing the right one for you.
- Save on car rentals
Don’t wait until the last minute to book a car—three to six months in advance is ideal. And while picking up your car at the airport may be convenient, it’s also more expensive. If you can use taxis or rideshares to get to a car dealership near (but not at) the airport, you’ll save on fees.
Remember alternatives to driving, too. Look for plentiful public transportation and activities within walking distance of hotels; if you do want to see sights that require driving, plan them on consecutive days so you won’t need a car the whole time.
- Treat restaurants as a treat
Eating out is half the fun of vacation, but it’s an expensive habit, and there are ways to experience local cuisine without making every meal a sit-down, table-service affair.
Bring along food storage bags so you can browse markets and grab snacks for your hotel room or a picnic. Even better, get a rental with a kitchen—after a long day of sightseeing, sometimes you just want to put on pajamas and kick back with a cold drink.
- Consider bed and breakfasts
Sometimes the best way to save on a hotel is...don’t use one. When you’re looking for a place to stay on sites like TripAdvisor, be sure to check the box for “B&Bs and Inns” to see all your options.
In many places, B&Bs will be significantly cheaper than a hotel, locally owned, have better amenities than hotel chains...and include breakfast.
- Head into nature
Sunshine and blue skies are free, and so are a lot of trails, wildlife reserves, beautiful natural vistas, and public beaches. Toss your sunscreen, bug spray, and hat in your suitcase and get ready to explore the great outdoors.
National parks and campsites do involve entry fees, but they’re reasonable, and you can get discounts or packages for visiting more than one park in the same trip.
- Look for free entertainment
There’s fun for free everywhere. Check out local listings for free music festivals or historical sites and landmarks. Some museums, zoos, and botanical gardens will have free admission all the time or on certain days of the week.
Want to swim? Rather than rent poolside chairs and floats at an expensive mega-resort, bring the fun with you thanks to foldable pool gear, which you can also use at a (free!) public lake or river.
- Plan around deals and packages
Rather than go into vacation planning with your heart set on one location, let yourself be guided by where the deals are. Sites like Groupon and Expedia will help you find great deals and all-inclusive packages that can keep your costs under control.
Plus, some cities offer passes like CityPASS that will get you into multiple tourist attractions for a discounted overall price.
- Stay close to home
Don’t have the budget to fly? There’s nothing wrong with a scenic road trip. See the country from the comfort of your own car, playing your own music, and packing your own food.
Or consider taking a staycation: rent a nice hotel room in your own city, treat yourself to the restaurant you’ve been dying to visit, and be a tourist for a day or two.
Planning a summer vacation but want to travel on a budget? Check out our summer bestsellers here!