Whether you’re a camper, theme-park enthusiast, or international adventurer, summer is one of the best times to travel. The kids are out of school and, while adults don’t get a three-month break from laptops, meetings, or their bosses, summer is the time to have some fun in the sun.
According to a recent AAA Travel survey, approximately two-thirds of U.S. families were planning on taking a summer vacation this year. If you’re part of that 68%, have you thought about how to save for your summer getaway?
A recent Bankrate report found that summer vacation goers are expected to spend an average of $1,979 on their trip this year. If you haven’t saved for your dream vacation yet, don’t fret. There are plenty of ways to save for a future trip. And if you’re currently planning your next getaway, follow these tips to ensure it doesn’t put you in the red.
Planes, trains, and automobiles for less
How you get to and from your destination — and around once you’ve arrived — is often the biggest vacation expense.
To limit airfare costs, research the best time to book flights. According to Skyscanner, a travel search website, you should purchase plane tickets two to three weeks in advance for domestic flights and five to six months for international destinations.
Also consider using discount travel resources like Priceline or Orbitz and signing up for price alerts or cheap flight newsletters. If you’re a frequent flyer for work (or pleasure), consider signing up for an airline’s credit card to earn miles not just on your travels but on your purchases as well.
Pro tip: Frequent flier miles often expire if you haven’t accrued or made a redemption within a specific time period. Be sure to cash them in before you lose them.
If you’re not going overseas, consider a road trip. Driving is often cheaper, and it allows you to explore attractions in small towns or cities you might otherwise never have visited. While repeated stops at the gas station can add up, several free apps (such as GasBuddy, Gas Guru, or Waze) can help you find the cheapest filling stations along your route. And while convenience store beef jerky and donuts might be your jam (or your kids’), we recommend stopping at a grocery store to stock up on sandwich materials and snacks to avoid paying marked-up gas station and convenience store prices.
Not into driving? (Or want to avoid the repeated “Are we there yet?” asks from the backseat?) Consider taking a ride on the rails, which can be more affordable than airfare or a car trip. For instance, an Amtrak Railpass starts at $459 for up to eight journeys/segments that can be taken over 15 days. Even better? Tickets are refundable.
Also consider: If a big vacation doesn’t fit into your budget this year, you can still treat yourself (and your family). Take a shorter trip and spend a long weekend at a nearby campground or take part in a “stay-cation” and play tourist at home.
Sleep and eat on the cheap
Are you opting for short-term rental options like Airbnb or house-swap platforms like HomeExchange over traditional hotels? Smart move, since both can be cheaper. (Although neither can yet guarantee you a Cameron Diaz/Jude Law-like romance.)
If you go with the Airbnb option, don’t forget about another one of its potential money-saving features: kitchen space. For those lucky enough to go on a long getaway, preparing your own food for at least one meal a day can be a great way to save some cash.
But if you don’t trust short-term rental or home-swap options (or they’re unavailable where you’re traveling) — call a hotel directly instead of booking on a discount website. These sites can charge a commission as high as 15%, meaning a direct call could get you a room for less than the “reduced” rate touted online.
Of course, we don’t want to discourage you from tasting the local cuisine. But instead of going out for a big dinner (which might include a glass of wine or a cocktail), consider dining out for lunch instead. Lunch is typically cheaper than dinner at both traditional and higher end restaurants, and the rest of your day’s itinerary might limit your food and alcohol intake as well.
Also consider: If you head out of town to visit family or friends, ask if you can stay with them for a night or two. Worried that asking will make you look cheap? Don’t! It’s common practice: Almost half of domestic travelers and 60% of those who leave the country do just that.
Have fun without breaking your budget
Whether you’re traveling to a large metropolis, spending multiple days at an amusement park, or taking part in exotic excursions, must-see attractions often cost money — sometimes a lot of it.
There’s no need to feel guilty for spending on these things — after all, they’re probably one of the reasons why you selected your destination. But why not balance big-ticket experiences with low-cost (or even free) activities?
Before you visit any major city or tourist destination, search online for community calendars that feature free activities and browse museum websites to find days of free entrance. Also, conduct a quick Google search of “free activities in ____” and you’ll likely find a host of affordable activities you otherwise wouldn’t know about.
If you’re worried about not getting in a vacation workout (yes, we know some of you exist), seek out a free walking tour. Not only will you get in your steps, but your guide will also point out local landmarks you might otherwise have missed.
And while Alexa can answer many of your questions, you can’t beat the knowledge of locals. Ask your hosts, hotel concierge, or even a stranger for their recommendations. Chances are they’ll love to share the hotspots that truly make their hometown special.
Also consider: Many big cities offer multi-attraction passes and discount cards that are good for entrance at a number of locations for a predetermined number of days. If you’re going to be in town for a while, these can be a smart, affordable way to hit the locale’s highlights.
Save money for vacation
While all of these ideas can help you squeeze every penny out of your vacation dollars, the best way to avoid overspending is to plan ahead. Consider opening a separate account — like our Online Savings Account — and earmark the funds for travel expenses. We suggest setting up a recurring monthly payment to the account — then watch your vacation fund grow!
Of course, not all vacations are created equal. One summer you might take your entire family to Walt Disney World, while the next might be a relaxing trip to a quaint cabin in the woods. The expense for each of these vacations differs, so how do you set a budget for your travels?
Follow this rule of thumb to set your savings goal: On average, Americans spend 10% of their annual income on vacations, with a quarter spending 15% or more.
Also consider: Planning ahead can involve more than putting money away year-round. Consider reducing your dining out at restaurants, shopping less frequently, and spending less on entertainment (concerts, movies) in the months leading up to your trip. Those are tried-and-true money-saving methods used by around half of Americans. You can find more budget planning tools, here.
As summer vacation expenses continue to rise — topping $100 billion the last two years — many Americans look for ways to save money. Fortunately, discounts and other money saving hacks for travel transportation, lodging, and activities can help give you and your family the dream vacation you so desperately want.
Start saving for your dream vacation today.
We’d love to hear how you travel for less. Tell us:
- How do you save for a vacation on a tight budget?
- What are your favorite money-saving travel hacks?
- How do you pay for your summer vacations?
- How do you get the most bang for your buck on a summer getaway?